Kevin Drew is a conversationalist. I have been scheduled half an hour for this interview, rather than the standard 15 minutes, and he is running a wee bit late over his last interview (though, he is courteous about it).
I also say that Drew is a conversationalist because he stimulates discussion figuratively; he cultivates creativity by gently nudging his peers. This is obvious with his collaborative group, Broken Social Scene, which comprises talented members in varying numbers. Among these members is the popular Feist (“1234…”), who features on Drew’s new album, Darlings (see “You in Your Were” below). It’s also why you may have read some unexpected things of Drew; he has directed a short film (with Cillian Murphy acting) and he has completed an album with ‘Sugar, Sugar’ man, Andy Kim.
Not one to steal the show, Drew will sooner remain humble and work with others at the grass roots level, with a sense of purpose and drive. His is a life of authenticity, expressed in his music, but also quite vividly in this interview. His openness to experience, to change, has led Drew to write an album rich in intimacy, warm to naked partners.
Drew isn’t a conversationalist just because he happens to be chatty. It’s because he knows how to listen.
A Has Been: Darlings [the latest album] is timely, as I feel a lot of music lately is very ‘fuck you, I’m independent’. And Darlings is contrastingly warm and intimate.
Kevin Drew: Yeah, I want it to be warm and I want it to feel real, and to connect with people in that way of saying, “let’s just talk about this.” We want to have a connection and speak about it in a safe manner. I feel I’ve made an album about safety, about loss, about love gained, failures, everything… I want to try to identify with people’s emotions. I want to get everyone in the room and say, “what are we doing?”
AHB: I think the honesty resonates. I think you’ve always had this grass roots approach, where you don’t disappear in the clouds and try to sell a dream. In the video for Good Sex you have 18 genuine couples getting hot and heavy. Then lately there’s been a viral video of ‘strangers’ kissing for the first time. What are your thoughts on that? Yours feels more like an honest portrayal of intimacy between established partners, whereas the other video turned out to be a campaign.
KD: Well, first of all, I would like to say that when I saw that video of the strangers kissing, I thought it was very beautiful. I even said that publicly; that I am behind this, and very well done to its creator. And then it went beyond what Good Sex did, it got 40 million hits, and then, yes, you find out that it’s all bullshit, advertising, yadda yadda yadda…
But that’s exactly what I’m talking about: people want to ruin something beautiful. That is a beautiful piece of work. Why do we need to dissect that into whether or not they are actors, models, if it’s a clothing label? What kind of clothing label are we talking about, anyway? Is this a massive label, or are we talking independent? They made something genuinely beautiful. And what is shitty is the way we find something beautiful and chop it to shit. So, of course, people threw their arms in the air and felt robbed, they felt like they’d been taken for a ride, because it’s all come down to this idea that it’s not real. Suddenly fictionalised love takes them away from their own emotion. It’s a beautiful piece of work!
AHB: And probably what really matters is that it generated discussion. When I got the press release for Good Sex, it came with an NSFW stamp on it. And I work a 9-5 office job where I couldn’t look at that on my work monitor, but I’ve got a smart phone and could just as easily access a hook-up app and look at nudie pics. There’s hypocrisy where people are trying to be okay with sex, but only if it is in some way confined.
KD: And that’s a bunch of bullshit, and you know it. Do I have to quote George Michael here? “Sex is natural, sex is good. Not everybody does it, but everybody should.” I tell you, if people are complaining then they’re not alive. And that is what’s so despicable in this day and age. Kids are being taught to complain. They’re not being taught to rejoice and enjoy things. Childhood ends around age 8/9 and now you need have an opinion. And you need to know how to be negative, because that’s how you’re going to make it. And it’s fucking crap! It’s crap!
I don’t need to hear your opinions about what’s shit, and about what’s good; it’s all extremes; where do I fit, in between that?
AHB: A lot of your music is concerned with porn, and what porn has become. It’s accessible online, but it seems to be changing again. Going online and looking at videos is boring. People get their kicks through apps and online interactions.
