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Broken Social Scene: Indie Rock Originals


Toronto band Broken Social Scene is proof that any group is only as powerful as the sum of its parts. Their songs swell with sometimes more than 13 members playing orchestral rock 'n' roll. At the band's core are a few old friends who started Broken Social Scene four years ago. Since then, they've grown into an influential indie rock collective that's made three albums and done at least as many international tours. Their latest CD is called simply "Broken Social Scene." NPR's Christopher Johnson reports.


With a horn section, a violinist, two full drum kits and a designated conductor, Broken Social Scene doesn't quite fit the traditional rock band mold. Band mate Leslie Feist describes Broken Social Scene like a saloon in an old Western.

Ms. LESLIE FEIST (Broken Social Scene): There's the brothel upstairs, there's the booze behind the counter, and it's being run by--the proprietors are the guys in Broken that are holding down the fort. They're the ones with the sleeves rolled up and the garters around their--and they're dealing the blackjack hands and stuff.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. FEIST: But then the rest of us come in, those doors that swing in and swing out, and then one of those old saloons need action, you know?

(Soundbite of song)

BROKEN SOCIAL SCENE: (Singing) ...(Unintelligible)...

JOHNSON: The Broken Social Scene collective is made of more than a dozen artists who are always coming and going. A lot of those musicians also play in an incestuous ring of bands that have shaped Toronto's thriving music scene. Broken Social Scene co-founder Kevin Drew is part of that community. He's been close to some of his band mates since childhood. When those friends began building their own group, Drew borrowed talent from some of his city's best musical acts.

Mr. KEVIN DREW (Broken Social Scene): We put together this family and we started doing all these shows with whoever was in town would come and we would play. And we had a bar called Ted's Wrecking Yard and we would do a lot of these shows where we'd say we'll never play the same song twice and--but it was fun...

Ms. FEIST: Yeah, it was great.

Mr. DREW: ...and it was honest. And we started making this pop music. So this started what became Broken Social Scene.

JOHNSON: When they could get away from their individual band commitments, Broken Social Scene's members went straight to the recording studio. Their sophomore album, 2003's "You Forgot It in People," fully captured the band's original musical vision. They wanted to distill the essence of epic rock into short, soulful pop tunes.

(Soundbite of song)

BROKEN SOCIAL SCENE: (Singing) Well, he looks just like a son, looks just like you, but ...(unintelligible). Heart is pounding in his chest (unintelligible). Ship is sailing in the west ...(unintelligible) could be his fun. Keep going.

JOHNSON: To put that second album out, Kevin Drew and his friends launched Arts & Crafts Records. Today the independent label is home to four bands that share their talent with Broken Social Scene. Leslie Feist's own group, bearing her last name, has had a year packed with touring, network TV appearances and magazine shoots. It's a similar story for Stars, Metric and the Apostles of Hustle, all bands with members in Broken Social Scene. And because everyone is so busy, Kevin Drew sees this band's latest self-titled album as an especially rare accomplishment.

Mr. DREW: You never know when the last time's going to be with this band, when we all get together. I don't there every really will be a last time.

Sing. Sing. One, two, three four.

But I'm glad we made this big, beautiful mess and everyone's on it because it's a really nice representation of where we've been for the last few years.

(Soundbite of song)

BROKEN SOCIAL SCENE: (Singing) All they want is ...(unintelligible). All they want is ...(unintelligible). All they want is ...(unintelligible). All they want is ...(unintelligible).

JOHNSON: Lesley Bargar is a staff writer for the music magazine Filter. She says Broken Social Scene has earned so much international attention in part because of the group's musical sincerity.

Ms. LESLEY BARGAR (Staff Writer, Filter): There's this sort of lack of an awareness of cool even that comes through in their music. It's this sort of this pure emotion and innocence. You're bombarded by strings and epic crescendos and things like that, but it's not done in a way that feels cheesy or ironic; it's honest.

(Soundbite of song)

BROKEN SOCIAL SCENE: (Singing) ...(Unintelligible)...

JOHNSON: Thousands of fans like Bargar are also drawn to Broken Social Scene's legendary live shows. On stage, the group expands and contracts like a single breathing organism. More than a dozen musicians individually rotate on, play their parts, step back, repeat. For Kevin Drew, those concerts and the new album are a spontaneous celebration.

Mr. DREW: We weren't going for anything--this is what we did, we achieved it, showed how we can help each other and didn't let ourselves ruin it. There's been so many inner fights and inner twangs and everything and we're still here. So anything now that we do is just going to be more excitement. It can't be anything less.

Unidentified Man: Check.

(Soundbite of music)

JOHNSON: Christopher Johnson, NPR News, Los Angeles.

(Soundbite of song)

BROKEN SOCIAL SCENE: (Singing) ...(Unintelligible). Look close like it could have been ...(unintelligible) is a word that ...(unintelligible)...

BRAND: More to come on DAY TO DAY from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Christopher Johnson