By Jeremy Hallock
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By Observer Staff
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Broken Social Scene is anything but broken. With a roster that casts a wide, if loose, net across the musical landscape of Toronto, band members float into and out of each other's musical projects like the friends they very genuinely appear to be.
A short list of solo and band projects related to the BSS collaborative: Feist, Amy Millan, Emily Haines, Stars, Apostle of Hustle, Do Make Say Think and Metric.
To put it in a local context: Think of Broken Social Scene as the Toronto Family Band.
Andrew Whiteman, the lead guitarist and one of the six core members of the band, explains how it works: "I would call the band a 'collective' with Kevin [Drew] an enlightened despot. You definitely have to cast your musical vote, but Kevin has the final say."
Drew co-founded the band and also co-created the Arts & Crafts label that serves as the label home to many of his main band's tangential acts. It's an environment, Whiteman says, that naturally encourages collaboration.
Whiteman's own experiences and history further explain the alchemy of the band. Although from Toronto, he spent time living in Havana and soaking up Cuban music and culture—a culture that has evolved from the conditions resulting from the past 40 years of economic embargo.
"Conditions are so harsh, the people have to get along and help each other to survive," he explains. "You have to deal with your neighbors, and that is definitely something you have to do in Broken Social Scene."
His Cuban musical influences tend to shine more on his own Apostle of Hustle side project, where elements of found sounds, samba rhythms and montunos surface in as expected. What's remarkable, though, is that, despite members involved in so many other projects like these, the band still finds time to return to its roots together—like last year, when Broken Social Scene recorded and released Forgiveness Rock Record, one of the most acclaimed albums of last year.
Given all of their other commitments, though, the process this time around proved different from past efforts. Rather than staying home in Toronto to get the disc finished, the band decamped to Chicago and enlisted one of their musical heroes, John McEntire (Tortoise, The Sea & Cake), as producer. But that's not to say that it was an easy transition. The band recorded a grand total of 40 songs with McEntire, and collaboration played an even bigger role this time around, especially on one song, which featured vocals by Feist, Haines and Millan together for the first time.
Of course, not all of those cuts made it onto Forgiveness Rock Record, which was composed of the most finished of the tracks recorded during the session. But more releases from these sessions can still be expected, Whiteman says.
"Kevin and [bassist] Charlie [Spearin] are going back to Chicago to listen to the tapes and decide what to work on next," he reveals.
The unfortunate thing about the collaborative nature of Broken Social Scene, though, is that not all of its members can join the band's touring lineup. To that end, this February tour in support of Forgiveness Rock Record will feature the same lineup that played the Palladium last year. Fans can still expect a beefy offering, though, with as many as four guitarists performing at a time and sets that run as long as three hours.