KD: We all have expectations inside us. We’re generally built on this idea that we will find somebody. You look at Tinder; here is something where you can hook up. I know guys cleaning up on Tinder, girls going Dutch on dates with Tinder guys. It’s another idea of “let’s make some dough off your loneliness”. Let’s pretend this is a social experiment for all those people who are bored out there, who are unsettled with their lives. Let’s use Tinder to find people, because it’s so difficult in today’s day and age. “It’s so hard! It’s so hard!”
What are you doing?! This is your fucking life! Be courageous, take a chance, go out there! Look someone in the eyes. Go travelling. I’m sorry if you have a 9 to 5 and feel married to your apartment, and you have to pay rent, you have to do this and that. But you can also just say, “fuck it” and go look. Take those expectations beyond 32 blocks.
“Oh I’m into Cut Copy too. Maybe this is the one!”
“He looks cool in his photo; this could be the guy!”
You’re getting taken! You’re getting taken by the ideology of ‘who wants to be alone?’ That’s as scary as fuck. At the end of the day if you’re alone, you’re fucked up, you don’t have anyone, you’re messed up, you had your heart broken by this person and you can’t get it back, where the hell is your heart?
Meanwhile, you’re jerking off to fucking porn, and you’re greed-teaching your body as to how it needs to feel. And you get to the point where somebody comes in and they’re just as tender as they can be, and they’re working you over as much as they can, but you can’t have an orgasm, because you’re set on this certain cold-ass motherfucking way that you have the opportunity to be.
AHB: It’s incredibly isolating when you put it that way… Indulgently isolating.
I read that Darlings emerged from a relationship you’ve established in recent years.
KD: Darlings is about every relationship I’ve been in since I was a kid. Darlings is for my friends, for my loves, for my family. It’s how I look at everyone; my observations of people around me, observations of situations I’ve put myself in. It’s my observations of how I feel now; the world you can’t look up online.
AHB: Tell me about the timing of the album. It’s been 6 or 7 years since Spirit If, and you’ve been working on other things. But this concept of an album is shifting a bit, I feel. Unit sales aren’t a major driver anymore, it’s more about live music.
KD: People don’t really listen to records anymore, they listen to songs.
AHB: Yeah. Or they listen to actual records, as in vinyls.
KD: Well, I’m a record guy now. I think if you truly love something you should make an effort with it. I like to buy a record, take it out, smell it, put it on the record player… For ages I’ve had people tell me I need to get into records but I never really thought about it until a friend of mine, who I let stay at this new place I had, gave me a record player. And now I have over 500 albums, because it changed my life. It got me back into music again. It got me back into making an effort towards the sound of music again. And when you get records in dollar store bins it’s so exciting! You go and find all this crazy weird shit, you can get new stuff you love, the old classic stuff you love, all the shit you never really listen to because you’re judging it on the record cover, or what polyphonic weird stereo sound it’s producing from the fifties and sixties. It’s a wonderful thing! I think anything that has worth to you in life you’ve got to make an effort for.
Where do you want to stand? What do you want to do? I don’t mind that my apartment has books and vinyls in it. There are a lot of people that don’t want books, they don’t want vinyls; they want empty space, they want digital ‘air’ to take over the place, and I get it. I don’t judge ‘em. It’s their choice.
But I can’t make things so disposable. I can’t turn on satellite radio and hear 72 000 bands that sound the same, and are getting praised and getting accolades, and then come the next month I have no idea who you’re talking about anymore. I’m an old timer now. I’m nearly forty years old, and I sound like I’m 65!
AHB: I find that’s becoming more common. I just turned 30, and I’ve grown up with changing media and mediums. Everything has become digital. The internet is an entity, an unstoppable force which people seem to be getting a bit sick of and exhausted by. We’ve got music festivals here that sell out in a heart-beat, that are balloted because they’re so popular, new festivals being created almost yearly. People seem starved for a genuine experience with music.
KD: And that’s great! It’s encouraging. It’s the same here in Toronto; live shows and festivals dominate and sell out.
I do agree that people within music, they want a genuineness to it. I’m just old school in that I won’t be able to see a lot of these bands live in this day and age (laughing).
