Back in the early '90s, members of Seattle bands -- Mudhoney, Mother Love Bone, Soundgarden, etc. -- balanced multiple projects as the scene exploded. In present-day Toronto, orchestral pop collective Broken Social Scene illustrates a similar phenomenon. An amorphous entanglement of friends and itinerant musicians, the 14-plus members -- save a few core participants -- come and go, dropping into studios, rehearsal spaces or rock clubs to add everything from vocals to clap tracks. The result is music from stirring alarm calls to quavering stutter-melodies.
At the heart of Broken Social Scene are its original members Brendan Canning and Kevin Drew. After meeting in 1999, the two decided to collaborate when Drew's musical partner in the lush instrumental act K.C. Accidental, Charles Spearin, went on tour with his other band, post-rockers Do Make Say Think. Spearin left Drew and Canning with an eight-track player, which they used to make Broken Social Scene's debut disc, Feel Good Lost, with a few of their friends, say, about eight of them. For satellite members, including personnel from one-time Toronto-based bands Metric and Stars, an association with BSS is more than a guest spot -- it's a delineated role no matter how seemingly peripheral.
"It's whoever is in town is in the band. We had a series of shows at a club, Ted's Wrecking Yard, where we cut our teeth," says Canning. "There were shows we did where there'd be 12 of us. That's when the full band came to a realization. We looked around and said, 'We got a horn section, we have different singers, we have different songwriters. It really looks like this could be something.'"
Broken Social Scene's distinct parts and players came together throughout 2001 and early 2002 to create a landmark concept/ compilation album, the group's second, titled You Forgot It in People. With producer Dave Newfeld playing den mother, the group put together the record with Canning, Drew and drummer Justin Peroff writing song sketches and then bringing in their small army to help flesh out the tunes.
Much like the semi-transient ebb and flow of the studio sessions, the overall vibe of You Forgot It in People is a cut-and-paste marvel. The album goes from the galloping beats of "KC Accidental" (the song, not the band) to the soothing echoes of "Lover's Spit," hitting every meaningful note and sustaining every wondrous crescendo in the middle. It's pop at its most richly adorned and blissfully experimental, full of little nuggets that appear on each return visit.
The band, which has been as strong as 14 and as few as three in performance, had as many as 10 people in Newfeld's studio at one time while recording. Canning admits that cramming the space with bodies "was a bit foolish" and says the logistics of recording the new record, which he hopes to have out by fall, will be more thought out.
Word of BSS' intense co-mingling of ideas and bodies made its way to the upper-left coast's prominent musical community. When releasing You Forgot It in People to American audiences, Broken Social Scene found venerable Seattle indie label Sub Pop (home to most of the Seattle musicians who formed the algae on the grunge gene pool) was a major suitor for distribution rights. Relying on its own network, the album was re-released through Arts & Crafts, a friend's label specifically opened for BSS.
Thus far, the collective's open door policy has only had one minor snag: "John Crossingham was one of our guys, and he quit, but now he's back in," says Canning. "He's actually the only member to officially quit. We've never had that before. That was a bit strange. It was like, 'Dude, you don't have to quit. Just don't show up.'"
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