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StandardTapes 31: Brendan Canning Gives You a Musical Education
Broken Social Scene's Brendan Canning schools you on his list of essential tracks, talks solo album, new Cronenberg flick, and more

Brendan Canning sips a hot latté in a heat wave

For someone who named his upcoming solo album You Gots 2 Chill, Broken Social Scene’s Brendan Canning has certainly kept himself busy. In addition to a Broken reunion at Arts & Craft’s Field Trip, a new album with his band Cookie Duster, scoring two major movies (Paul Schrader’s The Canyons with a so-superficial-it’s-actually-deep casting of Lindsay Lohan and porn star James Deen, and a new Cronenberg flick), Canning has somehow found the time to record his second solo record. Oh, and he regularly DJ’s too.

Canning speaks likes he writes music: a constantly flowing riff that’s always tangential without ever going off-topic. “I’ve never been that singer-songwriter-y guy who just sits and home and writes lyrics. It’s more that I just play riffs, and croon something over top of them and see if something pops out. And if it does then great, I’ve got something,” he confesses. We gave him the task of creating a playlist for us, and he ended up crafting a list of songs that have served him well over his prolific DJ career.

His original list of songs kept growing and growing as the afternoon-heat wave went on, and his cup of coffee was emptied. “Anyone who knows me — unless I’m talking about music, because then I’m getting pretty hyper — knows I’m pretty mellow… I’m so glad for my DJ’ing. When the band’s not on the road it feels like a career — and it’s a great one. I like DJ’ing, I like playing records, I like musical education. I could play The 60 Greatest Songs of Today tonight, and come up with a completely different list tomorrow.”

Here you have it, Brendan Canning’s musical education, with an extended tracklist and interview to boot:

This playlist is tunes that have served me well in my DJ career.

1. James Brown — “Funky President” (0:00)

I’ve been DJ’ing since ’97 or ’98 officially at the Octopus Lounge which was right across from Bellwoods on Walnut St. and I was a house music DJ back then. It was primarily a house music thing back then but there was one James Brown track I used to play, “Funky President,” which always served me very well.

2. Soul II Soul – “Back to Life” (3:56)

I think in ’90 or ’91 this was a modern classic. I’ve had this record for such a long time, but the “Back to Life” version they put on the album is just an a capella. But you’re not playing an acapalla when you’re at a club, so I just bought the 12” single.  I’m a vinyl guy, not for any particular reason, it’s just the format I enjoy.

3. Louie Bellson & Walfredo De Los Reyes – “Sentido En Seis (Six Feelings)” (7:36)

I never really knew the name of this album, I just knew it by the cover. Pablo is the record label — it was a 70’s jazz label, and Norman Granz was the producer. He was massively involved with the history of jazz.

4. Freddie Hubbard – “Red Clay” (12:27)

Creed Taylor, he ran the label CTI. He was in that era of jazz when everything was going electric. You’d know the baseline from the Tribe Called Quest song “Sucka Nigga.” That’s a Ron Carter baseline first of all, who’s plenty sampled in the world of hip hop. I like to play this song early in the evening. It’s kind of loungy.

5. The New Pornographers — “From Blown Speakers” (16:37)

I like playing some indie pop. I played this song last week when I was playing at Northwood. “From Blown Speakers” is just a great song. Starts with a big crescendo. Killer track. Big fan of New Pornos. Could you tell?

6. Modeselektor — “Sucker Pin” (19:21)

A great minimalist techno track. They’re a French duo. Thom Yorke gave some vocals to the album this track from. The 90’s was my time when I could play house and a bit of techno, but I’m not that into all of it now. A lot of it was about staying out until 8 o’clock in the morning back then, which I’m not that into doing anymore — if I can help it. I got a chance to play this track when I was playing this exhibition in Massachusetts called “Oh, Canada,” it was the largest Canadian art exhibition outside of Canada… it was a really cool crowd there. Everyone from 17 year olds to 50 year olds in a huge gymnasium. I was this huge art institute… a complex? I guess you could call it a complex.

