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Standard Interviews: Brendan Canning
Standard Interviews is a regular series where we interview the city's creative thinkers.

With SummerWorks starting tonight, we’re speaking to all of the Music Series participants. We start with former Broken Social Scene band member and ultimate cool dude, Brendan Canning.

What’s a day in the life of Brendan Canning like?

(Laughs) I don’t know, everyday is a bit different.

Today I woke up, walked the dog, went to a TIFF press conference and played some soccer.

I suppose it’s more of a solitary time: I’m not in a big band anymore, and I’m not playing gigs and doing a tonne of socializing every night. I still DJ around town, here and there, but mostly it’s a totally different life I’m lead right now.

It sounds like you’re in a good space, though.

Yeah, some days, and other days I miss what I had. I thought we were doing something special with BSS, but then I guess we all started regretting what we were doing to a certain degree.

How did you get involved with SummerWorks? Correct me if I’m wrong, but this will be your first time playing the festival.

Yeah, it’s my first time.

I got asked to do it, basically.

I had to think about it for a couple of weeks, but SummerWorks was persistent. They kept emailing and messaging me, asking me to do the show. As usual, though, I take a month to answer any email.

Then sat down with Brendan Healy, the director they wanted to pair me with, and we started chatting.

We share the same first name, so that definitely helped, and, yeah, I just thought, “What the fuck? This is a chance to do a gig that’s unlike any other gig I’ve ever done before.”

What did you know about the festival before signing on to do a show? Were you familiar with it?

No, not so much, but I definitely knew about it. One of my friends is in the Wooden Sky. They played a show at SummerWorks last year. Buck 65 also did a show, and they both spoke very highly of the festival.

Like I said before, it’s nice to be taking part in something that’s a bit different. What I’m doing on Friday is not a show at the Horseshoe or Lee’s Palace. I love those clubs, don’t get me wrong, but I’ve spent half my fucking life at them.

It sounds like you and Brendan are preparing something special for Friday. Without ruining the surprise, what can we expect from the show?

A visual artist named Peter Rahul is creating a big backdrop for us to play in front of.

He’s a younger guy, very cool, and has a lot of great ideas. One of the things he wants to do is use VHS tape loops for some cool effects; as a very old school analog kind of guy, he won me over with that.

I’m curious what Brendan is going to be doing in terms of the lighting and stage setup, though. We haven’t talked too much about it.

As for my band, we’re going to showcase a lot of new material.

So it’s going to be beautiful, bombastic and everything in between.

Are you much of a theatre guy yourself?

Not as much as I should be.

I feel like everyone feels that way.

Yeah, the theatre is like a lot of other things in Toronto that I don’t take enough advantage of. Whether it’s going to Caribana or going to Pride, I wish I did these things, but I’m glad that they go on and that people can take advantage of them. I’m glad that Toronto has things like that going for it.

Is there something that you’re going to check out at the festival that you’re excited for?

To be honest, I’m mainly focused on my own thing, but I’m also looking forward to checking out Weaves and Army Girls. I love the work Carmen (the band’s lead singer) has done with Diana. But, like I said, I’m mainly worried about my own show and making sure that the show will be as good as it can be.

And after going through a ridiculous amount of lineup changes in a short period of time, it’s awesome that everything is firing on the right cylinders. This show is going to be a nice treat for myself on that front.

Was it tough to play with other people after playing with BSS so for long?

No, it’s just music, man, you know. As long as you find yourself in a room with people that you like, and the people that are doing right by the sound they’re trying to create, it’s easy.

I mean, BSS was such a revolving cast as well.

In a way, BSS prepared you for what you just went through with your solo band, right?

Definitely. It’s also something I’ve done my entire career. I released a record with Cookie Duster and that was a totally different sound and band than either my solo work or BSS.

I suppose I should have a stronger marketing plan for the things that I do, but sometimes I do things for the sake of doing them and I don’t like to worry about the eventual monetary outcome.

It sounds like you’re an artist at heart. I mean, I can relate to that: not wanting to worry about the financial side of things and instead putting all your focus on working on your craft.

With my last record I didn’t release a single. Most people that release a record have at least one single.

It’s all like I’m chipping away at a block. Whatever I do, whatever you do, we’re both trying to hash out some kind of living in the arts world, whether we’re writing or making music.

Is there aspect of life in Toronto or a specific neighbourhood that has inspired your songwriting?

I like the different faces and personalities this city has. I also like that the heart of Toronto is growing into something different than what was here when I first moved to Toronto. At its core, it’s still something of a hoser city. Whether that’s good or bad, I don’t know.

I guess the one difference is that, within a four block radius of my home, I can get a fine cup of coffee at ten different locations. That’s not something I could do in the 90s.

What’s next for you? Are there any projects you can discuss?

I’m scoring a film that’s premiering at TIFF called Wet Bum.

I’m also the music supervisor and producer of a movie called Diamond Tongue. It stars Leah Fay from July Talk.

I’m going to try record a new solo record soon.

Outside of music,

You know, waking up in the morning to take my dog on a walk.

Sometimes it’s the simple stuff, right?

Yeah, sure. Mornings like today where it’s like, fuck, it’s 9:30 better get out of bed. Make sure Global Morning Television have talking points for your interview tomorrow morning.


I think that’s so funny, too. Like, why I’m on Global Morning? I do not seem like the guy you want to have on your morning show. But whatever—it’s for SummerWorks, so I’m happy to do it.

How was that experience?

Oh, outrageous. It’s so out of the realm what I normally do. But I was definitely flattered they wanted to have me.

Anything to add?

Yeah, I’d like to add that I’m flattered that I got asked to do something for SummerWorks. Someone is thinking of me as a contemporary artist that has something useful to add to the discussion. I don’t know when my next show will be, because I do them few and far between, so I’m glad someone asked me to play a show and I hope that people will come check it out.
Igor Bonifacic is the managing editor of Toronto Standard. Follow him on Twitter.

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