Interview with Broken Social Scene - Portsmouth - 2 February 2006

Interview and article by Aline Giordano

Broken Social Scene in Concert

I was looking for someone who may look like a member of Broken Social Scene. Well, the only problem with this is that I had only seen one picture of them and you know what it's like... People are so very different in real life. But I eventually spotted a woman sitting at a table tapping on her iBook. Although she did frown at me uninvitingly, I introduced myself to her and asked if I could have an interview with the band. She had a good look at me and mumbled a "Have you contacted our record company?" I must admit the formality of the question and the coldness with which it had been delivered surprised me greatly. Still, I replied that I had not. She stood up and said that she would make enquiries. She eventually came back and told me, in that same cold tone of voice, to wait where I was and that Kevin could only spare ten minutes for an interview. I did as I was told, although I could not help but think that she'd made me feel like I had been begging for charity. Not a good start I thought! I was close to going back home, but I stuck with it. Perhaps it would be worth the wait after all? Now, maybe it was my fault. Maybe I missed something. Maybe I just wasn't in the mood as I had had a very tough day. But one thing is certain: I did not gel with Kevin and Andrew... I found the interview difficult to manage. I felt like a teacher trying to extract some sense out of a bunch disinterested youths. I felt no connection with the band. So here goes.

How do you think Broken Social Scene is perceived here in Europe compared with the cult status you have the other side of the sea?

Kevin: ... Well. Europe is a new ball game.

(...Then we got interrupted by someone asking something about laundry. Let's try again with a more exciting question...:) Do you think the Juno award you picked up...

(Kevin smiles.)

I can see a sarcastic smile on your face. Would you like to expand on that?

(Kevin laughs with his mouth full of some kind of sandwich and mumbles)

Kevin: We got nominated for another one this year!

Well I think you deserve it. I really like your last album.

Kevin: So do I. We like it.

Andrew: Well, we're up against Metric and New Pornographers, and we're probably going to go down!

Kevin: I don't mind.

(... And we got interrupted again, someone came to pick up some wine and a jacket!...)

Andrew: We should go somewhere else or you'll be highly insulted.

(...Actually I am not feeling insulted, I just want to get on with the damned thing...)

Andrew: Sorry, keep talking...

Actually, YOU keep talking.

Andrew: Yeah, So, the Juno... In Canada, the Canadian music scene doesn't translate that much. It's not that big a deal. It is in Canada, it's a huge thing for us.

Do you think this made the Broken Social Scene phenomenon, or that was just the official recognition from the Establishment?

Kevin: That's always nice.

So it doesn't look that hopeful for this year?

Kevin: It doesn't matter. It's good we got nominated. We're with our friends and we're gonna play on the TV show.

Which track are you gonna play?

Kevin: We don't know yet.

Andrew: Do we?

Kevin: We don't know yet, because I don't want to fucking tell everybody on the internet...

(...Oh I wish everybody were logging on my site you egotistic primadonna!...)

Andrew: It's a fanzine!

Kevin: Whatever. We don't know yet!

Andrew: I'm tired to put all our moods on the internet. It's disgusting. We give up information and then we change our minds about a thousand times. I find it irritating.

Do you? The internet is a very useful thing at present. It can promote bands...

Kevin: I find the blogs irritating.

Andrew: You can get sucked in. There are a couple of sites I like to check out. Yeah you can lose your entire life if you're that into it. People are that into it.

Writing the follow up to "You Forgot it in People"... How did it work out? Did you wait until you all had enough material or did you decide to just get together? How does that work out in between recordings?

Andrew: There's no organisation at all. Not at all. There's always a next tour. There's that amount of time in between and then these groups of people who happen to be there at that time. That's kind of it.

Kevin: We did a really good thing in making it work for so long. We got a lot of patience from a lot of people. Bands like Stars and Metric really helped us out. The phenomenon is that we've done it. We did it and we seem to make it work. The music is the music. It's there. You can tell we're in love with lots of bands and you can hear that throughout our albums. And also, it's like a liberation when we go around and play live. We know that the platforms and the barriers kill. It's a stereotype, it's fucking pathetic.

What do you mean by the platforms?

Kevin: I mean, when you're up ten more feet, it's supposed to mean we're more important. We kind of bring people in to be up there with us. Eye to eye. That's the celebration. We can try to be cool and we're...

Andrew: ...too lazy.

Kevin: Too fucking lazy. And we fail miserably. You be who you are and tell people to be who they are. And you tour the world and you do that and you fucking sing your guts out, and everybody plays with a huge love inside of them. And people think, 'Oh is this an act'. Every pessimistic person out there have nothing honest. They can call us what they will, but at the end of the day, when you know you're doing something honest you're not bothered by it. It might irritate you, but it won't affect what you do. With Broken Social Scene, that's how we make our records. You could not have a huge ego. You'd have to keep yourselves in check. You'd have to learn to deal with things. And now we're making a living from that and try very hard to sustain bringing people on the road. Everywhere we go we try really hard to come with more than six people so that we can represent everyone's writing all the time.

Whoever happens to be there is happy singing each other's songs?

Andrew: Yeah, we've learned other people's tunes and played them.

Kevin: When a band plays. It's everyone's song. No one has ever come in with a written song and arranged it for everybody.

Back to the recording... David Newfeld, does he seem to be the boss?

Kevin: Not the boss.

Andrew: He does call shots, but he is not the boss at all.

Kevin: Yeah. He calls lots of the shots but he is not the boss.

Is there a boss in Broken Social Scene?

Andrew, pointing to Kevin: He is the boss. That's why he is wearing that tee-shirt (CORONER). He's going to decide what to do with our dead bodies.

Is this circumstances, or...

