On September 12, 2011, Angolan beauty queen Leila Lopes stepped on to a stage in Sao Paulo, Brazil to thunderous applause. Lopes had just won the title of Miss Universe. The win was a huge deal, having previously only collected accolades in her home country of Angola – including a Photogenic Award. Which seems like nonsense, but Wikipedia suggests otherwise. Over the following days, Lopes received a plethora of congratulations notes, flowers, and Kinder Eggs. But by the third day, the gifts had stopped coming. By the third day, Lopes’ realised her dream had been forgotten by all those around her, and indeed the world, as it paled in comparison to an event that the whole world had suddenly become forced to come to terms with.
It was on the 15th September that Kevin Drew – frontman for Broken Social Scene dropped the bombshell. In an interview with Pitchfork, he explained that his band would be going on an indefinite hiatus. The untimely interruption in the publicising of Lopes’ victory meant that on that day, the world lost two of the brightest stars of the stage, kind of. The news was brutal, and some still refuse to believe it was true. Broken Social Scene were splitting up… or going on an indefinite hiatus, at least. But it didn’t matter because the heart only ever breaks the same way.
Then, three years later, Drew returned – with some good news. He had a record to release. It would be called Darlings, and it would be his first… no, possibly second solo record. You see, back in 2007, in what Drew called a “marketing move”, he released a record titled Broken Social Scene Presents: The Spirit If… under his own name. The idea was to allow Social Scene to continue to tour without getting everyone back together to write a new record, while also showcasing the solo exploits of the rest of the band, including fellow co-founder Brendan Canning. Sadly, it was only Canning that was able to get another Presents record out before the band regrouped properly for their fourth full-length record - Forgiveness Rock Record.
Drew explains: “There were a lot of personal conflicts around 2006 and a lot of people put a lot of great things behind them and we just thought all right, let’s make another one.”
It would transpire that the release of Forgiveness would mark the beginning of the end of Broken Social Scene. And without any word from Drew about new music since Social Scene finished their fall 2011 tour, fans may not necessarily have been foolish to wonder whether they’d lost Drew from the performance world entirely. Thankfully, then, Darlings was announced with the release of a video for “Good Sex” – the first single from his second solo record.
Pitchfork went on to call the single simply “another fine example of what Drew’s been doing for the past decade: trying to imbue some kinkiness in the grand schematics we expect to be kinda boring, whether it’s monogamy or big-ticket indie rock. “It was a solid assessment, but it’s was an assessment that focused mostly on Drew’s words. And while Spirit If… was very much Drew’s voice backed by Social Scene, Darlings is, lyrically very similar, but with one major change – the band is notable for its absence.
In general, our conversation revolved around the most stripped back sound of Darlings. But first things first, what’s he been doing for the last three years?
“We toured until the end of November 2011 and then I had 6 months off,” he explains. “I then started making a record with Andy Kim , Ohad Benchetrit and Dave Hamelin, and that’s how we started producing. So while we were making his record I was writing mine too.”
“I also have the label and… the things that I do,” he continues, before leaning in “…and basically what that is… is that I love to hang out”. The idea makes him crack with laughter – as if he knows it shouldn’t be allowed, but if the opportunity is afforded he’s damn well going to take it. It backs up a lot of what he does – particularly with the new record, in which he’s embraced a simplicity – a very straight forward three-person music setup, but at the same time, he’s been in no rush. Hell, it’s taken seven years to get his second record out.
“I consider it my third,” says Drew. Pardon? “I made a four-track record when I was 18, but only gave it to friends.”
What was it called? Suburban Masturbation.”
A tentative, but bold question… was it any good? He laughs again – “it was okay… it was a little too… it was innocent. I had songs like ‘Live, You Gotta Live’, and ‘Beautiful Bulimic Girl’. You know, there was some hits on there!” he adds warming to the nostalgia. “Oh, ‘Sunset Clause’. That was another good one. “It’s okay baby, I signed the contract, and there was a sunset so you can follow me wherever you go”.
