Posts Tagged ‘Hug of Thunder’

All Together Now: An Interview with Broken Social Scene's Brendan Canning

There are seventeen people in Broken Social Scene. Each contributed to the band’s fifth and most recent album, Hug of Thunder, and each was on “relatively equal footing” during the album’s writing, recording, and mixing, according to co-founding member Brendan Canning. (He and Kevin Drew started the band in 1999.)

I cannot imagine how this works. I cannot imagine how seventeen people can approach anything that resembles a consensus on a single decision, let alone the staggering number necessary to whittle hours of writing, recording, and mixing into twelve songs.

Canning, it seems, isn’t quite sure either. what must be the messy, contentious, somewhat free-form process that begins with an exchange of musical ideas and ends, miraculously, with a finished album.

“It’s a band that has never-ending debates,” he said , “whether it’s songs, or whether it’s, ‘Where are you going to go for lunch?’ Whatever the thing that is to be decided that day, it’s an unwieldy beast at times because you have these hard opinions. Maybe we’ll have to agree to disagree on this or that; at the end of the day, we all kind of want the same thing. And the roadmaps are just a little bit different, so you’ve got to just do your best and let things evolve the way they’re going to evolve…It’s tough navigating sometimes with this band, just because there’s a lot of people that like to sit in the captain’s chair.”

Even if there is no single method for maintaining order, the end result makes an intuitive sense. Since the band’s second album, 2002’s You Forgot It in People, each album has featured over ten contributors. Music history is littered with great bands who suffered sudden and acrimonious breakups while dealing with fewer than half the personalities that make up Broken Social Scene at any given time. And yet, the band has avoided the public drama that would seem to be the inevitable result of such an arrangement, which involves solo and side projects that have found varying degrees of success (Feist and Metric being the two most prominent), and the perceived hierarchies that follow. There must be something that keeps small frustrations from building into resentment.

That thing, according to Canning, is friendship. This sounds like a cliché, but the reason Canning and his bandmates have not split is because for them, it’s not. Being in a band is hard. It is a series of compromises, frustrations, and the repeated toil that comes with any creative endeavour. Add the fast pace, endless travel, and forced intimacy that comes with touring, and the potential for explosive tension looms. The work of friendship–empathy, communication, loyalty, sacrifice–is what keeps a band together.

“We’re not faking our way through these relationships,” Canning said. “We actually have friendships, and we’re not just toeing some party line and making people believe, ‘Yeah, it’s all about the friendships!’ Because the friendships were already well in place before this band became a band.”

That foundation is what allows everyone to remain grounded through what Canning refers to as “the whole picture of a band,” which involves every step of the creative and promotional process: writing, recording, touring, merchandise, interviews, eating, sleeping. “It’s so many different pieces,” he said. “And is everyone emotionally ready for all of it? You’ve got to hope so because you’ve all got to spend a whole bunch of time together. This band is just a real good lesson in mental and emotional awareness.”

The solo projects help. Between albums, each member works on various projects that function as outlets to exert a greater degree of creative control and lessen the stakes when the band reunites. For his part, Canning has played DJ sets, released solo albums, written film scores, and recorded with other bands since Broken Social Scene took off. The personal and creative space allowed by these projects is invaluable.

“Sometimes you’re just not meant to be living on a tour bus with one another for months on end,” he said. “A lot of the time you just want to escape your role, because you’re tired of playing that role. You just get frustrated. It’s easy to get frustrated and it’s easy to start saying, ‘Well, if we hadn’t done it this way or this way, we’d probably be a lot further ahead!’ And all these stupid things you conjure up in your brain because you wanted your way here or you wanted your way there and you didn’t get it. Or no one’s happy because you’re fighting over stupid shit. Or you’re not coming together as a unit. And that’s really what you have to do as a band. You have to come together as a unit, and if you’re not doing that, you’re going to be in trouble.”

The time apart means the band reunites with intention. This time, it was the shooting at a 2015 Eagles of Death Metal concert in Paris that led to a series of phone conversations which, ultimately, created momentum for a new album.

There was also a producer, Joe Chiccarelli (previous credits include The Shins, The Strokes, My Morning Jacket, and Morrissey), who urged them forward. “[He] kept checking in on us,” Canning said. “Every few months he’d be in Toronto and want to sit down for coffee…Just sort of saying, ‘Okay, so where are we at? Did you work on any of those demos?’ And you have to give him the bad news, ‘Well Joe, we’ve had some good conversations, but we haven’t actually got into the rehearsal space yet, but we’re really working towards it and let’s talk again,’ and the same thing a few months later.”

Eventually, the band began recording in earnest. Some members brought in new ideas, others returned to old ones. As always, it was something of a mess to make sure everyone’s contributions were heard.

“If a part’s going down on this record, hopefully, it’s going to be a part that’s going to get heard,” Canning said. “You don’t want to go over someone’s part. You’ve got to be mindful of all those things. “But it’s a double-edged sword, because you’ve got to serve the song to its best purpose and…maybe one person is going to want to hear something a little bit louder, but at the end of the day, we’re all just trying to write songs that are going stick or be in people’s lives for hopefully a long time.”

Canning found himself both advocating for and questioning songs that would make the final cut. ‘Stay Happy’ was among those Canning fought hardest for. Though the song was popular among the band, Canning saw potential that led him to push for revisions.

