Broken Social Scene: Leaner Lineup, Same Big Sound A few years back, it wasn't uncommon to see as many as 15 people on stage performing with Broken Social Scene. But for its latest album, the Toronto collective has a tight-knit core lineup and a more cohesive sound. The band's co-founders, Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning, discuss Forgiveness Rock Record.
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Broken Social Scene: Leaner Lineup, Same Big Sound

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Broken Social Scene: Leaner Lineup, Same Big Sound

Broken Social Scene: Leaner Lineup, Same Big Sound

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Here's the lineup: a drummer pounds a driving beat, a punked-out fuzz bass keeps time with jangling lead and rhythm guitars, a keyboardist, even a flute player join in. And when vocals belt out the chorus, you get the big sound of Canada's Broken Social Scene.

(Soundbite of son, "Forced to Love")

BROKEN SOCIAL SCENE (Rock Band): (Singing) Forced to love. Yeah, forced to love all the time. Forced to love...

HANSEN: Broken Social Scene has been around for a decade now. Back in the day it wasn't unusual to see some 15 players on stage at one of their concerts. They've since scaled down, though you wouldn't notice it, given the energy level of their new CD. It's called "Forgiveness Rock Record."

We're joined now from the studios of the CBC Toronto by two founding members of the group. "Rolling Stone" magazine once called them the Lennon and McCartney of the group. First of all, welcome to Kevin Drew.

Mr. KEVIN DREW (Musician, Broken Social Scene): Hi. How are you?

HANSEN: I'm well. Thank you. Brendan Canning, hello to you.

Mr. BRENDAN CANNING (Musician, Broken Social Scene): Yeah, hello as well, Liane.

HANSEN: All right, here's I mean the obvious question hanging in the air now: who's Lennon, who's McCartney?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CANNING: I - which one, who's Plant and who's Page?

HANSEN: Right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DREW: Yeah, exactly.

Mr. CANNING: Who's Osbourne and who's Iommi?

HANSEN: Yeah. So talk about this CD. First of all, I wasn't sure if you were playing with refrigerator magnets or there is something behind the title of the new album "Forgiveness Rock Record." I mean, are you apologizing for something?

Mr. DREW: Actually, we were opening up that emotion to everyone. It just seemed like the reason we were all back together was because we're kind of like a family. And in families you got to forgive and forget, and then you have highs and lows. And all those things over the last 10 years have happened to all of us, and so it just seemed like the right notion to go with.

HANSEN: Yeah, makes sense. This actually, what I've been reading about you, Broken Social Scene, is more of a collective than I guess what could just say a band. But you scaled back the size, if I'm not mistaken. How do you think that's affected your sound?

Mr. DREW: It just became apparent that the Charles Spearin and Andrew Whiteman, Justin Peroff, Sam Goldberg, Brendan and myself were becoming this tight-knit band. And we toured all over the world in 2008, and it just came together. And I know Brendan has always wanted to just try a concentrated effort with a record and we did, though we do have 31 guests on this album, B.


(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CANNING: Making it a collective.

Mr. DREW: Making it a collective.

(Soundbite of "Art House Director")

BROKEN SOCIAL SCENE: (Singing) (unintelligible)

HANSEN: Let me ask you about a specific cut then, "Art House Director," great horns in this. Now, I mean is this Motown I'm hearing or is it like Stax/Volt horns that I'm hearing?

Mr. CANNING: I think whatever you hear, then you're right.

HANSEN: Then I'm right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CANNING: You know, we sort of, we love Motown. We love the Stax sound. We love the Mariachi sounds. We love the Coltrane sound. We love the Miles Davis sound. You know, there's so many great horn players. On that tune in particular, you got Charles Spearin, Bryden Baird who was a longtime Feist collaborator, and Evan Cranley. That's where you're getting that sound from -all, you know, these great players and all of us sort of collaborating...

Mr. DREW: I like to throw the "Love Boat" in there as well.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CANNING: Yeah, a little "Love Boat." A little "Love Boat." Maybe...

Mr. DREW: A little Van Morrison, "Love Boat" vibe.

Mr. CANNING: Yeah, and a little Bacharach, of course.

Mr. DREW: Yeah.

HANSEN: Of course.

