On a bed, chatting with Broken Social Scene's Kevin Drew
“It’s all about getting back to where you started.” This is one of Kevin Drew’s principle beliefs. Many reference Drew as a co-founder of Broken Social Scene, but that seems too formal. Instead, let’s say he’s one of the initial sparks that ignited the collective. We’re chatting on a bed in the band’s trailer at Supercrawl, which is hilarious and somehow apropos. The band have returned to free Hamilton festival for its 10th anniversary, having closed out Supercrawl 2011 with a triumphant, life-affirming set.
“…and that’s what I think the power of music does.”
After a 7-year break (hiatus, pause, whatever), Broken Social Scene revived in 2017 to release their fifth album, Hug of Thunder. We’re catching up now as the touring cycle for the album winds down. When I ask Drew about the link between Broken Social Scene albums being released so close to major events like 9/11 and hurricane Katrina, his answer careens, as they often do during our conversation.
“When I go to shows, and still to this day, and when I was young, I just wanted to feel something and be overpowered by the joy of being in that moment with everyone around me. That was always the goal. We lost sight of it, of course.”† He continues, swaying through a list of women he thanks god for, the comparison of the band to a community, how they wanted to create a soundtrack to get through, and finally this. “It’s through living that we turn to, ‘Where’s my guru, where’s my shaman?’, when really, it’s in you. It’s just…how lost do you want to get before you try to get back? It’s all about getting back to you.”
I struggle to keep up with Drew’s threaded answers. I follow him, only to lose the end in the fabric. Then he ends his response with, “…and that’s what I think the power of music does.” Just like that, he secures the stitches, and everything is held together.
But before we go too far down these tangents, perhaps it’s best to take Drew’s advice and find our way back to the beginning.
† Follow the rest of this response from Kevin Drew later in the interview.
He made a great point how everyone just unites – hippies, punks, everyone’s here just kind of doing their things.
So, do you have a close connection to Hamilton?
KD: No, but we’re close! I grew up in Etobicoke. Hamilton to me…it’s interesting because we were just talking about it at dinner with Brandon Reid, a lovely gentleman who lives here that we met through The National. He made a great point how everyone just unites – hippies, punks, everyone’s here just kind of doing their things. It’s got kind of a Portland aspect to it, and how it just keeps changing.
Does he think it still has that vibe?
KD: Oh yeah. Everyone I know that’s in Hamilton is pro-Hamilton.
I think it’s changed a bit with the influx of people, and rising prices, and what was a big artist movement in 2012…it’s a little harder for artists to live here now.
KD: Well that’s population. It’s unavoidable. I still think the integrity of it is intact.
Supercrawl is still going strong and getting bigger every year!
KD: Bigger every year, and the fact that it’s free. It’s a wonderful thing in today’s day and age.
So, you wrote and starred in a play last year…
KD: I did (laughing).
At the same time, when you’re in a place like that you’re just constantly looking for excuses for why you haven’t done something that is a dream.
Along with that you’ve directed videos, done solo projects, produced…what tangent haven’t you explored yet that freaks you out, or still excites you?
KD: Film. That’s all I ever wanted as a kid.
You’ve done short film before, right?
KD: I did. And Feist who I did the video for, and who is obviously very close to me, she set that up for me. She said, ‘You gotta start with a short, and then you go off and do your feature’, and I sort of went off into the world’s bar instead. I kinda said, ‘I’m gonna just go around the world and party with the locals’, and then I didn’t do the thing that I wanted to do, and certain aspects of that started to haunt me.
It kind of shut me down there for a while. I was kind of plagued by it - that sort of “missed the boat” syndrome. I think it was just realizing that life goes on that got me out of it, but the whole streaming and the digital world for a while there really freaked me out. At the same time, when you’re in a place like that you’re just constantly looking for excuses for why you haven’t done something that is a dream.
I’m surprised because from the outside, it seems like whenever you want to do or try something you just up and do it.
KD: I love that, and I think that is the truth, so I WILL do film, but I just have to change the mind frame. I’m older, and the uptown theatre is closed, and Siskel and Ebert don’t exist anymore, and Premiere magazine is gone, and all the things that I love as a film buff growing up…I had to sort of adjust to the modern day and realize that it still exists and can happen.
There’s a band called The Beauties that played at The Dakota tavern, they bring me joy.
I think film was an ‘in’ to music for me. I’d hear a great soundtrack and dive in.
KD: Oh, me too.
I don’t think that the case very often. I think usually the ‘in’ is radio. So, will you explore film soon?
KD: I still go to sit down and write and do everything but. Anytime I go to write whether it’s a play or script, I’ll find every reason why the environment that I’m in is not where I should be writing, or I’ll just do every single chore or task that I put aside. It takes a lot to put yourself in that chair. But because I wrote that play and got that out there it showed me that if you do the work it can happen.
they’re adults now of course, but they came into my life and they brought me joy.
Did the same thing happen with producing, and writing the play…was it hard to get into those different things?
