Although the roster has ranged from anywhere between six and 19 members at any given time, Broken Social Scene was dreamed up by Toronto’s Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning (formerly of hHead) in the late ’90s.
Writing some material, they both played the clubs with everyone on the scene at the time, developing their own style dubbed by some critics as ‘Baroque pop.’ Different and yet culling everything around them as influences, they made enough noise to get the attention of indie label Noise Factory Records, releasng their debut in 2001.
With an ensemble cast that included the likes of Justin Peroff, Leslie Feist, Jesica Moss, and Charles Spearin, FEEL GOOD LOST was a mostly instrumental dive into ambient sounds with grand orchestrations and an underlying pop element. No singles were released, but half a dozen of the songs were featured in the 2006 drama and Oscar-winning “Half Nelson,” about a school teacher’s relationship with a drug addict student.
Although some live dates were played, it wasn’t long before it was realized touring with over a dozen members was too much headache, and the tour was cancelled. Drew and Canning went back to the drawing board and wrote some new material, the result being their break-out sophomore album, YOU FORGOT IT IN PEOPLE on Paperbag Records in October 2002.
Though still sporting a cast of many (most of whom played on the first record, as well), the music itself was more focused to an indie rock market, and the songs were more structured as such. Vocalists Emily Haines, Leslie Feist and Amy Millan were all on the list, and rotated between availability from their own bands over the next few years. A full time live replacement was found in a few years later with Lisa Lobsinger.
Videos were made for the singles “Stars and Songs,” “Cause = Time,” “Almost Crimes,” “Lover’s Spit,” and the enchanting “I’m Still Your Fag.” The song “Anthems for a 17-Year-Old Girl” also popped up over the next few years as part of the soundtracks to the b-movies “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” and also on “Snow Cake.” In 2003, the album won the Juno Award for Alternative Album of the Year.
After another short series of concert dates, everyone went off doing their own things. The compilation BEE HIVES in 2003 was made up of material that didn’t make the cut for YOU FORGOT IT IN PEOPLE, which was also re-released that same year. Its working title was initially going to be DEATH OF A B-SIDE, and featured alternate versions of “Cause = Time” and “Lover’s Spit.”
Newfeld returned as producer for the next collaboration, 2005’s self-titled album, which cracked the Canadian top 100 albums list. Many of the performers who appeared on the previous album returned, with added contributions from the likes of k-os, Jason Tait of The Weakerthans, and The Dears’ Murray Lightburn.
To mixed critical reviews, it made the transition to an industrial/pop rock band complete, with songs like the dual vocals in “Lover’s Spit” (later featured in the movies “Lie With Me,” “Wicker Park” (written/directed by member Bruce MacDonald), and “The Love Crimes of Gillian Guess,” as well as the TV shows “Queer as Folk,” “Terminal City,” and “Nip/Tuck.” “Stars and Sons” also found its way to movie soundtrack in ’06 in the movie, “The Invisible,” while “Pacific Theme” and “Looks Just like The Sun” were featured in Showtime’s “The L Word.” Other noteable cuts included “Ibi Dreams of Pavement (A Better Day), about Canadian novelist Ibi Kaslik.
Several tracks were remixed and extended and found their way on to the dance club floors. Popular on campus radio stations throughout Canada and in the US, the album also received widespread critical acclaim in the U.K, and earned the band the 2006 Juno for Alternative Album of the Year, where they performed “Ibi Dreams of Pavement.” As well as the band making their US TV debut on “Late Night With Conan O’Brien,” the album was also shortlisted for the 2006 Polaris Music Prize.
As a marketing gimmick, it was also pressed on a special collector’s edtion vinyl as a double album, with the fourth side being the EP, TO BE YOU AND ME, which remains available on the Japanese CD version. Despite its lmiited release, it too scored with a pair of videos for the songs “Her Disappearing Theme” and “Major Label Debut.”
But after a brief but steady tour season that saw them in Europe, and last-minute headline North America’s first Virgin Festival at Toronto Islands Park. Members took some time off to go on to other projects following some November dates in the US. Guitarist Bill Priddle recouped from a broken collar bone he suffered prior to an October gig in Birmingham, England, who was replaced for the tour by James Shaw from Metric, and Mitch Bowden, who’d played with Priddle in a pair of bands prior to BSS. Among other things, several members of the band appeared THE STARS AND SUNS SESSIONS, the second album from Mexican indie band Chikita Violenta. The album was also produced by Dave Newfeld. But aside from a few occasional reunions, including the 2008 Siren Music Festival in Coney Island, Brooklyn, they carried on doing their own projects.
In ’09, writer Stuart Berman released the book, “This Book Is Broken,” chronicling the band’s history. The band reunited for a book launch in Toronto, and played a few other dates over the next few months, highlighted by their second trip to Mexico.
A year later, the band’s performance at the Harbourfront during the 2009 Toronto outside workers strike made it to film, mixed with concert footage and a fictional romance, in Bruce McDonald’s “This Movie Is Broken.” The show at The Harbourfront happened to feature many of the core members, both studio and touring over the years, fuelling reunion speculations.
After both Drew and Canning released solo albums, they hooked up together again for FORGIVENESS ROCK RECORD in 2010. Recorded in Toronto and Chicago with new producer John McEntire, it featured vocals by Amy Millan, Emily Haines, and Leslie Feist, and the songs “World Sick,” “All For All,” and “Texico Bitches,” which peaked the highest at #50 on the Canadian Alternative chart. But the reunion was short-lived, with them ending the tour in Rio de Janeiro in late 2011.
The limited edition LO-FI FOR THE DIVIDING NIGHTS was also released in 2010, out-takes and demos the band recorded while in Chicago. They were also once again mentioned at the Polaris Music Prize ceremony that year.
Over the years, several more of Broken Social Scene’s songs have been used for TV and movie soundtracks, including “The Tracey Fragments,” “The Time Traveler’s Wife,” and “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World,” credited as Crash & The Boys. They’ve also released a pair of digital-only EPs, LIVE AT RADIO ALIGRE FM, filmed in Paris in ’04, and their 2006 Lollapalooza appearance on iTunes only.