Drew never lets a silence fall on the conversation, and his recall of detail is huge. But he also chooses his words carefully – noting that that record was innocent, rather than lacking maturity. As the aforementioned review for “Good Sex” noted, he’s certainly not settling down or reaching maturity. Furthermore, those Suburban Masturbation song titles wouldn’t have looked out of place on any of the Social Scene records.
“I always said to my dad, if I die, make a box-set, and everything will explain itself. From the first KC Accidental record to now. I like to start from where I left off. If you listen to the last song on Forgiveness Rock Record, it’s ‘Me and My Hand’, then I pick up with “get the body butter, baby, let’s go party all alone. So I like to think I’m keeping inline with the consecutiveness of what I want to do.”
Is that not just a coincidence, though? “Oh, it was a coincidence!”
But if it doesn’t intentionally link together, Darlings certainly comes full circle in many ways. It has many elements of early Broken Social Scene when it was barely more than himself and Canning. It’s hookier, and less instrumental, but a number of layers that were present on 2005’s self titled record, and Forgiveness have fallen away. Forgiveness was an all-out swooping guitar assault on the senses – but Darlings feels like Drew needed a breather. Even though it’s been so long since his last solo record, it feels like there is less to prove. He’s left enough time between the band’s hiatus, he’s given Brendan Canning the time to release his own solo record – itself a much more laid back record, though his was a little more removed from the sound of the band.
Darlings’ set up is largely just himself, Benchetrit and David Mitchell – both from fellow Canadian band Do Make Say Think. “I call them my canoe,” he says. “They just get in and fit so well. They’ve been playing together since they were kids.”
In listening to Drew describe the album, particularly the name, it would be easy to see Darlings as a sign off from the songwriter. It matches his idea of consecutiveness, not to mention his preference for endings – as highlighted in his initial interview with Pitchfork to announce the end of Broken Social Scene, not for the first time. He also seems comfortable with various other ventures in his life, whether directing music videos, producing, or running the label. He continues: “I thought I would have been making films by now, I’ve stated it many times. I’m just trying to reposition and get a good balance to go back out there because it’s a fight, a popularity contest. You’ve got to prove yourself everyday. You’ve got to be centered. And to do so it takes time and evaluation.”
The interesting thing here is that Drew still feels he has something to prove. But is that so? Not quite – in regards to Darlings, the singer focuses on what he calls ‘emotional constipation’. ”I wanted something in my back pocket that was mine and I wanted to say that if I wasn’t able to record any more records or something happened and that was it, then I’m quite satisfied with what I’ve done with my career and its nice to have a personal touch at the end here with Darlings.”
But it’s not the end. It’s taken him a-while to set up any performances as himself, but he’s on the verge of performing a short run of dates this April – his first is at New York’s Bowery Ballroom, with a handful of extra dates over the summer. But it’s far from an album support. A lot of it seems to come down to a lack of certainty – or rather, an elevated level of cautiousness. Having co-founded and run Arts and Crafts for the last ten years, Drew is smart in his approach to the road. “If it was Social Scene I’d know what to expect,” he says. “It’s a fight – there’s 4,000 records coming out a week, I’ve got to find a place so there’s a demand so I can go and execute – it’s really that simple. If I was to come down now and play Europe I’d have no idea who’d be showing up to the shows. If it was Social Scene, then yes, I’d have a handle on it.”
Throughout the interview, so much comes back to the band that made Drew the indie-rock hallmark he is today. No music journalist wants to go in asking the obvious questions, and when it comes to Drew, they will all surround Broken Social Scene. Yes, yes, Kevin, we know you have a new record out – but what about the future of the band. Avoidance was obviously futile – his heightened affability gives the impression that you can ask him anything, and his open response shouldn’t be surprising at all.
“We made it work as a business for 10 years,” he responds. “With everyone’s schedules, and it was difficult but we pulled it off. And we just hit a ceiling where everyone just needed to be reminded what a great and wonderful thing we had in our lives. And the reason that is, is because it’s fun. That’s what it was all about.”
Barely pausing, he concludes: ”I can see Broken Social Scene recording again”.
Darlings, Kevin Drew’s “third “solo album, is out now on Arts & Crafts.