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The inevitability of Broken Social Scene


NWP_BSSi_L1_R7003F1-Fc_1_1_1cX-onlineAs you read through articles about the Canadian band Broken Social Scene, the word “collective” is used a lot. The band’s membership ranges from around a dozen people to approximately every Canadian musician ever. That includes fixture members like Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning, as well as collaborators like Emily Haines of Metric, and Amy Millan of Stars and Feist.

“Collective, big band, art ensemble, pop rock band with interchangeable members, whatever the tag is as long as we’re making some music and people are talking about it,” Canning said during a phone interview from a bench in Toronto just after a dentist appointment (no cavities!). “It’s not necessarily a traditional type of band, but at the same time we all still have to show up for rehearsals. We ain’t Primus (three members), but we’re not… what’s that really big band?”

After a few moments of the two of us knowing who we both meant but drawing blanks, Canning came up with the answer: “Polyphonic Spree!”

The not Primus-small but not Polyphonic Spree-big band will perform Sept. 26 at Hoyt Sherman Place. It will be Broken Social Scene’s second Des Moines show, following a main stage appearance at 80/35 in 2009.

BSS went on hiatus in 2011 before reuniting for a few festival shows and starting work on “Hug of Thunder” around 2015.

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“Mainly, it felt like something we were all in agreement on,” Canning said. “We’d had enough time away from Broken Social Scene. There are certain inevitabilities of the music biz; it’s going to be annoying if you’re in the same band or on your own. Once we realized that, we started talking, you know, ‘This band is not so bad; we have fun.’ Then we started getting some out of the blue offers for festivals. Those kinds of things ignited the fire and chugged the conversation along.”

Fans hoping to see Leslie Feist or Emily Haines perform with BSS might need to seek out another tour date. They show up at occasional BSS shows (and on big television appearances), but for the most part Amy Millan (who performed with the band at 80/35 in 2009) and Ariel Engle are handling the vocal performances live. The collective is also utilizing locally sourced horns on this tour.

“In Mexico City, we had two people we’d never met sing with us,” Canning said. “In Taipei, we had had someone who spoke no English sing with us. We’re doing all right with this collective mentality; it opens doors for us. Like, ‘Leslie’s not here, but check this out!’ ”

But beyond “collective,” “inevitability” was a word that came up a few times in my conversation with Canning. Having a lot of members means there are a lot of cooks in the Broken Social Scene kitchen. Canning said the band’s members have learned how to avoid problems in this area.

“It’s an inevitability with Broken Social Scene that there are too many cooks, and a lot of people wanting to sit in the captain’s chair,” Canning said. “That is the band. But we all want to reach pretty much the same end goal. You learn how to step back a hair and trust your mates. There are moments where you realize ‘This isn’t where I’m supposed to speak up loudly,’ and other times where you decide ‘This is where I’m going to speak up louder than others.’ If you have an idea, you have to stand up for it. It’s like being in a family; everyone has ideas and opinions, and a lot of them are valid.” ♦

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