It’s 15 minutes into a hastily arranged phone interview with Broken Social Scene founder Brendan Canning, shooting par-for-the-course, and the expository questions have been covered (“So, how’s the tour?” etc.). There’s a lull in dialogue, and just before the mild unease of forced interview familiarity sets in, Canning starts talking about synchronism and happenstance – travel occurrences, tour-stop fortuities, pretzels. Giant jars of pretzels. Sometimes, when you’ve been out on the road all season, staring out of your nth hotel window or out at industrial buildings as they zip past your bus window, you start seeing things.
“You know what’s strange?” Canning said. “There’s a big Utz tower right over the side of here by the expressway.”
He revealed his approximate position (seated, close to a formidable jar of sourdough pretzels) and location (back of the tour bus, downtown Baltimore).
“I’m looking out the window here and there’s this big building with Utz written on it and a little girl is their little symbol – and there’s a big four-pound jar of Utz pretzels,” Canning continued. “I think they call that synchronism.” There’s a beat. He surmises “you would have to be here” to comprehend the holistic depth of the situation.
“Here,” for the last several months, has been the road for Canning and the many other members of Broken Social Scene, the indie-rock supercollective of which Canning is the co-founder and core. Almost as well known for their sizeable lineup as for their heady, layered experimentalism, Broken Social Scene originated as duo Canning and Kevin Drew. Unable to achieve the desired effect in concert as they could in the studio, the pair invited its friends to perform with them. Veterans from the Toronto indie scene – Andrew Whiteman, Bill Spearin, Jason Collett and Leslie Feist, among others – began guesting on stage and on releases, too; Broken Social Scene has expanded exponentially ever since.
After barnstorming through the majority of the European festival giants (Berlin’s Zitadelle Spandau, Reading, Leeds) late this summer, BSS set off on its fall American tour; the Toronto group finishes its string of stateside dates at The Michigan Theater tomorrow night.
“It feels good to be back down here,” Canning said. “It feels like we really only went out for a few weeks at the beginning of this record’s release . like we neglected coming down here a little bit this year.”
The band’s return to the United States has been pleasant overall, Canning said. Broken Social Scene discovered a surprisingly large, reverent fanbase in Florida. They played with the Melvins. They went to Dallas and Austin, ate some memorable Mexican food.
This leg of the tour conveniently coincides with the theater run of “Half Nelson,” an indie film that’s received a limited release but also a healthy smattering of accolades. Ryan Gosling is the primordial cause behind much of it for his performance as a 20-something white junkie teaching junior high in Brooklyn. The Michigan Theater showed “Half Nelson” through last month, and BSS fans will notice the presence of the band’s material in the film and its corresponding soundtrack album.
“With this particular (film), we were introduced to the directing/writing team, Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden,” Canning said. “It was kind of strange at first, you know, because you just watch this movie and it’s like ‘Oh my god, I think there are 17 of our pieces in this film.’ ”
Previously, the members of Broken Social Scene have scored entire films (see the U.K. flick “Snow Cake,” starring Carrie-Anne Moss and Sigourney Weaver), but with “Half Nelson,” instead of expressly composing for the movie, BSS served in more of a “music supervisor” capacity, Canning said.
“(Fleck and Boden) came up to Toronto and we hung out and we all watched the film together,” he said. “It was sort of ‘Maybe we can take that in there, take that in there or replace that with something else’ . it ended up coming (out) in a different kind of way” than the norm. Parts of more than a dozen songs appear in the movie; the soundtrack features “Da Da Dada,” “Shampoo Suicide” and “Stars and Sons.”
While Canning and his band have been more deeply involved filmwise in a capacity such as with “Snow Cake” and for their next project after the tour’s culmination (a score for an experimental Canadian picture), decisions surrounding Half Nelson were not soulless soundtrack choices.
Absolutely, there was a certain feel to particular tracks off the first album at the time they were written, Canning said.
“Like the scene where Ryan Gosling’s character is all (cranked) out in the bathroom, there are definitely pieces form the first record that . when we were writing, we’d imagine them to be in certain films,” he revealed, “Pieces of music that were not pop-song format, but cerebral meditations. I’m glad they’ve finally found a home.”
Ann Arbor fans of Broken Social Scene should feel privileged that its making its last American stop at the Michigan Theater before heading for home. Feist and Collett dropped by the Blind Pig earlier this year, but the band altogether most recently played Detroit’s Majestic Theater last October, immediately after the release of its luxe, sweeping third studio album.
“There’ll be 11 or 12 of us in Ann Arbor,” Canning said, including Collett. Openers and compatriots Do Make Say Think may also join Broken Social Scene onstage. With such a revolving cast from tour to tour, ending in such an indie-impassioned town, expect all the stars and sons to come out tonight.
Broken Social Scene
Tomorrow at 8 p.m.
At The Michigan Theater