(Soundbite of music)

BROKEN SOCIAL SCENE: (Singing) I got to make believe it be that way. But since I have your attention, I got to give you want you want and maybe I'll in the trailer.

HANSEN: Tell me about John McEntire. He's from the group Tortoise.

Mr. CANNING: And The Sea And Cake.

HANSEN: Yeah. And he was producing. So what did he bring to the game? What effect did he have on your sound?

Mr. DREW: Well, he brought a fresh way of us working together, that's for sure. And he did bring a fresh sound to us because he's very meticulous in how he records. And we did this over - we had a lot of time to record this record and we spent a lot of time down in Toronto. We spent time - excuse me - a lot of time down in Chicago, spent some time in Toronto. And he very much studied everybody for the first little while that we were down there, to see who was bringing what to the table.

He just takes his time. He has unbelievable gear in his studio. It's kind of crazy how well kept it is and how much he knows and how - we called his studio Buttons and Buttons and Buttons and Knobs - there was just so much gear and craziness going on in there. But he really, he puts a lot of attention into detail and he left a lot of the vibe up to the band.

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: I'm speaking with Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning, two of the founding members of the rock group Broken Social Scene. I am curious, though, about the Canadian music industry. A lot of groups get government grants. And you, Broken Social Scene, has been a recipient, if I'm not mistaken. Did you get grant money for this record?

Mr. DREW: Yes, we did.

HANSEN: How - is that an important part of the music scene, I mean getting subsidized?

Mr. DREW: Yes.


Mr. DREW: It's huge.


Mr. DREW: I see bands all over the world in all kinds of countries, and we're very fortunate to have the grant systems that we have here in our country.

Mr. CANNING: Yeah, the main foundation is called FACTOR and there's also one called Starmaker.

HANSEN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. DREW: There are more than you would know.


Mr. DREW: And even with our label, Arts & Crafts, it's been so amazing how much support we've gotten, as well. And a lot of bands don't realize the opportunities of having this available to them. And so...

HANSEN: Really? Bands don't know that this kind of money is available?

Mr. CANNING: Well, I just, you know, once again, it's sort of - it's a certain amount of good fortune to go with that. So, to say we haven't been lucky would be, you know, would not be right.

HANSEN: Mm. Sure.

Mr. DREW: It is a gamble. You're trying, I mean we tried for FACTOR and we tried for all kinds of grants and you get turned down a lot, but you have to just keep going and going. It's actually an art, writing. You should see people and how they write these grants. It's become almost like a business - a grant writing business out there for some people. But, you know, we're very fortunate and we definitely remind ourselves of that every time that good news comes down our way.

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: One last question. Kevin, five years ago NPR's Bob Boilen interviewed you backstage at a show here in Washington. And you talked about how the mystery of Broken Social Scene is important. What is that mystery about and do you think you still have it?

Mr. DREW: I don't think we still have it.


Mr. DREW: I think there's not much mystery left for people anymore. I think modern ways of communication and getting all our information and everything has taken away mystery. I don't think the coming generations will really know what that word means when it comes to art. And, I mean, I was a kid that loved not knowing what Japan looked like. I was kid that loved going to shows and saying, oh, my God, is that what the singer looks like?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DREW: And not reading too much information about them but getting accurate little spurts here and there. But today's day and age, with everything from Twitter and the blogs and everything, and how anyone can actually change your information, anyone can make up whatever they want, put it out there and maybe that will become mysterious.

Mr. CANNING: Well, I think, you know, there's - we're not the overnight sensation smash. And we don't have our faces plastered on posters all over every city. So, I mean...

Mr. DREW: You think there's a mystery there, B?

Mr. CANNING: I'd like to think there's just a tiny bit of mystery.

HANSEN: Maybe it can be a mystery on who all is going to appear with you whenever you do a live concert.

Mr. CANNING: Precisely.

Mr. DREW: Yeah.

Mr. CANNING: That's good. I like that.

HANSEN: From the studios of the CBS Toronto, members of Broken Social Scene. First, thank you Kevin Drew.

Mr. DREW: Thank you.

HANSEN: And Brendan Canning, thanks to you.

Mr. CANNING: Thank you.

HANSEN: The new CD, "Forgiveness Rock Record" comes out Tuesday. You can hear an exclusive first listen at

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

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