Kevin: (with his mouthful!): Don't you want to elaborate on that?!

(... Not really but if I must...:) Are you a good boss? Is it top down or bottom up managerial style?

Andrew: Depends on how many beers we've had!

Kevin: Oh no, that's a terrible answer. (Looking at Andrew) Am I a good boss?

Andrew: Yes. He is a good boss. He is for sure.

Kevin: Everybody's the boss of their own selves.

Andrew: I've been in these so called democratic huge bands before this band. It's fake. When they say there is no boss and we're all equal, it is actually a giant lie, and if they believe it then great but they live under an illusion. With these many people and these many ideas, these many aspirations! My God, you've got to have direction. We're all playing in other bands too.

Kevin: No one could really be the boss except myself and Brendan, and now my father who is running the financial side. You need someone to keep things together and keep them going. And I'm part of the label as well, so it's inevitable that all eyes are going to turn to me if there is a come down question like 'Are you going to do this or not?'. No one is forced to do anything they don't want to do. Everyone is trying to make money from it. The money is split very equally among the best members.

Has the boss made any bad decisions?

Andrew laughs!

Kevin: ME?!

Well I'm asking the boss!

Kevin: Nothing that ruined us.

Andrew: He would not be a good boss if he didn't make bad decisions.

What's the best decision you've made?

Kevin: The best I ever say is "No" and "don't even tell these guys stuff". Just like I know what their opinion would be. You don't even want to introduce that to them. It's inevitable we've made lots of mistakes. We made a lot of people make a lot of mistakes for us. The more people get on board and help us, the more confusing it gets. That's the phenomenon! The more help we get, the crazier we get, the more miscommunication there is, the more like "you said this", "you said that".

And yet, the better you get at it!

Kevin: I just think everyone has to keep going. We understand this is the end of our four month tour right now. I think that right now this is a very good run for us, this record. I don't see us putting a record in terms of this way for a long time. This record will remind each other of who we're playing with and how we all worked before all this stuff happened, whether it is the music career, or it's relationships and family and children, and all that stuff. We just seem to get it all accomplished right before the next part is coming up. It's really one of our greatest accomplishments. I'm very proud of everybody that no one ruined it. Everyone had the opportunity to just say "I'm not getting enough time here" or "my management says do this", but every one sustained because when we play live and we have genuinely amazing shows, and all of us feel it, it's an unbelievable feeling that every one is searching for.

Andrew: We want it to last, and when we have a long term view of things we make different decisions.

On your last album, there is "we hate your hate". That's a big statement!?

Kevin: It's not a really big statement. You know why it's not a big statement? Because it's "we hate your hate". What's behind it? It's w e h a t e y o u r h a t e. It's hatred fighting hatred. That's all it is. It's a big statement because it's in a package and it comes with all this music, and it comes with this artwork and every band is supposed to tell you something. And you're supposed to learn something from Broken Social Scene. That's fucking bullshit.

But then, on the album inlay, you write statements underneath each song. Some of them can be perceived and understood as profound and others silly.

Kevin: Yeah, silly, profound.

Your message is ambiguous. (And I'm thinking to myself: Have you lost the plot?... but I keep smiling and carry on.)

Kevin: If you really look at the package it's a complete huge contradiction. It's only a comment on, basically, how we all live. That's what the record is too. If you listen to that fucking album, it's one huge contradiction.

Andrew: And we have played very celebratory shows. We have a great crowd. But if you look and listen as close as you can to that record and you look at those statements that are obviously intriguing you, there is a lot of crazy messages, there's a lot of not so celebrational ideas being put across.

I really don't know how I would describe your last album. But what I really like is that it encapsulates everything that I have listened to in the last two decades, from The Cure to Sonic Youth and Four Tet. I feel a personal connection with this album because its roots are my roots.

Andrew: Good. Well that's the point.

(...At last we agree on one point so I'm trying to be nice!...) I wanted to thank you for putting out a record that does that to me.

Kevin: Everything's been done a thousand times, but you still want to buy new records. We're a band that loves buying records, loves going to stores and buy albums, loves listening to music, loves all the influences and does not need to fall back on the Beatles. There are so much more. Of course we're going to win you over. How can we not with all the shit that's out there?! With all the fucking crap how we're not going to win a music lover over? That's what our crowds are filled with: Music lovers, and they don't need to buy into the who's what where, what's going on, charts, NME and all that shit. It's irrelevant to the guys who played that song at his wedding. Good man, I hope you had a good day. I hope you're still married. If you're not, maybe you should listen to this song...

So what's playing on your CD player or iPod or whatever you happen to have?

Kevin: I've been listening to the last Collen's album.

Andrew: It's beautiful ambient stuff.

Kevin: Many Fingers too. I like classics when I'm on the road like Caribou, Dirty Three.

Kevin: We've got to go soon... You've got a closing question for us?

Well there's one question I have not asked yet... It may be circumstances but there seems to be more Canadian bands making it to the international scene at present. There is yourself, the bands you each represent...

Kevin: Black Mail, Arcade Fire, Stars, Spinal fantasies, The Stills, The Dears, Feist, Great Lake Swimmers, AC Newman, Pink Mountain tops, New Pornographers...

Is it high time that the public discovered them?

Kevin: Yeah! High fucking times!

Or is it because Canada is producing good bands right now.

Kevin: Canada is making good records right now.

Andrew: There is not a scene. All these bands we've just mentioned are all on different musical paths. And in that musical path they're really kind of going for it. And you're not going to get the same things listening to the Dears or listening to Pink Mountain tops. There's just so much.

Kevin: Sorry, I'm eating chips, I'm so hungry.

For more details, visit... Broken Social Scene's website

Photograph © Aline Giordano 2006