It’s a radiant, if not mildly humid, morning in Toronto. As the sun’s rays sizzle down onto the city’s pavement, it doesn’t appear that Broken Social Scene cofounder Brendan Canning is in any particular hurry today — or at least, his two dogs aren’t.
“That’s as fast as they can go,” he explains, as we baby-step toward a parkette a few feet away from his downtown home. It’s a regular routine, walking his dogs, one that requires some patience and a willingness to go with the flow. Halfway through our conversation leads one of them, Winston, back home, when he sneakily finds a way to exit the closed-off park premises.
When Canning returns after taking Winston home, he’s completely unfazed by the near escape that just went down. Instead, he wraps his arms around his other dog and without skipping a beat, jumps right back into our discussion of the Toronto music scene. That’s how Canning has always been known to fans of the Toronto collective from which he hails: the stoic centre, a calming presence in the chaos that was, at times, Broken Social Scene.
In 2011, Broken Social Scene announced that it would go on hiatus after 12 years together. The band, an integral mark on the Canadian indie-rock boom of the early 2000s, was made up of a large group of revolving members. Just a scroll of the band’s roster and it’s easy to list off a few handfuls of associated acts and side projects: Metric, Stars, Feist, Jason Collett, just to name a few of the dozens. At the core of the band, of course, are its two cofounders, Canning and Kevin Drew.
To say the band was going on hiatus was, perhaps, not the most accurate term. In fact, upon discussing the band’s many festival performances in the interim years (at Social Scene label Arts and Crafts’ Field Trip festival twice, Pemberton Music Festival and WayHome), Canning offers a forthright correction: “It has never been a hiatus.”
For Canning, his latest solo release, Home Wrecking Years (out today), is a direct extension of the Broken Social Scene universe. “Home Wrecking Years has Justin Peroff on it and Sam Goldberg,” Canning notes, of the album’s many cameos.
While Canning has assembled his own band for this record, he will always see his work as a family affair tied to his most well-known project, especially when it includes some of those members. So on those terms, Broken Social Scene wasn’t dormant all these years. Instead, it was just quietly recharging, and 2016 is now seeing the real return of the collective to the festival circuit and the studio this summer, as well as in the form of this unofficial release, Canning’s third solo effort. Regarding Broken Social Scene, Canning adds, “You can’t just stop.”
This isn’t to say there was a master plan set in place this whole time. The path for Canning and the band’s many other members has always been strictly insouciant. Canning’s current solo course kicked off when he released 2013’s You Gots 2 Chill, a collection of mostly acoustic works he put together and released under his own label, Draper Street Records. The label has since become inactive, although Canning says he’d be willing to return to it if the right project arises, since he owns the label’s name.
Canning never intended to tour that record but, when the time came, he cobbled together a group of musicians. With just one album — discounting the release of 2008’s still-sort-of-collective-effort Something For All of Us… under the title, Broken Social Scene Presents Brendan Canning — of material, though, Canning knew he had to write more songs. Thus, setting Home Wrecking Years into motion.
“[Home Wrecking Years] was half band and half all these ideas I’d been kicking around,” Canning says, of the album’s writing process. “I remember coming up with the lick to ‘Hey Marika, Get Born’ in a Social Scene sound check and our guitar tech was like, ‘Oh cool, kind of sounds like the Grateful Dead,’ and I knew that would never pass through Broken Social Scene. It’s just too whimsical of a song — not that Social Scene doesn’t have its moments of whimsy but this was a different kind of thing.”
Canning’s style of whimsy is less anthemic and more relaxed than Broken Social Scene’s grandiose sounds. Its closest relative would be the You Forgot It In People instrumental centerpiece, “Pacific Theme.” Songs on Home Wrecking Years boast more structure and cohesion than any of Canning’s previous solo work, but there’s still a loose airiness that harkens back to the aforementioned track. “Book it to Fresno,” the more raucous lead single, may lead you to think otherwise, but rest assured, listeners will sink into a comfort zone once they reach dreamier tracks “Keystone Dealers” or “Once I was a Runner.” Of the reverberating, acoustic guitar-led track “Vibration Walls,” Canning says, “We recorded that in one day in the studio, it was just like, ‘That sounds pretty good,’ like West Coast rock, '90s-ish.”
As is clear in the casual construction of the songs on this album, Canning simply went with the flow. The results are sounds that evoke those past musical eras because those were the times to which he felt most personally connected: he began making music in the early '90s in bands like hHead, By Divine Right and Len, and in 2001, Broken Social Scene released its first album, Feel Good Lost, an instrumental record that veered closer to ambience than the fist-pumping rock numbers the collective wrote later on.
“I can’t escape that '90s past,” Canning says. “It’s in my DNA, I lived through it so hardcore.”
This is where his path has led him thus far, and with another tour and another new Broken Social Scene project on the horizon, it’ll be intriguing to see where his journey takes him next.
More to explore