It was a strange time in North America when Broken Social Scene released “You Forgot it in People” in 2002. The wounds of 9/11 were fresh in the United States; 10 people had died in the Washington, D.C., sniper attacks and President George W. Bush established the Department of Homeland Security near year’s end.
“It was a sensitive time in history, in our world,” Broken Social Scene’s Brendan Canning said before the band hit the road to mark the 20th anniversary of the group’s breakthrough sophomore album. They’ll play sold-out shows at Webster Hall on Oct. 15 and 16. “The ‘Canadian Invasion’ kind of happened on the heels of 9/11, essentially. I don’t know, maybe people looked to Canada — ‘Oh, these guys are just peaceful, they don’t have to deal with the agony of what we’re going through.’ Whether we have the Canadian comedians, whether it’s Jim Carrey or Mike Myers or different characters or John Candy, we’re carrying on some kind of Canadian tradition of kind of competing with our U.S. neighbors. We grew up on American culture.”
“You Forgot it in People” won a Juno (the Canadian equivalent of a Grammy) for Alternative Album of the Year in 2003 and raised the band’s profile on both sides of the border.
“I mean, I think as a band, as far as any band, you’re just trying to add to the conversation of all the bands that you love, whether it’s The Cure or Dinosaur Jr. or Pavement or Tortoise,” Canning said. “I was born in 1969, I’ve been through every phase of music. I loved house music, industrial, metal, punk. You just want to do something that you think is paying homage to all the music that you loved. Say someone is listening to The Cure ‘Disintegration,’ and you put on ‘You Forgot it in People,’ and yeah, that has a vibe too. That’s all you want to do as a band, you want to be included.”
The album also set into motion the fluid nature of Broken Social Scene’s lineup, with Canning and fellow founding member Kevin Drew joined by musicians from a then-burgeoning Toronto indie scene that included bands like Metric and Stars.
“The confines of the restrictions of what it means to be a band that just stays as a band, I just think that didn’t interest us as much. And the fact that we could draw upon different individuals and their strengths as writers. ‘You Forgot it in People’ has a lot of writers on that album, and people have very different careers in their own right, whether it’s Metric or Feist or whether its Stars or it’s Andrew’s [Whiteman] project Apostle of Hustle. … Now with songwriter cameos, you have a publisher trying to put together this writer and that writer. We were doing that in a much more organic fashion.”
The logistics of rustling up the various members and quasi-members of the band might be a reason Broken Social Scene has released only five albums since the band got started in 1999.
“I think with any band, or dare I say, collective, I think it helps in some ways and it hinders in some ways,” Canning said. “But the friendships run deep. We’ve known Leslie, for instance, since 1993. Kevin went to high school with Emily Haines [of Metric]. We had this deep history before anyone uttered the words Broken Social Scene. … Look at how many artists played on a Joni Mitchell record in the ’70s, there were always 20 people. Any hip-hop record, different producers on different tracks, and different MCs. It’s not that different, it’s just that the indie rockers weren’t doing that.”
He added: “This tour, members are going to bop in and out, because that’s the nature of the band.”
With the band set to return to NYC, we asked Canning to pick out some of his favorite shows here.
“The first time we did a three-night stand at the Bowery Ballroom after a European tour. Three nights in Webster Hall in 2006. A Central Park show in 2010. A festival on the Hudson River. We did a Terminal 5 show that we filmed. The last one at Brooklyn Steel was pretty good, it’s not my favorite venue. The last time we did New York, we did three Webster Halls when it reopened again. Even first getting going, when you’re a Canadian band and you come down to New York and you’re selling out venue after venue, and your popularity is growing. … We played with the Pixies in 2004. We had so many great shows in New York. It’s hallowed ground.”
Not on the list: a free Canada Day show in Central Park put on by the Consulate General of Canada in 2018.
“It was so fucking hot, the hottest fucking day,” Canning recalled. “The one security guy had to get carried off on a stretcher. There were cardboard cutouts of Shania Twain and Bieber floating around the area. It’s not one of my favorite moments; why are we part of this? That’s not our vibe. That particular gig, of all the gigs in New York, that one is down at the very bottom.”
BSS hasn’t released a studio album since 2017’s “Hug Of Thunder,” and it might be some time before fans get another one, with the band focusing on touring after the coronavirus pandemic put the live music circuit on hold. Canning noted that while making “Thunder,” he told producer Joe Chiccarelli, “We are a very slow-moving train.” The band does have a new release, though: on Sept. 22, they put out a surprise live album, “Live at the Phoenix Concert Theatre, 2003.”
paraphrase: NY highlights
we’re a slow moving train (new material)