When you perform as part of an ensemble that has featured over 21 musicians during its nine-year history, sometimes individual contributions can be lost in the shuffle.
On this tour however, Brendan Canning, co-founder of Canadian, Juno Award-winning indie supergroup Broken Social Scene, is stepping to the forefront.
The individual emphasis is part of a project called Broken Social Scene Presents. The so-far two-album series, features a solo-album approach from Canning – and previously from fellow BSS co-founder Kevin Drew – allowing them to author most of the songs and do more of the heavy lifting. The rest of the members of the sprawling collective fill in the blanks creatively and record the album with the writer.
“I enjoyed taking the reins a little bit more, to see where I stood and what I was capable of. I liked being left to my own devices, for better or worse,” says Canning, whose BSS Presents album will bear the name Something for All of Us.
It’s a fitting title, as Canning explains, the album contains “lots of dub-inspired bass lines, croonish vocals, a love of 70s-inspired funk and disco, endless guitar feedback loops, some Nick Drake by way of Led Zeppelin III acoustic guitar picking … and sensitivity.”
Canning initially teamed with Drew in 1999 to create the Broken Social Scene, mostly composed of musicians in and around Toronto. They released their first album, Feel Good Lost, two years later, but found it hard to adapt the multi-layered recording to a live setting with their initial five-person lineup, which included Justin Peroff, Charles Spearin and Bill Priddle. To solve the problem, Drew and Canning enlisted their friends and fellow musicians from the area. Over time that list has ever increased, at times featuring Andrew Whiteman, Jason Collett, Leslie Feist, Emily Haines, James Shaw, Evan Cranley, Justin Peroff, John Crossingham, Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan among others. All of them perform as part of other group or solo projects.
When the band plays Wednesday, Oct. 22 at The State Theatre in Falls Church, the lineup will consist of Canning, Drew, Whiteman, Peroff, Spearin, Sam Goldberg, Leon Kingstone and Elizabeth Powell.
As is evident from the lengthy list of playing partners, Canning and those comprising Broken Social Scene prefer to collaborate with a vast and varied group of musicians. Though Canning shouldered the songwriting duties, it was a practice he continued when recording Something for All of Us.
“It’s great. I didn’t work with anyone who wasn’t a friend. The only person I hadn’t worked with before was Kevin Hearn (Bare Naked Ladies, Lou Reed). He’s a really nice guy and a super talented piano player and he has really cool keyboards,” Canning says. “I knew I could play piano and had really cool keyboards, but it’s nice to share the music a bit. I was already playing acoustic guitar, electric and I wrote the tune. I want to see what someone else is going to add to it. You can get bored hearing your own ideas.”
The drawback to the large ensemble comes from the logistics department.
“At this stage, we really need to be planning what we’re doing a year in advance,” Canning says. “There are always going to be things that pop up here and there. We got an offer to do Letterman and one of our members was like, ‘I’m seeing my goddaughter and I’m flying back to Montreal that day …’ And it’s like dude, I guess you’re going to have to get a connecting flight to New York. Those are the only times when you are like, come on. Can you just deal with it yourself?”
Even with the plethora of people on stage, every member usually stays busy during performances with little downtime during sets. To that end, Canning has still managed to carve out a brief respite.
“On the intro when we play ‘Anthems,’ I know I can duck out for a quick pee for the first 32 bars,” he says. “As long as there’s a toilet nearby I know I can make it back.”
- Broken Social Scene performs Wednesday, Oct. 22 at The State Theatre. Tickets are $25 and doors open at 7 p.m. For more on Broken Social Scene, visit brokensocialscene.ca.