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Interview Wed Nov 20 2013

Interview: Brendan Canning

Brendan Canning has made quite the name for himself in the music industry. Dabbling in many different groups throughout his accomplished career, Canning has founded the unique indie rock outfit Broken Social Scene, and has been a member of groups such as By Divine Right, Len and a more recent project, Cookie Duster.

On his own, Canning has released two solo albums, notably, the most recent record, You Gots 2 Chill, released this past year. Presenting listeners with exquisite layering amidst a simple backdrop, the album presents Canning's music at its most vulnerable. Featuring a blend of instrumental and non-instrumental ballads that showcase the versatility of the acoustic guitar, Canning shows once again that he is a master at his craft as he meanders down many different musical avenues.

I got the chance to speak with Canning about his career: the music that he has created, the influences that have inspired him, and where he would like to go in the future. Just like talking to an old friend, Canning was warm and relaxed, and also humble as he spoke about his impressive career and the many different forays he has pursued throughout his time in the music industry.

Your sophomore record, You Gots 2 Chill, is stunningly beautiful. What was your inspiration for this record versus Something for All of Us?

Brendan Canning: Well, with this current record it's been a long time coming, doing something of more of a stripped down nature and based on the acoustic guitar. I play a lot of acoustic guitar; that's my primary instrument when at home. I don't plug in the electric guitar, I play piano occasionally, but I enjoy playing acoustic guitar. The inspiration really was acoustic guitar. I've been connecting riffs and riffs on my phone line for a decade.

Broken Social Scene material is more frenetic and variable, while your sophomore album is stunning in its simplicity and sheer calm. How does the recording process differ with the band versus on your own? Do you find that stronger creative ideas are created on your own?

Well with this record, there's never more than three people in the room, so immediately I'm alone with my ideas. Those other voices in the room just aren't there. There are some harder things to work against as far as you can't rely on too many other people to come up with ideas, so you're left to your own devices. The process is going to be a little bit quieter, and you go at your own pace. You have to say, these are my ideas, but, it's just a different thing. There are no drums on this record. So that's different.

Your music features exquisite layering and effects -- what is your songwriting process like, and where do you form the concept of your songs?

The acoustic guitar was the instrument that started up the idea, and then it's just sort of like, okay, how are we gonna fill in the lines? How are we gonna color in the rest of the song? Let's not color it in too much. it's just like filling up a bunch of different colors against a very simple idea, and then getting a layer and taking it away here and there and just, like you do. You got a song, let's try this keyboard, I don't like this song, I don't like that part, maybe we should have stayed with the original vocal. Never go to the races. Yeah, it's just like you would imagine, just a bunch of trial and error until you get the finished product.

The newest music video is incredible, what is the process like for this?

I work with my ex actually who is also named Sarah, she hired a directing team, and this guy Joel, and yeah, I had very little to do with that video. My buddy Kenny was into it and she cast him in it. I'm pretty happy with how it came out. I just showed up for my shot. You gotta put a little faith in people you work with.

You created a film score in addition to your solo material - what was that experience like, and is there a road for this in the future for you?

Well I've done a bunch of movies, Half Nelson was Broken Social Scene, It's Kind of a Funny Story, and Canyons. But yeah, I really enjoy working on films. It's a different outlet, and there's pressure but it's less pressure somehow. I know I can make music to fit picture. I've done it, and I know who to work with, whether it was with Broken Social Scene, or Do Make Say Think folks, I'm very confident I can do a good job in film. You're with it for a couple of months and then it's gone. When you're with your own music it lasts. There's always an end point. Who knows what the end point is with this record, I could be finished with dates with the end of January, or keep touring.

That's great that you're always trying to go down a different avenue rather than sticking to the same projects.

Yeah, it's just good to be continuing to do different things rather to be falling into some familiar road; that's like being in a dead end job or dating a person that you're not the right match with, it's kind of the same as music. It's like, Tuesday night it's like lasagna night again? Come on, let's do something different.

There are just so many routes to take musically and different directions to go.

Well there's just so many avenues to travel down like music. I think that Broken Social Scene has made different records from the last they have made, and we're always kind of after a new sound. I just got the Nosaj Thing record and James Blake and you know, I love stuff like that too. I got Mos Def and DJ Preservation, and that record's awesome. I want to do that.

You are also working on a video game project? What has this process been like thus far?

David Cronenberg -- he didn't direct this, but it's kind of a career retrospective based on the idea that David Cronenberg sells his intellectual property to a biotech firm and gets a chip implanted in his neck and these characters get created in his image, so it's like this kind of movie you're watching, and then it prompts you questions.. It's an interactive, choose your own adventure kind of game.

What artists have inspired you throughout the years?

Right now inspiring the stuff I'm doing are artists like John Fahey or Nick Drake, but I also really love Tallest Man on Earth. Groups like Kraftwerk I like a lot too, as far as keyboard stuff, and lots of reggae.

What three records are currently playing on repeat right now?

Nosaj Thing record, Home, I just got it. I did flip it over back and forth again a few times yesterday because it was just sounding so good and I was like, I can listen to that side again. Old Punch Card, Sam Prekop. And PJ Harvey, Let England Shake.

Since you have traveled down so many different avenues, what are some future ventures you would like to try in creative expression?

I want to make a record with this band I'm touring with, and I also want to make a record with this violinist friend of mine, who is going to be joining me in San Francisco on this tour. We've been doing this Cronenberg stuff: we started something, just getting down some ideas. He's been a next door neighbor, and we just spent a lot of time in the backyard playing guitar and violin. So that's something we are going to explore. Yeah, those are a couple future recording things I want to do, I have a bunch of new songs touring with this band. It's no fun to regurgitate the parts you already learned, it's a good way to create a band; okay, here's a song, let's all play it and see how we sound. An album is an album and a live show is a live show.

Thank you so much for your time. Anything else you would like to add?

I'm looking forward to coming to Chicago; I spent a lot of time there when doing Forgiveness Rock Record. I lived at Damen and Berteau, and I miss hanging out at Big Star and Reckless Records. All the spots that sort of started to feel kind of home-ish.


Brendan Canning plays the Beat Kitchen on Thursday, November 21. The 17+ show begins at 9pm, with doors opening at 8pm. Tickets are $12 in advance and $15 on the day of the show. Also performing are Save The Clocktower and Dinosaur Bones.

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

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