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Broken Social Scene: Leaner Lineup, Same Big Sound

The Canadian rock collective Broken Social Scene has been around for a decade now. In that time, its members have gone from ambitious upstarts to influential veterans of the Toronto music scene. A few years back, it wasn't unusual to see as many as 15 players on stage at one of their concerts, and the group's constantly fluctuating lineup has featured the likes of Feist and members of both Metric and Stars. And, while it's since scaled down, you wouldn't notice it given the energy level of Broken Social Scene's new album, Forgiveness Rock Record.

The album features a tighter-knit core of musicians focused around its co-founders, Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning, and it was recorded in Chicago with producer and multi-instrumentalist John McEntire, best known for his work with Tortoise and The Sea and Cake. It's an exuberant collection of songs with electronic ambiance, powerful drum beats, punked-out fuzz bass, soaring lead guitars, raucous horn sections and even a little flute. And when vocals belt out the chorus, you get the big collective sound of Broken Social Scene.

Canning and Drew recently spoke with Weekend Edition Sunday host Liane Hansen about their leaner lineup, McEntire's impact on the album and how they came up with its title. Drew says the name grew to encompass the general feeling the band was experiencing after reuniting.

"It just seemed like the reason we were all back together was because we're all a family," Drew says, "and in families you've got to forgive and forget, and you have highs and lows. All those things over the last 10 years have happened to us. So it just seemed like the right notion to go with."

Smaller And More Stable

Canning and Drew say when they approached writing the songs for Forgiveness Rock Record, they were interested in focusing on a smaller, more stable unit, one they'd been touring with since 2008.

"In the past, we've had sort of a fluctuating lineup," Canning says. "With the other records, you had different lineups writing different songs. This was really the six-piece that wrote the map that would become this album."

"It just became apparent that Charles Spearin, Andrew Whiteman, Justin Peroff, Sam Goldberg, Brendan and myself were becoming this tight-knit band, and we toured all over the world in 2008, and it just came together," Drew adds. "We just knew we had to continue on without relying on a lot of those people anymore. So it just really made us put a concentrated effort into relying on the six of us."

That said, they still ended up having about 31 musicians involved, including appearances from Leslie Feist, Emily Haines, Amy Millan, The Sea and Cake's Sam Prekop and more. More importantly, because the band recorded a majority of the album at McEntire's Soma studios in Chicago, Drew and Canning both say McEntire's influence and recording approach can be heard all over Forgiveness Rock Record.

"[McEntire] did bring a fresh sound to us, because he's very meticulous in how he records," Drew says. "He very much studied everybody for the first little while that we were down there to see who was bringing what to the table. He just takes his time, and he has unbelievable gear in his studio. It's crazy how well kept it is. We called his studio 'Buttons and Buttons and Buttons and Knobs'; there was just so much gear and craziness going on in there. But he puts a lot of attention into detail, and he left a lot of the vibe up to the band. He was very subtle in how he worked, but he put in a lot of time and a lot of passion into it. And we're very grateful."

"We just entered someone's magical little kingdom for a spell," Canning says.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MusicWeekend Edition Sunday