The concept of the artist’s collective is hardly novel. But few have achieved the level of success of Toronto’s Broken Social Scene. The Canadian indie supergroup has launched the careers of a flood of solo artists and satellite bands such as Feist, Stars and Metric, all of whom claim membership in the sprawling rock kibbutz.
Seven Days recently chatted by phone with enigmatic BSS co-founder Kevin Drew, whose solo album Spirit If . . . was recently released as the first in a series of albums flying under the banner of Broken Social Scene Presents.
SEVEN DAYS: How does the collective idea of Broken Social Scene fit in with the concept behind the Broken Social Scene Presents series?
KEVIN DREW: We decided to make this series because [BSS co-founder] Brendan Canning and I made two solo albums and we wanted to stay within the Social Scene rank and stay within all of the work we had done. We wanted to create something that kept us close to our fans and our families and give us another option to put more music out. In the end, we came up with the series to get away from the traditional aspects behind Social Scene and still keep it close.
SD: Since BSS has a certain name recognition, how are live audiences responding to the idea of Kevin Drew solo?
KD: We do play some of the hits, so that keeps the fans close to us. And the record’s been out for a little while now, so that helps.
It’s one of those situations where everyone is out on the road. Stars, Apostle of Hustle, Feist. Metric just came and played some shows with us. They’re recording a record at the same time. So it’s really the only way we could come out and do this. We didn’t need the whole Social Scene army to pull off the Spirit If . . . record. So I think, by the end of the show, people are just sort of happy we came.
SD: Speaking of the album, you’ve said that you intended the Spirit If . . . to address society’s responsibility to “the middle.”
KD: That’s kind of the theme that I wanted to put forth for conversations like the one we’re having right now. I wanted to address being in the moment as opposed to focusing on what the past is or what’s to come. It’s taking the actual Buddha aspect of the here and now. I think in the society we live in, and especially in the tour life that I live in, that’s something that gets taken from you every day. Because you’re constantly scheduling and constantly planning and you’re constantly not around your loved ones. It’s challenging for your mind and your heart to put things into perspective.
I look at myself as a traveling salesman. And I try to maintain the responsibility of remaining within the present. I think I used that struggle as a mascot for this record. The themes that I sing about reflect that struggle to just be in one place and have a balance. I feel that the things that push us along in the mainstream, very much take that from us and we’re always off balance. It’s like we’re all opportunists, walking along the death ward.
SD: You said in a recent Fader magazine article that if the 21-year-old version of you could see you now, he’d kick your ass. What did you mean by that?
KD: I just meant exactly what it is. With my name in the forefront, I’ve gotten outside of myself. I had no desire to do anything like this, except that I made this record and thought I had a responsibility to it in terms of going out there and playing it.
It’s difficult for me right now to see everyone out on the road and to be far away from a band I was so involved with for five years and try something different and be really far away from the people I made the record with, knowing that I’m missing them in every city by like two days. It’s just a different headspace.
I always said when I was young — I was a really cocky kid — I never really wanted to be a poster. It’s just this ridiculous Backstreet Boys picture of me on every single poster in every single club. Every time I roll in and look at that, I’m, like, “What the fuck? Where did I go wrong?”
SD: Is the success of individual BSS members a strain on the group?
SP: Of course it’s a strain. It’s very much a different time now. We’re all very far away from each other now, but we’re all doing the same thing. It’s a living thing right now, whereas five years ago it was a quest. It was a mission. It was a passion. Now those three words . . . you’re always trying to juggle and make sure they’re around. Make sure you keep the original intention of why things were done in the first place.
SD: Have you been able to do that?
KD: I think we’re in the process of doing it. I have some shows where I’m happy as all hell and I have some shows where I miss a lot of things. With Social Scene, we kind of achieved what we wanted to. Now we’re trying to figure out what’s next and what we want to do next.
With our camp it’s like, we’re doing music over here, but we’re also promising this mentality that it’s music first and always will be. I’m just trying to keep all the intentions honest and trying to fix a bunch of things. And I’m trying to make sure that this life — and it’s no life to live — I’m trying to make sure that it doesn’t become any more of a mirage than it already is.