7. Thom Yorke – “Atoms for Piece” (25:29)

I think it was during Rifflandia I had a couple of fucked up DJ sets. This one night I was playing with a bunch of younger punters, for lack of  better term, it was just a bunch of dudes getting wasted. I opened up my set with Atoms For Peace and this one girl screamed. She later opened up and had this whole emotional story about Atoms for Peace.

8. Black Star – “Brown Skin Lady” (30:42)

This is the record with Mos Def and Talib Kweli. I hooked up with this pretty girl one night, and I’m convinced it’s because I played “Brown Skin Lady.” It was at this place on Bathurst called The Banknote — it was a Christmas party for NOW Magazine. It was this gig that also led to my residency at Lounge 88 on Clinton, which was right under the Monarch Tavern. Of all my DJ gigs, that was definitely the most fun. That was right around the beginning of Broken Social Scene.

9. Tommy Stewart – “Bump and Hustle Music” (35:51)

As soon as it comes on the dance floor… It’s an undeniable groove. It’s a killer.

10. Dennis Brown — “Money In My Pocket” (40:44)

One of my soccer buddies does a reggae night called Pressure Drop. Broken were on tour in Europe, and we were on our way to Spain in some little town in France. In this tiny place they had a record shop with some live venue, and I bought “Money in my Pocket” by Dennis Brown. It’s always good to have a reliable Dennis Brown track. That’s my reggae pick. And it’s nice to have a 45 with a French press.

11. Brandy and Monica – “The Boy is Mine” (43:14)

Played that at the Perroni party in Vancouver. Girls love 90’s R&B.

12. Money Mark — “Cry” (47:26)

It’s on Money Mark’s Keyboard Repair. Very loungy with wicked organ. I’ve been playing this song for years and never get sick of it. It’s nice to play tracks that have an unmistakable vibe.

13. Skee-Lo — “I Wish” (49:45)

I bought this track in Vanouver right before I DJ’d Zach Galifianakis’s wedding on a boat. Kevin [Drew]’s a buddy of his.

14. Little Dragon — “Looking Glass” (54:16)

It’s like the most peppy song on the record [Machine Dreams]. It’s almost got a 2-step feel. It hasn’t been road tested, but one day this song is going to slay a dance floor somewhere. That’s kind of the DJ mentality, that you have all these songs saved up like that.

15. Here We Go Magic — “I Believe in Action” (59:11)

They’re buds of mine. They opened up some shows in Europe for us. There’s this really cute girl that works at Soundscapes in a band and she was playing Here We Go Magic’s album in the shop. When you hear a like-minded band, you sort of just become friends. Sort of like Explosions in the Sky or Pavement.

16. Beastie Boys — “Root Down” (1:03:51)

Jimmy Smith is a relatively famous jazz organist. I just found out the groove from this song samples Jimmy Smith.

17. Dr. John — “Right Place Wrong Time” (1:07:11)

I got this when I first started buying funk records. I bought this record for $1 in New York, back when you could actually buy records for a dollar. It’s a great album cover if you can ever get your hands on it. So psychedelic.

18. Kraftwerk — “Neon Lights” (1:10:00)

Kraftwerk are the pioneers of so much music we listen to. Not really a dance floor banger, but such an emotional track. It has this epic outro that’s a total fake-out, and the song just comes right back in. “Neon Lights”: that’s your closer. That or “I Only Have Eyes For You” by The Flamingos. It’s a great song for if you wanna go for a whiz, grab some drinks with a friend, step outside and smoke a doob, whatever you might want to be doing when you’re out on a social night. 

There you go, that’s your first instalment…

On the upcoming album’s name, You Gots 2 Chill:

Anyone who knows me — unless I’m talking about music, because then I’m getting pretty hyper — knows I’m pretty mellow. There’s that great scene in Funny People, when Adam Sandler’s a real prick and he’s got Seth Rogen writing jokes for him, and he’s telling him, “Don’t say I’m chillin’, I hate that.”

