Brendan Canning released his third solo album Home Wrecking Years this month and after spending an afternoon with him, the record seems to reflect exactly who Canning is. Instantly inviting with a steady mellow pulse, both Canning and his music have an infectious vibe. When we meet at his Toronto home, he is relaxed and completely unpretentious as he invites me into his legendary living room (everything from songs being written to music videos being shot to the 2015 film Diamond Tongues starring July Talk’s Leah Fay Goldstein – which Canning acted as executive producer and composer – has been filmed in Canning’s living room). The space is beautifully bohemian with shelves of vinyl and books hugging the walls. The sun glistens over the musical instruments and curious treasures that fill the room. As we take his small, aging dogs for their walks, the chilled-out essence of the record is once again reflected in Canning’s real life. We slowly wander down Draper street and into a dog park among people practicing their meditation and yoga. We laugh at the extreme summer heat as we sweat through our shirts. As we talk about creating, performing and listening to music, Canning speaks with the experience and knowledge that comes from a life in music: his career as a DJ, a solo artist and member for almost two decades of Toronto’s sweetheart band, Broken Social Scene which he co-founded in 1999 with Kevin Drew. Perhaps one of the most evident reflections of Canning in Home Wrecking Years is his musical intelligence. The record incorporates aspects of various genres including bossa nova, pop-rock and chillwave all the while maintaining a sound that is simultaneously instinctive and precise. The album unfurls organically thanks to its smartly curated tracklist leaving the listener’s soul feeling warm and full. As we walk through the park, our interview begins to feel more like a Sunday afternoon hang, just like the album sounds.
Brendan: It wasn’t so much an urge… If you want the truth, when I released You’ve Gots 2 Chill [Canning’s previous album] I was with a label in the U.S. called SQE and they were all into it but they said, “Well, you’ve got to tour it or we won’t release a physical copy.” So, I put a band together and it took me quite a while to find a lineup that I liked. I realized that a lot of the songs on that album were not really meant to be live songs – it was kind of the extension of the porch jams I have. So, I started writing new songs with the band. We did a day of recording in 2014 at Revolution Recording – I got a free day – and we tracked “Vibration Walls” that day live in one take with the scratch vocals. The night before, I was at the Cameron House and I heard this band playing [Neil Young’s] “Helpless” and I was like, “Who’s singing?!” I looked behind the drums and Dani Nash was playing. Man, I’ve heard “Helpless” a lot of times but she just sounded so nice. And then she came the next day from her uncle’s funeral in Bowmanville straight to the studio and having never heard the song she did all of the harmonies and hit all of the lines and it was like, “Great! We got someone who’s perfect!”
B: Yeah, in the process of touring and finding a band I liked. We’d be rehearsing for shows and slowly but surely it’d be like, “Well, we should write a new song” or we’d be jamming and it’d be like, “Woah, this is sounding good. Don’t anyone stop playing” and then “Book It To Fresno” gets written. I played a few more shows and then I started touring with The Tragically Hip [DJing as their opening act]. It was when I had this block of time in between Hip tours that I just thought, “Well, we have a bunch of songs…”. July Talk’s manager Alex [Alexandre Bonenfant] offered up a studio. He was actually going to engineer it but his partner Dave [Plowman] ended up doing the album with us instead. He understood where I was going and it was a good fit. The only [song] that was written after we had already tracked everything was “Baby’s Going Her Own Way”, the last one. I just sort of felt like we needed one more. I felt like it needed one of those kind of songs. A mid-tempo, farewell kind of thing. But I hadn’t gone in to make a record with all of the songs [already] being written in… (laughs) I don’t know… Never as a solo artist. It was always like, churn away in the studio and let’s tweak away and let’s move shit around.
B: Home Wrecking Years? Oh you know, just my personal life going chaotic a little bit. Uh… and, yeah.
I really love “Book It To Fresno”. It’s on the SBTS STANDOUTS – The June Collection playlist and it’s the first single off the record. Can you talk about that song?
B: That was just in the living room there. That was just plug in, start playing and that’s the song that came out. Graham [Vincent Jones, from Yukon Blonde] was on drums, Devon [Henderson] on bass, Greg [Calderone] on keys, Dani [Nash] on guitar and vocals, Kevin [Kane] on guitar and vocals. The song’s in A and it doesn’t change key so everyone can follow along with it and so, as a musician, it’s not too difficult of a concept to be like, “Oh, I get what he’s doing.” So that song was pretty immediate. It was like, as soon as we plugged in for rehearsal that day, all of a sudden it sounded good. And it felt good to sing, too.
B: Yeah, I remember playing that for Summerworks. That was the main band – Dani, Greg, Kevin, Graham, Devon, me and my friend Edwin played violin on that one that night. My partner – in life and in a lot of aspects – was like, “That was the best show you’ve ever played! That show was incredible! That’s what your album should be like!” But you know, it was good and it connected. But then Robin Dann did the vocals on the album and there were really only two parts to it and right before she was coming in to do her vocals I was sort of like, Oh man. Like, Robin is a talented singer and good songwriter and she has good musical theory so I was kind of embarrassed like, oh fuck, I need to write some new parts and quick! But you know, it’s kind of classic like bossa nova-ish.
What was the process of actually recording the album like?
B: Like, ten live days at Dream House [Studios] and maybe the equivalent of 20 overdub days which is pretty quick. But at the same time, I’ve never had that many songs written before going into the studio.
B: No, because when I was writing this material in 2014 Broken Social Scene only played one show at Field Trip and then in 2015 we played two gigs, Pemberton and WayHome so my commitment was like, two weeks a year. You know, get ready, rehearse, go play the gig and then that’s it. When I’m out on my own I can just feel very free to just do my thing. I’m not worried about it being judged too harshly because it’s like, “What am I aiming for?” I still have to work and be a gainfully employed musician but I don’t have to worry about like, “Oh fuck, is this as good as Frank Ocean?” Like, I’m not there to compete with Frank Ocean. I’m very happy for him and I like his tunes but I’m already in a band that gets good festival slots and has lots of fans and has had a really great career and is continuing on with a career. So my solo stuff, I don’t put any pressure on it other than for it to sound good.
Follow Brendan Canning:
Twitter: @canningb Instagram: @brendanjcanning