It takes a village to create one Broken Social Scene
Broken Social Scene’s name has always been ironic. The Canadian indie-rock collective started in 1999 as the project of a small group of friends, and the gang has only grown from there. By the time of its second album (“You Forgot It in People”) in 2002, it boasted 11 members. Now, 18 musicians are carefully listed as official band members, though fans should expect an ensemble of 10 or so when Broken Social Scene plays the House of Blues on Saturday.
“It’s just this myriad of relationships and friendships that stem from different beginnings,” says Brendan Canning, who cofounded the group with Kevin Drew in Toronto. “Kevin had a crew, I had a crew, we kind of smashed them together, and the next thing you know you’re 18 years in.”
Over the 21st century’s rise and decline (so far) of smart indie-rock as a cultural force, Broken Social Scene has functioned as a somewhat reluctant godparent — immensely respected and influential, but intermittently active and only occasionally breaking through commercially. The group released three albums and a B-side collection between 2001 and 2005, then took five years before dropping “Forgiveness Rock Record,” and seven more before finally emerging again this year with “Hug of Thunder.”
In the meantime many of its members, perhaps most notably Leslie Feist (who records simply as Feist), have performed under their own names and in a web of interconnected projects.
“I definitely always knew we would make at least another record. I always felt the conversation wasn’t done, with what we had started,” Canning says of the long break before the latest album and tour. “Everyone just needed to spread their wings a little . . . and not run everything through the process of Broken Social Scene, which can be trying, for sure. Because even the smallest ideas, everyone’s going to chirp in on something. That’s just the kind of band it is, a lot of people wearing the captain’s hat often.”
The Broken Social Scene Industrial Complex, as it were, has also yielded solo albums by Drew and Canning billed as “Broken Social Scene Presents. . .” and ephemera like a collection of short stories by other authors who were inspired by the songs of “You Forgot It in People.”
The group’s lovingly shambolic but upbeat sound reflects its mix of musical voices. A Broken Social Scene specialty is the attractively melodic pop song wrapped in dense orchestration. It can be a revelation to hear the shaggy arrangements of earlier songs like “Ibi Dreams of Pavement (A Better Day)” and “Superconnected” unraveled into gorgeous acoustic gems — as on the group’s periodic sets for KCRW’s famed “Morning Becomes Eclectic” program. In the studio, the band can indulge an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink aesthetic.
New songs like “Halfway Home” and “Protest Song” sound very much like classic Broken Social Scene, but elsewhere the latest record has more electronic textures and maybe a more inward-looking sound.
Ariel Engle joined husband Andrew Whiteman as an official band member for this record, and she’s the only one other than principal vocalist Drew to sing lead on at least two tracks.
“There are all kinds of ideas that are brought to the table. Many things are experimented with, and something just coalesces and makes sense,” Engle says of her first time joining the group’s songwriting process. “Gonna Get Better,” one of her contributions, sprang from a middle-of-the-night studio jam. “I think that this band has always been great at the uplifting, anthemic feel but I also think it always comes from certain depths. They’re not afraid to explore the idea that positivity is also born out of difficulty.”
Despite the band’s on-again, off-again history, Canning says he’d like to see a new Broken Social Scene album out in 2018. Several new songs didn’t make “Hug of Thunder” but could be the basis of a follow-up.
“We’re going to have November to February to carve away at stuff and who knows, maybe this time next year it would be great to have another record out,” Canning says. “You really have to figure out what kind of band you’re going to be. I’m pretty clear about how I personally would like things to go in the future. I think we should continue to compete in the marketplace, you know? Be a band. Have your voice heard. Make sure your part of the conversation is getting out into the world.”
Asked if there’s a reasonable chance that another new album could really surface so quickly, Canning said yes and that he thinks other core members Drew, Whiteman, Charles Spearin, and Justin Peroff would agree.
“I’m committed. A lot of the band is committed. We’re sitting on some good tracks. I don’t know if there’s a breakout, massive hit single but there’s definitely some solid tracks. If you’re a Broken Social Scene fan I think you would greatly accept and appreciate what we’ve got coming down the pipe.”
For now, fans are happy enough to have the group back — and the scene still intact.
Broken Social Scene
With Frightened Rabbit. At House of Blues, Boston, Saturday. Tickets $30.50-$46, www.livenation.com