It’s also an EPMD track.

I chickened out with my last album [Something for All of Us…]. I was going to call it Roadblock to the Seven Chakras. I remember telling K-OS that… I gave him a couple of choices and he was like yeah, that one. But I pussied out, and that would have been a way funnier title. If you look on the back of the album its written there.

You know with Broken Social Scene, we were going to call our self-titled album Windsurfing Nation [which is actually the name of a track on the album]. I think it’s good we have a self-titled album, but it would have been more fun. Sometimes as an artist you just second-guess yourself.

So You Gots 2 Chill I was just like, fuck it, let’s go with it.

Did you come up with most of the track names for Broken Social Scene’s albums? There are some great ones.

With Broken, Kev [Kevin Drew] is great with the song titles, I’d say it’s like 80:20. Unless it’s Andrew’s songs, which are like “Art House Director,” “Looks Just Like The Sun,” “Fire Eye’d Boy”. I’m good for titles like “Handjobs for the Holidays,” and all the titles on my record. Except “Hit the Wall” — I’d credit Evan Cranley from Stars. And maybe “Pacific Theme” on Feel Good Lost? I feel like those are all Kev jams. I also had a small part in the naming of “Highway Slipper Jam.” I think Justin [Peroff] played it to Dave [Hamelin] from The Stills, and he was like it’s another Canning slipper jam! (What is a slipper jam?). You know, it’s like, come home from work, lay back, put your slippers on, and I play music like that. It was a funny title. We don’t chicken out on song titles, that’s for sure. 

I’ve heard elements from your upcoming album were recorded on voicemail. What’s the story behind these calls? Were they just to yourself?

I got a cellphone in 2009, which was pretty late in the game of cellphones. I was like anti-mobile I guess. Back when I was solely landline-based, I would always record tracks for myself on my voicemail, so I wouldn’t forget them later.

I’ve never been that singer-songwriter-y guy who just sits and home and writes lyrics. It’s more that I just play riffs, and croon something over top of them and see if something pops out. And if it does then great, I’ve got something.

So I’ve gotten a couple of songs with licks recorded over answering machine. I think one of them is “Some Lighthouse You Are,” [listed elsewhere online as “Once a Lighthouse”] and then I used something that was saved on the answering machine from 2005. That’s the oldest artifact on the album.

I didn’t record the album alone at home like I’ve read online. I was reading something on Pitchfork that was saying I recorded the album home alone, when really I went to a studio, and recorded the whole thing with a buddy from high school. I mean, I can’t do everything on my own, I don’t know how to record an album. The closest thing I did was Feel Good Lost with Kevin, but that was on a quarter-inch 8-track reel-to-reel machine, which I could actually operate. It’s a very tactile experience.  I’m into playing by myself at home, but when it’s about actually putting something together I’d rather hang out with other people. It’s a social experience.

On scoring the new Cronenberg and Schrader flicks:

It’s based on Cronenberg selling his intellectual property to a bio-tech company. I thought it was real! But then I learned it was just a concept for a movie. There are some interactive aspects to it. I’m not totally sure how it’s all going to come together, but it will, like any other Cronenberg movie. At least with Cronenberg I could work off of picture, whereas with The Canyons I was just working with a script. But it was fun working with Paul Schrader.

If our readers wanted to catch you DJ, where would they go. Northwood?

Yeah, I was there last night. I’ll DJ anywhere people will have me. 

Bonus Track: Jorge Ben — “Oba La Vem Ela”

If Brazil had a Neil Young, he’d be that figure. It’s the ultimate summer song.

You Gots 2 Chill will be released October 1st, 2013 – download the free single “Plugged In” here.


Missed the last couple of mixes? You can catch up at our StandardTapes archive

Jeremy Schipper is an intern at Toronto Standard. You can follow him on Twitter at @jeromeoschipps.

For more, follow us on Twitter at @torontostandard, and subscribe to our newsletter.

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