AHB: You’re about to tour again, is that right?
KD: No, I’m just doing one show in New York with the band. And then a couple of solo shows; just a few gigs: me and a piano. I’m playing for my dear friend Feist, who’s doing some solo gigs. And then I’m doing some summer gigs. But this is what the game plan is, what the people in the board room have said, these great people who have worked for me over the years, and whom I’m very indebted to (as they’re still with me), we are trying to see if this works and people are into it… We’re not pounding the pavement trying to find people. We want to see if people can find us. And that’s absolutely unheard of. People have said, “what are you doing?! You can’t do it!”
But I’m hoping that something happens, some sort of catapult will connect to the people, when all is said and done, when all these albums come out, and with everything happening, I hope this stands true. I hope that people demand that I come to their town. This could be looked at as a ridiculous theory in trying to plan touring, but I need to try to convince all the ones at Broken Social Scene that I went and toured with; I need to find them all and say “We’re fucking Broken Social Scene”. I’m going to come back and put on a show no different than how we all celebrated when we were together at that point in time. So I’m trying to talk to people like you, I’m trying to make videos, trying to put out shit and do anything that says, “let’s do this together”.
AHB: You’ve always had a collaborative approach. Broken Social Scene has never been static. It’s had porousness with its membership. It can come together again, or you can break away and be Feist or Kevin Drew. It seems like you’ve always been interested in this idea.
KD: You know, I love people. And I believe in people; I turn to people; I rely on people. And I ask people for a lot, and I ask them to ask me for a lot. And that’s what I’ve done since I was a kid. I’ve always wanted to be a part of the crowd, be at the parties, be in the restaurants, be in the bars, be with the people. I believe we have to help each other, support each other, talk to each other, and that we are the ones that can make things better. And it’s cheesy, but I don’t give a shit, because this is my life and this is all I have.
AHB: I think it’s sustainable as well. That quiet dedication to people, and that immersion. Your integrity is what sustains your music.
KD: I’m into it!
AHB: There has been a lot of pressure on artists here to have their music played on one of Australia’s leading radio stations, triple j. And if it isn’t played on triple j, or they stop playing that artist’s music, there’s been criticism. I think potentially these artists have invested in something that is unsustainable, in that sense.
KD: Every song I write I wish is on the radio and a hit. Every song I write I wish stations like triple j would get behind. But it’s not the way it goes. I just write what I know, and I hope that people can connect with it. You can’t rely on those systems, because a lot of the time they’re not going to be there for you. A lot of the time, you don’t fit their format. A lot of the time it doesn’t work and you don’t have the thing behind it that gets you there.
I don’t think you need to define your career based around what others are telling you you need to be. But I also don’t think you need to be defensive about it. I understand, I hear it all the time. I’m in a label and all I ever hear is “we need radio edits”, “can you change this chorus”, “can you do this”, “can you do that”. Obviously with radio, really, in today’s day and age, it’s not the only way it’s going to happen. What are you going to do? Base your expectations on one motive? You can’t do that. You’ve got to believe that there are other ways. And you’ve got to find them.
AHB: Tell me about your album with Andy Kim?
KD: I am so glad you asked. Because working with Andy Kim is the reason why Darlings was made. And it’s only because he came into my life and showed me the magic of being a human being, and creating something in writing. He brought a really youthful approach to this record that we were making, a feeling that there was nothing we couldn’t do. Having nothing to lose is one of the greatest aspects in creating something. I took that energy he brought into the room and I started putting it into my own record.
I asked him “do you mind if I make my record simultaneously with your record?” And he was so behind it. He just became this inspiration for doing things for the right reasons; doing it for the rush, the feeling of the music, the feeling of the high, and letting it be known that no one can take that from you. It doesn’t matter what the outcome is. While you’re there and making it, what it means to you… THAT is the genuineness of why you’re there in the first place. And I’d lost that. I will forever be indebted to Andy. I’m very excited for his album, which is coming out in the Fall [our Spring]. I’m very grateful to him for saying “It’s your movie. It’s your fucking movie! You’re your own director. Direct the film you want.”