Brendan Canning spent the first decade of this century co-leading (with vocalist Kevin Drew) Toronto’s gargantuan pop-rock collective Broken Social Scene. The group is presently on an indefinite hiatus but the 20-odd associated members (including Leslie Feist, Metric’s Emily Haines and The Dears’ Murray Lightburn, to name a few) continue to exercise their skills with a number of other projects. Canning has just released his second solo album, You Gots 2 Chill, and it’s no surprise to hear that he called on some friends to help him record it. “I recorded the bulk of it with a guy I went to high school with actually, Steve Singh. He’s got lots of guitar and keyboard credits on the record,” says Canning.
Toronto evidently houses a widely interactive musical community and Canning runs through some other locals who make an appearance on the album. “I also did a couple of songs with Ohad Benchetrit, who’s from Do Make Say Think, and he’s done lots of stuff with Broken Social Scene in the past. I don’t know if an album by a group called Snowblink made it to Oz but she [Daniela Gesundheit] takes the lead vocal on a tune called ‘Bullied Days’.”
Though You Gots 2 Chill features these guest performers, it’s primarily a stripped-back affair. As the title presages, the album is very relaxed and subdued, and Canning says he consciously set out to make an acoustic-oriented album. “Every tune starts out with acoustic guitar, so I think that alone is enough to give the album a theme, because my acoustic guitar playing is definitely a certain style. It’s always going to be slightly uplifting, slightly melancholic and sort of introspective, for lack of a better word. I’ve been playing a lot of acoustic guitar for a lot of years but I never really explored that avenue trying to make a record. It was always little bits of acoustic guitar here and there.”
Crafting a solo record obviously differs vastly from Canning’s past work alongside a lengthy list of band members. He says being the project’s sole director enabled him to hone in on what chiefly characterises his artistic practice. “I think it’s good just to try to figure out where you’re at as an artist and what your strengths are and what your weaknesses are.”
Even though he has been involved with music for more than 20 years, Canning reveals that making this album brought some ingrained facets of his creative method into focus. “I guess maybe a strength and a weakness is I’m very, very methodical. I like to take a long time in processing ideas. I think it may be a lesson in just deciding on something, committing to something quickly. I think that’s maybe the best lesson to be learned.”
Despite this realisation, he indicates that the best route to securing a durable idea isn’t calculable. “There’s certain pieces that take a long time to come together and when they finally do, you go, ‘Yeah, glad I took the time with this one.’ It’s a slippery slope.”
Ultimately, the album is a demonstration of Canning’s confident personality and – in a further assertion of his solo identity – You Gots 2 Chill is out on his own label, Draper Street Records. The label takes its name from the downtown Toronto street where Canning lives, and he voices unashamed pride for his hometown and the community of musicians that continues to prosper there. “I was sitting down for breakfast with someone today and we just said, ‘Come on, let’s face it; where else are you going to live in Canada?’ This is the place.”
BY AUGUSTUS WELBY
You Gots 2 Chillout now through Draper Street Records/Stop Start.