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TORONTO – Just because Broken Social Scene broke up doesn’t mean Brendan Canning is taking a break.
Since the Toronto band went on indefinite hiatus a little under two years ago — a self-imposed breather interrupted by their Field Trip festival victory lap in June — Canning has issued a new album by his side project Cookie Duster, scored the controversial Lindsay Lohan erotic thriller The Canyons and this week released his second solo album, a mellifluous collection of dulcet acoustic musings semi-ironically entitled You Gots 2 Chill.
And while the obligations of Broken Social Scene seemed to ultimately prove exhausting for the loose collective of Canadian musicians who made up the group Canning co-founded, he said he never considered slowing down.
“What am I going to do? I’m young, relatively healthy … you gotta keep working, you gotta keep your name out there,” Canning said during an interview this week in the backyard of his Toronto home, his outspoken chihuahua Sandy circling his feet.
“If by chance you become slightly less relevant, than you have slightly less of a chance of keeping and maintaining a career. And if I’m not in any way relevant, then in the music business — any entertainment business — you get pushed aside pretty quick, if you’re not coming up with some new scheme or new idea.
“If you’re like Tom Waits or something, then yeah, you can take a whack of time off between records. But if you’re Brendan Canning, you can’t take that much time between records. No one really knows my acoustic guitar tweedly-deedly side, so it’s time to go out and showcase that.”
He certainly accomplishes that goal on You Gots 2 Chill, a cohesive and narrowly focused collection that mostly zeroes in on a simple esthetic: Canning’s textured acoustic plucking and his soft voice, rarely rising above a tender murmur.
It’s mellow but not mundane, with the multi-talented Canning weaving in other instrumental touches and guest spots including Snowblink’s Daniela Gesundheit, who contributes a stirring vocal to the spectral “Bullied Days.”
“It’s not a passive kind of thing,” Canning says of the album, which he released himself, and will take on tour through Canada beginning Nov. 16 in Toronto. “I think there’s still some intent and some movement. Certain songs are peppy, for not really having much in the way of drums.
“You compare it to a lot of other things, it’s going to seem really mellow. But at 9 o’clock in the morning it might be a really nice album for people to listen to, or at 10 o’clock at night it might be a really nice album for people to listen to.
“It doesn’t sound like Bon Iver, I don’t think,” he adds, admitting he has avoided listening to Justin Vernon’s indie-folk outfit.”It doesn’t sound like Patrick Watson.
“I can’t think of another record that’s out right now quite like that,” he continued. “For that much, I’m happy.”
He certainly feels differently about the new record than he did his solo debut, 2008’s Something For All of Us. That album was released during a five-year break between Broken Social Scene projects, and its existence (along with a solo record by bandmate Kevin Drew) led to speculation about the band’s future. Meanwhile, Canning didn’t support that record with a full tour.
He does say that the members of Broken Social Scene have actually been drawn back together since the band decided to part ways.
“I think our relationships are probably sort of getting better now, just personally,” he said. “Andrew (Whiteman) and I, we drove back from Montreal together (after Pop Montreal) with my new bandmate…. You know, and with Justin (Peroff), everyone’s really supportive of everyone else’s thing. I think Broken Social Scene, that’s its role right now. Just to support each other.
“If we get to do another Fort York show like this past summer, that was really fun for everyone and it had been 18 months since we’d been onstage…. I’m definitely in a much different place than when I was releasing that record (in 2008).”
Of course, the songs on You Gots 2 Chill bear little resemblance to the work Canning did with Broken Social Scene, or any of his other bands for that matter.
Also known for spinning eclectic sounds as a DJ, Canning’s versatility likely owes to his pan-genre passion for music. His house — a 130-year-old-plus property tucked on a quiet heritage street in otherwise bustling downtown Toronto — is stuffed with vinyl. As he welcomes houseguests, he tosses on Chicago blues guitarist Syl Johnson’s 1970 gem Is It Because I’m Black? and over the course of the interview manages to touch on a diverse roster of artists including hip-hop mastermind Madlib, swooning Scottish dream-pop band Cocteau Twins, dancehall outfit Major Lazer and avant-garde finger-picker John Fahey, whose work influenced Canning’s latest record.
Looking back at his own two-decade career — which has also included stints with hHead, By Divine Right and Valley of the Giants — he struggles with whether there’s a thread uniting his disparate work.
“Maybe I could hear it — I don’t know if anyone else could,” he said. “It’s always kind of moody in some way.”
The tunes he composed for The Canyons soundtrack were something else entirely — foreboding and appealingly sleazy. The micro-budget indie, which was written by American Psycho scribe Bret Easton Ellis and directed by Taxi Driver writer Paul Schrader, generated headlines and the usual trainwreck rubber-necking when the troubled nature of its production was laid bare in an extensive New York Times Magazine piece.
The story detailed the erratic behaviour of Lohan — acting prior to her most recent rehab stint — and the trickle-down effect it had on a film production that seemed constantly in danger of careening off the rails.
Canning, nevertheless, says it was “pretty fun” despite it being “kind of a disaster production,” even though he says he’s yet to be paid in full for his contribution.
“It definitely is not the best movie, but I got some good stories out of it,” he said of the film, which received a limited theatrical and video-on-demand release earlier this year.
“I’m really happy with the fact that the music sounds good, and he caught me at a time where, well, I could use the work. This is kind of a profile project, so it gets your name mentioned along some heavyweights like Paul Schrader, Bret Easton Ellis, Lindsay Lohan or James Deen. It just kind of keeps your chops going, as far as just writing and scoring.”
And clearly that’s of crucial importance to the restlessly motivated Canning, who’s also contributing music to an upcoming David Cronenberg exhibit at Toronto’s TIFF Bell Lightbox.
He’s also recently been handling production for the L.A. band the Dead Ships, which he hopes leads to more production work.
Work, work, work. Chilling certainly doesn’t seem to be a priority.
“Yeah, there’s lots of work to be done my career, as it were,” he said. “No resting. No resting. Maybe in my 60s.”