Until he was 13 years old, Broken Social Scene's Brendan Canning wanted to be a professional soccer player.
“And then I wanted to be a musician,” he says, “a grueling sport of a different nature.”
The wiry Toronto native, who recently released the solo album Broken Social Scene Presents: Brendan Canning, explains that he didn't have the big legs and thick shoulders to go pro. Even so, now well into his 30s, Canning still plays in his city's highest-tier recreational league. “It's quite competitive,” he points out.
But back then—late '70s, early '80s—music offered a hint of something a little less square out there in suburban Canada.
“It started with disco, but I didn't ever dream of being a disco singer,” he laughs. “Even though I could hit a mean falsetto, Barry Gibbs-style. It was more when I was getting into heavy metal: KISS, Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Metallica, Slayer—stuff like that. It was pure rebellion, growing up in the suburbs. It was scary.”Scary for his dad, that is.
“He was raised Irish Catholic, so you know there's some oppression going on there,” Canning offers. “I'd come home, and he'd have cut up my KISS magazines. But it gets confusing for parents. With the fallout from the Manson cult, they were probably freaked out that their kid would turn out to be a devil-worshipper.”
And it surely didn't help that the Cannings' clean-cut soccer-star son was suddenly going through a “scraggly phase.”“I had a good collection of concert T-shirts and jean jackets,” he recalls. “I wore a leather jacket over my red-checkered lumber jacket. Tight jeans. Yeah….”
Oh, and let's not forget his red Gibson Flying V guitar. Canning was destined to be a rock star, especially after he and his friends played Beastie Boys covers at a teenage Battle of the Bands. “It was 1986,” he remembers nostalgically. “You gotta fight for your right to paaaaarrrr-teeeh.”
While his dad might've been wary at the time, he claims his mom was pretty supportive. “She was a high-school teacher, so she probably understood teenagers better than most.”
She was right to believe in him. Against all odds, more than two decades later, Canning is one of the two main members of Canada's favorite indie-rock collective, a band that has featured up to 20-odd members, including breakout stars like indie It girl Feist and Emily Haines of Metric. BSS's other ruling half is Kevin Drew, who—no fighting, boys—beat his bandmate to the punch with last year's Broken Social Scene Presents: Kevin Drew, an album that sounds much more like Broken Social Scene proper (perfectly swirly, shoegazy psych-pop) than Canning's (it simmers quietly but never surges).
The solo series “was sort of Kevin's idea,” Canning says. “But in the back of my mind, I was thinking about it for a long time. I had the reverse in mind, actually. Like ‘Brendan Canning presents Broken Social Scene,' or ‘Kevin Drew Presents.' But the way we have the title now works, too.”
Canning swears that the competitive spirit is friendly between the band's capos. “He got the record finished first,” he adds. “At one point, I thought we should release them together, but the timing just worked out that his record was finished and I needed to think about mine a little longer. He was really working on his full-steam and I was sort of….”No, he wasn't slacking. He was juggling a handful of other projects, including a score for indie director Bruce McDonald's new film starring Ellen “Juno” Page (BSS's music was also featured in 2006's Half Nelson). “We're not veterans of the scoring world, but we've definitely done a bit of work,” Canning says.
And, to be fair, Broken Social Scene's writing and recording process is pretty labor-intensive (just remembering everyone's names must be a bitch).
“With a lot of people, if we're in a rehearsal space and listening back, everyone's gonna put in their two cents on a particular song,” he explains. “We're lucky it's the digital age. If we were to record analog, the process that we go through would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. So we take a lot of time on production.”
And then there's the eternal musician's dilemma: How do you know when a song is finally done? For a band like Broken Social Scene—layers! more layers!—it's gotta be tough.
“We're still trying to do better with that,” says Canning. “I think we're definitely guilty of holding onto things for too long and could afford to be a little more forthright. But such is the temperament of the artist.”
Broken Social Scene play Friday, Aug. 22, with Menomena at House of Blues. 619-299-BLUE. www.myspace.com/brokensocialscene.