Broken Social Scene Open Up
Canada's Broken Social Scene have just announced their role in Bruce McDonald's This Movie is Broken - a flick that 8 key members of Toronto's independent art-scene, including long-term BSS guest vocalist Amy Feist. While the film will be out at the end of June, you can catch the band on stage at Splendour in the Grass or at one of their side shows later this year. Oyster's Zac Bayly caught up with musician Charles Spearin to find out more about their latest record Forgiveness Rock Record, how the band copes with an ever-changing lineup and Spearin's personal career highlights.
Zac Bayly: So how do you feel about Forgiveness Rock Record?
Charles Spearin: I love it. I am really excited about it. We had such a great time making the record. I mean when I hear it, I feel it. I think in a way we are going back to some of the vibe that we had for You Forget it in People - in the sense that it's a real collective effort; everybody's got lots of ideas on this record. There is a sense of joyous of exploration on the record.
Did you approach song-writing and recording differently?
The main thing that we did was that we came in with a state of mind that was really creative. We came in with enthusiasm and that is what really made it work. It felt like at any moment we could pick up instruments and play a song. It just felt like the cards were in order for this one. And I really think it turned out great.
Who is the perfectionist in the group? Who finds it hard to let go once a song is recorded?
I think working with Broken Social Scene is such a collaborative effort. We all have to be able to let go. It becomes a band song rather than a personal song. I have learned over the years that it is quite often for the best to get everybody's ideas in. Not only does that help the song musically but it helps everyone to feel like they are a part of it. In a way we are perfectionists when it comes to mixing and mastering. Once you get to the final stages everybody has their fingernails in and they are nervous a little bit but at the same time it's very exciting. But at the early stages there is a lot of openness and letting the wings of the band take the song.
Do you think having so many guests coming and going within Broken Social Scene has made it easier for the group to survive?
Yeah. I think in smaller bands everyone's jostling for a position and trying to get their creative vision across - it might be a bit harder to let go. But it's easier in some ways and harder in other ways. I mean we are such a big band so your part tends to get smaller and you feel less significant because there are so many others involved. Part of being in a collaborative effort is that you have to let your ego go a little bit. Once you can do that personally it really helps you to get creative.
How do you find performing with new guests?
There have been many occasions where I have met people onstage - many occasions. It changes the sound. It helps the feeling of the band. You are bringing people on for the first time and you just say "Ok let's see how this goes." There is an awful lot of trust and the audience can feel that. Everywhere we go we pick up new horn players and I have to teach them all the lines. I mean they are all pretty easy, but before every show I have a room and there are three of four horn players. That also makes it exciting waving them on and off stage - gesticulating wildly to get them to start and stop. It adds a lot of playfulness to the show.
It sounds like the most stressful thing in the world!
Sometimes it falls flat on its face but I think that we can laugh it off. There have been so many cringe-worthy moments. I can't think of any examples. Maybe I have blacked them out or something like that. There was one show in particular that was infamous among the band. We played this festival in Spain where we were supposed to go onstage at eleven and it kept getting pushed later and later. Eventually we went on at three in the morning and everybody was half asleep and drunk. We flew in for the show and we didn't have any of our own gear. Nothing was working and nobody could hear anything onstage. The whole band was falling apart and for the life of us we couldn't pull it together. So every once and a while we have a laugh about that, because it was a complete disaster. But I think that was the only one that we didn't manage to save.
So the current line-up is six members isn't it?
Actually six or seven. I would say seven members. In fact, I'd even go so far as to say eight because we have a new saxophone / percussion / keyboardist who is in the band so when we tour for the rest of year we will be touring with eight people onstage and with guests everywhere we go.
Tell me about the song that Amy Milan, Emily Haines, and Leslie Feist recorded together?
'Sentimental Exes'. That song was a great instrumental song. We played it live as an instrumental song and it is one of my favourites for the record before they even sang on it. Emily wrote this beautiful love song to the band, and then sang it and gave it to us and I thought it was amazing and then Leslie and Amy sang in unison, and then we added subtle harmonies as well and it blended really nicely together. It's basically a love song that Emily wrote for the band and the music was already there.
Will the three girls go on tour with you?
It's unlikely. There is a chance though. We did a show last summer in Toronto where everyone was together that was really special. We feel lucky when we have any one of those girls with us and to have all three it would probably be a Toronto show. All the stars would have to align.
If you could pick a moment in the band's history where you really felt the stars had aligned, what would it be?
There have been so many. Probably my rock and roll teenage dream come true one was playing Lollapalooza for the first time. When we played there were just I-don't-know-how-many people there - 20 or 30 thousand maybe - and we were the second to last band before the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. Everyone was screaming for us. It was just the most intense superstar moment I have ever been a part of. It was really exciting. My teenage dream come true.
Your rockstar moment! Did it make you want to wear tighter pants?
(Laughs) No I don't need to be a rockstar anymore. I would rather work on a Nobel Peace prize than being a rockstar now...
Interview by Zac Bayly.