The members of Broken Social Scene have had quite a year. Leslie Feist became one of the new faces of the Apple iPod; Stars, Apostle of Hustle, and Do Make Say Think all dropped new albums; and lead singer Kevin Drew became the newest BSS-side-project success story after releasing his debut solo album, Spirit If (one of the first in the Broken Social Scene Presents series) on Arts & Crafts in September. Here, he speaks about that venture, his passion for the Broken Social Scene family, and why Canada has produced so many great bands in the past few years.
Tell me a little bit about the concept behind the Broken Social Scene Presents series?
We have tons of material, and Brendan Canning and Justin Peroff and I were the only ones who never had a project doing other records. At one point Brendan and I were going to do the OutKast type of thing with the double record, but it didn’t happen in time. When I was finishing up my record and Canning was coming close to finishing up his, we thought we would just create a series where we could actually put out a lot of work that’s always floating around — and we started with our own two solo records. Also, because the whole family was there, we thought it would be good to keep it close to the audience we had built up. We took a page out of the Buena Vista Social Club’s book.
How is working solo different from the way you work within Broken Social Scene?
The greatest thing about it was that you could do whatever you wanted and you had time and freedom to express yourself without thinking of lots of others. The best part was getting back to making records with one other person, like I did before. I did one with Canning that became Broken Social Scene’s debut, 2001’s Feel Good Lost. Really, it’s nice to make records where you can have time to focus and do whatever you want. I didn’t know what the hell what was going to happen with this; I was just centering myself back in the idea of recording again.
Did you write these songs while playing with the band, or did you take time off completely for Spirit If?
We started recording while we were finishing the last BSS record, and then we recorded all the way through the touring. Most of the songs were just spontaneously written; a few of them came before or during the process. But I usually just came in and said, “Hey, I got another little acoustic number.” Then we’d just throw a beat down and it would take off from there.
Will there be another Broken Social Scene record soon, or is the Broken Social Scene Presents series the only thing on the agenda?
The series was trying to make a place for all this music we keep coming up with. Broken Social Scene will have another record, and that record will be what we’ve become known for. I hope everyone will come back to record it and that we’ll go out and do the big anthems. Hopefully, we’ll be doing what we do best.
What do you find yourself doing outside of music at the moment?
I find myself talking about a lot of shit that I just don’t need to talk about [laughs].
What’s it like seeing those around you — Feist, for example — just start to absolutely blow up?
It’s incredible. I think years ago everyone knew something exceptional was going to happen with this girl — she’s such a tour de force and she works so incredibly hard that it was inevitable in the end. With the record that she made [The Reminder, released in May on Interscope], I think everything fell in place so perfectly. It’s an honor to have your name mentioned alongside one of your friends who’s just taken off and done so well — and they’ve done it with class and respect. Everyone is ecstatic for her.
One of my favorite parts about your songwriting is that you openly embrace the topic of sex, something a lot of artists ignore. Can you elaborate on why you do that?
I just find that on a lot of the ballads and those things, the topic that’s always missing is that subject. I just love to sing about it and sing about it and talk about it and read about it. I can’t deny the impulse I have to bring in the topic of fucking and all the things that surround it into most of my love songs [laughs].
The Broken Social Scene collective is so prolific. Would you say living and working in Canada influences the way you work in any way?
We have several things that a lot of us have been able to do. One of those things is a grant system. Since we’ve gotten popular, we can use this grant system, called Factor, which gives you a certain amount of money to go make a record. We were really oppressed for a very long time by America and by the U.K., where all we ever heard about was bands. Once there was a crack — once a song made a little bit of a crack — everyone just stepped up to the plate and tore it up, and suddenly people just started looking over to Canada. That’s just what happened in the past five years: It was just Canada’s time to be recognized, and it was pretty exceptional.
Tell me a little bit about your musical background. What records made you want to get into playing and writing?
Well, there’s the classics — Loveless by My Bloody Valentine, Green Mind by Dinosaur Jr. — I just started to slowly get into all kinds of music. I got into the instrumental world as soon as I saw the Tortoises and the Dirty Threes and all the things that happened there. It just psyched everybody up to the idea that you can have a home studio and go out and make noise and there’s an audience for it.
What recent records make you continue to want to write music?
There’s lots of ’em. Dirty Three is one of my favorite bands of all time. I just like listening to lots of bands that I have openly adored that make me want to keep making records. There’s that Midlake record, the new National record, I love the TV on the Radio record. I think those are exceptional records that kept my ears alive and kept me really happy that recordings can still go down.
At the moment, do you prefer to play out solo or with a band?
I can’t go anywhere without Justin Peroff and Brendan Canning; they were really exceptional to come with me. I found some really exceptional players, new members to the full thing — Andrew Kenny from American Analog Set and my friend Sam Goldberg — were just going to go out for six weeks and play music, because that’s what we love to do.
The last time I saw Broken Social Scene play, there were several times were I couldn’t help but think about Quadrophenia.
Yeah, I’ve heard it all. Next thing it’s the Wu-Tang Clan.