#tbt An Interview with Brendan Canning

Found in the Margins is a defunct web magazine that Chris DePaul founded in 2006. Chris and his co-writers would interview musicians, writers and activists on one question: What books inspire the work you do? The Brothers DePaul will be reposting these archived interviews every Thursday. #tbt

This week's interview: Brendan Canning of Broken Social Scene

Indie rockstar darlings Broken Social Scene have been a Canadian ‘Cinderella’ story, with less emphasis on glass slippers and a need for a six pumpkin carriage convoy to transport the often nineteen-member band.

Brendan Canning - musician turned after-hour DJ turned musician - and friend / band member Kevin Drew began making music together in a basement studio in 1999-2000, with a rotating group of musician friends heading to the studio to contribute various parts to the songs.

What started out as an experiment - a musical side project from their existing commitments to bands such as Stars, Metric, and Feist - soon exploded outwards to the global soundscape. This was a welcomed surprise for all those who had collaborated on this underground project.

In 2002, Broken Social Scene went on tour for two-and-a-half years to support their second album You Forgot It In People. No two performances were the same as band members frequently swapped in and out of the line-up to go on solo tours or to honour commitments with their original bands.

It was around this time that Broken Social Scene started getting asked to score movies, as well as having their songs featured in the Oscar nominated movie Half Nelson featuring another Canadian/Southwestern Ontario talent, Ryan Gosling.

In 2007, Kevin Drew released the first of a series of Broken Social Scene Presents… albums, where he included fourteen of his solo tunes on the record.

Brendan Canning will be releasing the second album in the series July 22, 2008. Canadian film creator, Bruce McDonald is also said to release a documentary film on Canning at the time of the CD release.

As Brendan prepares for the release of his solo album, he was able to make time for Found in the Margins to muse over some of his favourite books as well as what he finds so exciting about reading.

“I like stories told in a simple uncomplicated language. Over-flourishing metaphors and adjectives can get in the way for me and it makes me think the writer is being too tricky,” says Canning.

Book Recommendations

A short-list of Canning’s favourite books is: Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck; Mr. Vertigo by Paul Auster; What's Bred in the Bone by Grant Allen; The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison; and The Last of the Crazy People - Timothy Findley.

To Canning, the book’s plot is the most important thing.“No matter how interesting a character is, if you find the situation bores you, what's the point of reading it in the first place. Besides, it's all about placing yourself in the character's shoes and getting an overall feeling and understanding of a situation...’what would I be capable of?’ ”

Canning transfers this philosophy to his own song writing. “I try to keep my stories concise and to the point (although that doesn't always work out), making sure there will be some amusement for the listener is key. I suppose it's figuring out what parts of your life are interesting enough for public consumption and not just boring stories that revolve around ‘me, me, me’ and all the exciting things that happen to me. I can be quite funny when given the chance so that's also something I concentrate on. Go with your strengths, stay focused, and keep your audience captivated.”

While on the road, Canning brings along with him books of a biographical or historical nature to keep him company. Three that come to his mind deal specifically with the topic of human suffrage. “The Kite Runner, What Is the What, A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier. As I travel and get to live my life how I choose (mostly), it will never cease to amaze me how humans can continue living through situations most of 'us' will never fully understand.”

Right now, Brendan is reading Ben Macintyre’s Agent Zigzag: A True Story of Nazi Espionage, Love, and Betrayal and David Sedaris’ Me Talk Pretty One Day.

The new album Broken Social Scene Presents: Brendan Canning is being released July 22 on Arts & Crafts.

Written by Chris DePaul