Since co-founding Broken Social Scene with Kevin Drew in 1999, bassist, guitarist, singer, and keyboardist Brendan Canning has surrounded himself with a rotating cast of clever multi-instrumentalists, creating a band dynamic that plays out like a game of musical chairs. “It often comes down to whoever gets to rehearsal first and jumps on the bass first,” says Canning, who currently shares bass duties with Drew, Charles Spearin, and Sam Goldberg. The Canadian musical collective—currently touring as an eight-piece indie-rock orchestra—recently released its fourth full-length album, Forgiveness Rock Record. After circling the globe on a world tour, the band will return for more North American dates in August and September.
How did you come to play bass, and how have you shaped your style?
I grew up listening to ’80s metal, and guitar was my main bag. When Jane’s Addiction came around, that was the first time I went, ‘Wow—I can hear the bass.’ So I was influenced a lot by Eric Avery’s style. I was also into ’80s post-punk players like Andy Rourke [the Smiths] and Peter Hook [New Order]. From there, I got into house music and funk. The DJ Food track “Dark Lady” [Ninja Cuts: Funkjazztical Tricknology, Ninja Tune, 1995] has a crazy looping bass line that got me listening to bass in a different way.
A friend of mine I was working with several years back turned to me once and said, “You know, you need to listen to more reggae.” That was a real turning point for me. At that point I started to make more beat-inspired music. The grooves from bands like James Brown and Funkadelic really rub off on me, so I try to weave that in as best I can. But you can only get away with so much funk in a band like ours.
One of the band’s new songs, “Texico Bitches,” sounds like it has multiple bass tracks.
Yeah, Charles played a part down low, and I played a part up high. We do that kind of thing a lot. Our song “Market Fresh” [from Bee Hives, Arts & Crafts, 2004] has four bass tracks.
In those situations, how do you keep things from getting too muddy?
Well, sometimes it’s muddy, and that’s just the way it is.
Was there anything in recording this new album you found particularly revealing?
I played a lot of piano, so I’ve been thinking more about how those low piano notes can really carry the bottom end.
What do you like about playing halfround strings?
I like their deadened sound, and they’re easy to play. It’s like a mix of the best traits of flatwound and roundwound strings … like the right bowl of porridge.
How would you describe your ideal bass tone?
The bass in this band needs to have a bit of growl. After one show we did with Death From Above 1979, one of the guys came to me and said, “I love how you have all these swirly guitars with delays, and the bass is simple and just punches through, anchoring all the madness.”
HEAR HIM ON
Broken Social Scene, Forgiveness Rock Record [Arts & Crafts, 2010]
Bass 1973 Fender Precision Bass
Rig 1971 Ampeg SVT with 8x10 cab; Eden WT800 head and 4x10 cab
Effects Ibanez TS808HW Tube Screamer Overdrive, Electro- Harmonix Big Muff, Pro-Co Rat
Strings D’Addario ENR71 Half Rounds
Other ’73 Fender Telecaster Custom, archtop Harmony acoustic, and Ibanez Firebird guitars