Broken Social Scene just can't do things the easy way.
The Toronto indie-rock collective has no permanent lineup, instead relying on a loose assembly of 15 or so friends, nearly all of whom are in other bands. They recorded their long-awaited third album, Windsurfing Nation — then recorded an additional LP for good measure. And they decided not to include the most commercial songs.
Due October 4, the follow-up to the band's 2003 breakthrough LP, You Forgot It in People, had a difficult birth. Trying to synch up the schedules of the band's many members (which revolve around the core of shaggy singers/songwriters Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning and drummer Justin Peroff) was a scheduling nightmare that, combined with BSS's incessant touring, wreaked considerable havoc on the album's writing and recording.
"We didn't really know what happened to our album," Canning said. "It's like making a movie and looking back on footage months later and going, 'What happened to that scene? Did we lose it?' The answer is yes."
When the 2004 edition of Lollapalooza, which BSS were slated to play, was canceled, the exhausted and overworked band looked at the setback as a blessing in disguise. "We celebrated!" Drew laughed. "We were already so tired and burned out that we were so happy."
The group used the unexpected downtime to record an album with longtime producer David Newfeld, but sessions ground to a halt owing to the producer being "depressed and having to shut the studio down," according to Canning. The group then migrated to the studios of producer/multi-instrumentalist Ohad Benchetrit of Toronto post-rockers Do Make Say Think, and completed another album's worth of songs later that year.
With soaring ambition and unlimited studio time (a perk of both producers owning their studios), the sessions were marked by creative excess: The material was labored over to the extent that, at one point, the group recorded a song with more than 170 individual tracks. "This record will never be done in our minds, and we're still coming to terms with that," Drew said. "People don't even remember what they played on it!"
With more than 50 songs to choose from, the group had its hearts set on releasing the more recent material, but decided to issue the Newfeld sessions as Windsurfing Nation — a title derived from the "gliding" feel of some of its songs — and will release Benchetrit-helmed material some time in 2006.
"You get emotionally connected to certain songs done at a certain time," Drew said. "It was hard to let go of the [newer material], but ultimately we felt a responsibility to release the Dave Newfeld experience."
Having gained a respectable amount of commercial success and critical praise with People, BSS are poised to break into the mainstream — but, characteristically, they've chosen the more challenging path.
"It's not a record that's going to the masses," Drew said candidly of the 70-minute album. "We're not going to the 'next level.' We made a dirty-sounding, right/wrong record. We [eliminated] the catchiest singles from the record. We don't live up to what label and promotion people want us to be — we're not about that."
"Are you a brand or are you a band?" Canning added. "That's what it comes down to."
The bandmembers consider this self-imposed removal of commercial potential to be an act of self-preservation for their often dysfunctional extended family.
"As a band, we hang on by a thread and with love," Drew said, referring to the fragile nature of the collective's existence. "We could break up in two weeks if we're not careful. We're all best friends — and you'd think that would make it easier, but it's not."
Those friends constitute a sort of all-star team of Canadian indie rock: bassist Evan Cranley and singer Amy Milan from Stars (see "Stars Wear Hearts And Politics On The Sleeves of Fire"), Metric's Emily Haines and James Shaw, singer Leslie Feist (a.k.a. Feist), Charles Spearin and Julie Penner (Benchetrit's bandmates in Do Make Say Think), Jason Collett, Apostle of Hustle's Andrew Whiteman, Raising the Fawn's John Crossingham, the Weakerthans' Jason Tate — and Toronto rapper k-os makes a cameo on the new LP (see "K-Os Rewrites Hip-Hop's Rulebook With Joyful Rebellion").
Songs slated for the album include the longtime live staples "Shoreline (7/4)," "Major Label Debut," "Superconnected" and the 10-minute epic "It's All Gonna Break," and newer tracks like "Fire Eyed Boy," "Close to Ireland," "Handjobs for the Holidays" and "Ibid Dreams of Pavement (A Better Day)." The band recently completed a handful of dates opening up for Dinosaur Jr., and a North American tour is scheduled for the fall.