KD: Music for me is easy. The feeling is immediate, the result is immediate, the emotion is immediate, but in writing it takes a lot of work. I would say that I don’t have the greatest discipline when it comes to work, and music for me, went around discipline. It was just such a natural reaction.
It sort of drove you to music.
KD: Yeah it did drive me to music. Producing... I just kind of fell into because I wanted to hang out with people. I did some stuff with Still Life Still because these kids at the time, they’re adults now of course, but they came into my life and they brought me joy. So, I thought, ‘let’s go cut this record in five days.’
There’s a band called The Beauties that played at The Dakota tavern, they bring me joy. I adored playing with them, and I adored that scene, and I adored that time, so I’d go and hang out with them while they were making a record.
And then Andy Kim, I wanted to spend time with, so I said, ‘let’s make a record together’.
And then I met Gord [Downie], and I said, ‘let’s make a record together’, and then he kind of kidnapped me, and I was into it.
That’s a great person to have been kidnapped by.
KD: Yeah! And the impulses that we had, we were very in sync. The Hip was more difficult because they were a band of 30 years, and I had never done that with people who had such a massive career and had their patterns and their stories, and I was just trying to get in there. Dave Hamelin who was my producing partner on most of that stuff, we were hilarious together…
All incredible times because you’re around the record button and you’re trying to find melody, and HONEST melody, which is always the key…honest melody.
They’re all different experiences, but they’re all parties. It’s a constant emotional party. I’ve said that before and I got in trouble because it came out wrong, but no I stand by it. There’s freedom in making music, and if you’re successful at it, and there’s people that are expecting it and want to hear it, it’s the golden ticket. There’re all kinds of cocktails that go well with that.
I was thinking, ‘Wow, I’m in that older crew…’ where these songs have been around for so long, but, no…they still mean the same to me.
Hug of Thunder sounds like a record from a band that was channeling. Nothing seems forced or calculated. We’re you worried after the break that it wasn’t going to click again, or that it might click too easily?
KD: Yeah there’s worry all the time. Thanks for saying that. There’s a love there with everyone, I’ve said this across the board when we did the campaign for the record. It was our move as friends in a time when things were getting fearfully ridiculous. I champion Brendan Canning for getting us together, because Charles Spearin and myself, we thought that we should just leave it. But it’s the people and the attitudes. I don’t think there was every any problems. We were just trying to find what we felt was a great return.
And we recorded A LOT, and we relied so heavily on Niles Spencer and Joe Chiccarelli coming in from LA. For me on a personal level, it wasn’t particularly the greatest time in my mind, but I just sort of hosted and listened and try to make it be about the band. You have to put aside ego and understand that everyone has something to contribute.
You’ve had a while to let ‘Hug of Thunder’ exist with the listeners, playing it for a year and a half. Some of your older songs you’ve been playing for 10, 12, 15 years. How have they changed for you?
KD: I was thinking about this today! I was thinking, ‘Wow, I’m in that older crew…’ where these songs have been around for so long, but, no…they still mean the same to me. When I’m on stage and it’s a good show and I look around at everyone on stage and everyone in the crowd, that’s a place that I can’t take for granted. I wish everyone could feel that.
I think if you’re emotional than you’re political. If you’re sensitive than you’re alive.
I was looking back at the albums and the space between them. A lot of bands will do an album every two or three years and Social Scene has never really done that. They kind of fall…You Forgot it in People right around 9/11, the self-titled album right around hurricane Katrina, and so on. They fall around these major events. Is there something to that? Is there something about those major events leading toward BSS putting an album out?
KD: I hope so.
And I’m no saint, and I obviously have made a lot of mistakes that I go and try to calculate and eventually try to take responsibility.
It’s not there lyrically, but it seems like these events sort of lit a fire under Social Scene.
† KD: I think if you’re emotional than you’re political. If you’re sensitive than you’re alive. I don’t believe in us and them, and I don’t believe in judging people, but I do believe in judging the influence that people have on others.
And I’m no saint, and I obviously have made a lot of mistakes that I go and try to calculate and eventually try to take responsibility. We’re all holding on to something, or we’re all missing someone, or someone’s gone, or something was wrong, or this should have happened or why did that happen…and shows are the moment when you get to release it all.
That’s what music was for me.
So, when you bring up those events that are so heavy…even if it’s in small blocks, we’re not a massive band. We’re within communities and you want to be a soundtrack to that and be a part of their lives to get through. Because that’s what I was taught, that’s what Charlie was taught, Justin, Brendan, Andrew, Ariel, Leslie, Em, Haines, Evan, Jimmy…just to get people through, to form you.
I’ve placed myself back to where I started. That’s all that it is, everyone looking for all of those things, they just want to remember what they knew, that’s it! They want to go back to what they knew.
Luke Cummins is the host of CFMU's Superconnected, sharing mixed, indie and local music along with raw and personal interviews with these amazing artists.
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