“I sort of joke with [guitarist Andrew Whiteman], it’s a nice pat on the back for me when I hear someone compliment that song for a couple of certain things I fought for that maybe not even the whole band knows about…Everyone loved that song, but I, for one, wanted to see that song reach how far I felt it could reach. just take your small little victories. And the things that aren’t quote-unquote ‘victories,’ you just have to ride it out. You’re never going to get everything you want, because what would that even feel like? Maybe it would not be the right thing.”

Though the album is a product of hard-fought consensus, the chaos that shaped its production shows in the final product. During an interview with SiriusXMU recorded in March, Drew claimed, “We don’t really write songs. We write feelings, and then we turn them into songs.” The Broken Social Scene aesthetic reflects the ambiguities, micro-tones, and contradictions which define the human emotional experience. On Hug of Thunder, I hear an anxiety in the diffuse arrangements, impressionistic textures, and obscured melodic lines. Canning is surprised by my interpretation but does not dismiss it. “If that’s what you hear, then that’s what you hear,” he replies before mentioning a writer who heard a more celebratory tone.

This exchange is telling, and speaks to how the band, in its process and product, corresponds with the most fundamental human tensions: a simultaneous impulse toward intimacy and extraversion, clarity and obscurity, celebration and reflection. The album can be something of a Rorschach blot, open to a range of interpretations based on the listener’s perspective.

Canning is less interested in offering specific readings than in hoping the music makes you feel something. “Whatever you’re experiencing, I’d say, it’s right,” he said. “If it makes you feel a certain way, then you’re right because it’s your ears.”

Broken Social Scene’s fifth album, Hug of Thunder, is out now.


Canadian collective Broken Social Scene will issue their long-awaited fifth LP,“Hug of Thunder”, on July 7th via City Slang/Arts & Crafts. The 12-track album, which follows 2010’s Forgiveness Rock Record, features the comeback single, “Halfway Home.” Hug of Thunder will reportedly feature many of the ever-rotating band’s most famous members, including Feist, Haines, Shaw, Millan and Cranley. The title track from the album has been released. It features lead vocals from Feist,

The first single from their upcoming LP, “Halfway Home” found the long-dormant band sticking pretty close to the script. Full-to-overflowing with big choruses and every instrument under the sun, the song didn’t hold much back. Yet it all felt a touch too familiar, the kind of rush-relent-repeat rock you can almost picture them doing in their sleep. Funny, then, that Hug of Thunder’s far-from-formulaic title track—and second single—came to be while ringleader Kevin Drew was sleeping . According to Leslie Feist, “Thunder” came together in a quiet moment, while Kevin Drew caught some z’s on a studio couch. With Drew otherwise indisposed, a restless Brendan Canning stumbled into a bassline, guitarist Andrew Whiteman found a rhythm, and Feist, notebook in hand, grabbed a mic. After a few days spent reshuffling her lyrics, the song’s form took shape, every piece of the song, from Feist’s discursive lyrics to the circuitous rhythm and flickers of U2-like guitar, all seem to contour around each other .

The Band Broken Social Scene opened up their U.K Tour the night after the Manchester Bombing at the Ariana Grande Arena show in Manchester with a simple message,

“Tonight, we play for the hearts of Manchester…” Hometown hero Johnny Marr joined the band onstage to open the show with “Anthems For A Seventeen Year-Old Girl,” with the band starting things off by proclaiming their support for Manchester:

Thank you for showing up. Thank you for coming out tonight. What’s most important is tonight we’re here together, all of us. That’s what we could do, and that’s what we’re doing, so thank you Manchester. We’re so happy. There’s no other place we’d rather be than here with you. To start this show, to show you how we love your town, there’s a man who I love dearly who’s come out to play for you. He is your city, he is your legend, please give it up for Mr. Johnny Marr.

The new album will feature contributions from all 15 of the collective’s original members – including Kevin Drew, Brendan Canning, Leslie Feist, Metric’s Emily Haines and Jimmy Shaw, Stars’ Amy Milian and more – as well as new vocalist Ariel Engle. Many of those collaborators appear on the title track, which constantly evolves and blossoms over its five-minute run time.

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Band Members
Brendan Canning, Kevin Drew, Justin Peroff, Charles Spearin, Andrew Whiteman, David Newfeld,Leslie Feist, Emily Haines, James Shaw, Evan Cranley, Amy Millan, Ohad Benchetrit, Marty Kinack,Torquil Campbell,Julie Penner,Sam Goldberg, Lisa Lobsinger

Broken Social Scene Announce First Full U.S. Tour in Six Years, Share Title Track from <i>Hug of Thunder</i>

Building up to their first new album in seven years, Broken Social Scene have shared the title track from their forthcoming new album “Hug Of Thunder” , featuring vocals from once-and-future BSS member Leslie Feist . With its unwavering drum-machine, chattering guitar section and Feist’s trademark murmur, it serves as a cool contrast to the untamed jubilance in the band’s first lead-in, “ Halfway Home” Featuring contributions from all fifteen original members as well as new guest vocalist, Ariel Engle, the album is available to pre-order now in digital, CD, and LP.  , Broken Social Scene have also announced a full U.S. tour including some UK dates, their first in six years. Frightened Rabbit and The Belle Game are set to open for the group on select dates.

First run LP features beautiful coke bottle clear vinyl (exclusive to pre-order purchases), 140g double-LP, and a 28 page booklet. LP includes the vinyl-only bonus track “Old Dead Young”.

The band’s upcoming UK shows, kicking off next week in Manchester, on May 23rd

Hug of Thunder is out July 7th on Arts & Crafts . See the band’s tour dates—with more to be announced soon.