Kevin Drew is pacing the streets of Birmingham, England, a little on edge and distinctly agitated. Two days ago, Bill Priddle, a guitarist he calls "the driving force in terms of the guitar playing in the band," broke his collarbone, putting the future of Drew's tour in jeopardy.
"We're kind of scrambling with our heads cut off to figure out how to keep the show together," explains the Broken Social Scene co-founder. "And this is the first time we've ever been in a position like this, where we've worked really hard to put together a good, tight, six-person live show. We know we've got a lot going against us because of our reputation as a 32-person band and stuff like that. My head is kind of caught up in the idea of trying to figure out what to do next here.
"Right now it's really up in the air in terms of...I don't even know if we'll be on the road right now," he goes on. "I'm not trying to be dramatic. In my headspace right now, we have two more shows to go through, and then we've gotta figure out in four days how we're going to do this North American tour."
Drew's tension is understandable. His latest record, Broken Social Scene Presents: Kevin Drew Spirit If..., is receiving warm critical reception, the hard work he's put into taking the show on the road is in danger of unraveling, and he's on the spot doing an interview with someone who's a continent away.
"You know, when your guitar player breaks his collarbone and you're stuck in this crazy English town with shit monitors and the fate of your North American tour is up in the air, it's kind of difficult to bust into 'Well, when we made the album...' you know?" he says with a laugh. "Because you have to go back to that place of what you were doing and how it went down. It's strange; it's a strange thing. It's like me calling you up when you're right in the middle of arguing with your wife and trying to figure out where your in-laws are going to sleep, and I'm calling to ask you about 'Is your carpet really possessed' or...'" he trails off. "I don't know what I'm talking about anymore."
Despite his protestations, Drew has no problem expounding at length about his motivations and mood while making the record once he gets going. The unwieldy name and confusing is-it-or-isn't-it-a-solo album evolved out of the genuinely collective nature of Broken Social Scene, the band/musical commune he co-founded with Brendan Canning, who has his own BSS Presents album coming out sometime soon.
"When we were doing these recordings," Drew recounts, "and I was off recording and Canning started recording, we sort of decided that we should start this series so that it keeps us within our fans and our family, and obviously, everybody is all over the album at one point. Rather than try to figure out a way of either taking the name and making it our own or starting some sort of solo side project, we thought we'd do this series so that we could have another filter that gives us another way to put out more music.
"That gives us a way to put out more recordings," he goes on, "and to figure out what's going on in terms of — we have so many B-sides and so many soundtrack works now. We just have stacks and stacks of things that, within Broken Social Scene, we were never able to put out. So this series gives us another option of a way to put things out into the world."
The album, Drew says, also served as an important return to the natural, unforced methods of working and recording that marked the early Broken Social Scene records, methods that were forced to change in the face of the success of You Forgot It in People, the group's breakout 2003 album. That disc launched the group to widespread acclaim and helped spark the success of several of members' individual bands, including Feist and Metric. It also helped put Canada on the indie-rock map and contributed toward the success of fellow Canucks such as the Arcade Fire. The pressure to produce another hit to follow People was substantial and didn't sit well with Drew.
"I actually like that record [Broken Social Scene's self-titled album] more than You Forgot It in People," he points out. "I was happy with it. I just think the process, and the position we were in.... There's a lot of people who can handle being in bands and going for it and wanting it. We were not like that, and we were sort of put in this position where I think we were listening to everyone in the press and all the people working around us. I feel like that affected the record.
"I'm a real music person," he adds. "I adore it. I love it. I love all kinds of it, and I love making it. I love writing lots of songs very quickly, and I love getting to the point really quickly with music, and that one took a long time. This one, Spirit If..., was recorded over a period of two years, but it didn't take a long time. It was just that we were recording tons and tons, and there was a lot more freedom to it in terms of being able to realign myself with everything I just said."
Spirit If... certainly sounds like a Broken Social Scene record, with a few differences. It has the same kind of intricate, quirky arrangements and big, sprawling songs spilling over with hooks, but with one man taking point throughout, it has more focus and a more personally idiosyncratic sound. On the other hand, it could have more easily been marketed as a straight-up Broken Social Scene release than as a strictly Kevin Drew solo record. Drew explains all this in a charmingly candid way.
"It could be my slacker mentality or my lack of a work ethic," he offers, "but I never enjoy really, really working hard for things that I feel should just sort of come naturally, you know? I don't really have a story, either. I do these interviews, I try to filter myself, I try to sort of be smart about things and say things, and at the end of the day — I mean, fucking, I can't. I'm not a rock star. It's not my living, it's not my destiny. Music is just something I love to do. The moment I don't, it just cancels itself out.
"I love my friends," he continues. "I love making music with people. It's an addiction of mine. I had no desire to sit in a kitchen and play every single instrument and strum a guitar and turn on a reverb pedal and talk about my mother. What I wanted to do, you know, was bring in the army, as always, and play with people and feed off people's energy and be a vampire-with-a-conscience kind of thing. And that's how this record kind of got made."
Given a final opportunity to speak about whatever's on his mind, Drew opts not to talk about his record, his muse or his own greatness. Instead he wants to know where the results of the interview will eventually appear and to reassure fans that the show will indeed go on.
"Denver — I like it there," he enthuses. "I like that town. It's really relaxing. When we get there — which we will, because we will find a way, like we always do — I'm just excited to go up to the top of that mountain. I always go up there every time, the one that's kind of in the heart of Boulder.
"I've spent some good times up there, some kind of teenage times, even when I wasn't a teenager," he recalls. "And to breathe that kind of air, that's the kind of air that makes you able to keep going. I should do all my interviews there. That would be good."