Q&A: Broken Social Scene Frontman Kevin Drew On His New Solo Album + “Good Sex” Video (Stereogum Premiere)
Anyone who has ever listened closely to Kevin Drew’s songs — or logged any interview time with him — will tell you that Drew is quite unabashedly a lover, not a fighter. A self-described “failed romantic,” Drew’s songwriting oeuvre — both as a member of Broken Social Scene and as a solo artist — is filled with tunes that explore the various ways, both physical and emotional, that people attempt to connect with each other. At a time when so many dudes in indie rock seem to conflate sensitivity and sexlessness, Drew stands out for having never shied away from digging into the nuts-and-bolts and bodily fluids of human intimacy. Given that the first single from his forthcoming solo album, Darlings, is called “Good Sex” — the sorta-NSFW video for which we are premiering below — it would stand to reason that the album might easily be the most forcefully lascivious thing Drew has ever created. And in some ways it is. That being said, Darlings is also arguably the most swooningly romantic and perhaps the most wonderfully humane thing Drew has ever dreamt up. Much of the record was written at the same time Drew was also working on songs with famed Canadian songwriter Andy Kim (the man responsible for classic megahits like “Sugar Sugar” and “Rock Me Slowly”), and that experience seems to have provided a much-needed shot in the arm. The unfussy, sanguine nature of many of Darlings‘ best tracks (“It’s Cool,” “You Gotta Feel It”) signals a quiet shift in perspective. While so much of the energy in Broken Social Scene often felt decidedly fraught — the resulting collision of so many personalities and points of view — Drew’s solo work on Darlings sounds remarkably relaxed. Though Drew says that the record is about “the rise and fall of love and sex,” the album feels less like a hook-up or a make-out session and more like a nice hug — a warm embrace and a pat on the back from someone who loves you… and may or may not try to sleep with you later. I called up Kevin Drew at his home in Canada, where he was simultaneously nursing a beer and taking a bath. We talked for over an hour, mostly about — surprise! — sex, love, and making music.
STEREOGUM: I’ve been spending some time with your new record…
DREW: You’re okay with it?
STEREOGUM: I think it’s one of the most beautiful things you’ve made, actually. The most loving, if that makes sense.
DREW: Well you know, that’s the goal. It’s always the goal. This is the time when we all get older. I don’t put these records out a lot, so I always feel like you have to make it count. As you get older you become more and more like yourself, and as you become more like yourself it becomes easier express what you’re feeling.
STEREOGUM: In the press materials you mention that rather than employ a bunch of different studio tricks and experiments, sometimes it is just about letting the things come out of you that are naturally supposed to come out of you. This seems to be what this record is all about.
DREW: Yeah, you’re right. I was stopping the band and finding myself sulking in a very tired manner and just felt disappointed with being disappointed. It’s just so tiring and a waste of heartbeats, as my man Andy Kim would say, we only have so many heartbeats. I’m fortunate with the people I have in my life, I’m very fortunate. I do look around and see people and watch them go through the world, especially the ones that are lost, and I always try to see who’s in their periphery, who they have in their surroundings. I’m a pretty strong and intentioned person, but I had a lot of great support behind me in making this record, helping it to just be something honest and something real. I remember Charles Spearin — who I’ve made every record with since I started, with K.C. Accidental — he’s a Buddhist who said to me, “Let’s make honest music.” I was 20 years old. Of course when you’re 20 years old you have yet to accumulate baggage and you’re just feeling like everything could be yours. I think that’s the only way you can do anything, so going into this thing it was the cliff jumping, sky diving moment that really makes it fun. I had these great guys with me. Dave Hamelin, who produced it and mixed it, along with a gentleman named Graham Lessard who also recorded and produced it. I went to mountains, I went to lakes, and I just had people beside. These guys are fathers. They’ve got kids and wives. They’re not out there pouring wine all over their testicles and acting crazy. They’ve been playing together since they were 16. They were all in a speed metal band, for Christ’s sake. So you bring this all in — all these great people — and you make it become part of your songs and it was something. I’ve enjoyed every record I’ve made — some have been crazier than others — but when Social Scene blew up, like ten years ago, going into the next records there was a lot of over thinking. There are people who say not to over think and there are people who say you gotta over think. Obviously I have some scars from over thinking, but I also have tons of awards — I’m speaking metaphorically, I only have a couple of awards. (Laughs) It’s a better way to live. I’m very dramatic and very emotional and I’m very chaotic and I’m very indecisive. I just realized there’s no other way to live for me.
STEREOGUM: I have a vague memory of talking to you about this when you made the last solo record [2007's Spirit If…]. We talked about getting older and mellowing out a little. Do you feel like you’ve mellowed somewhat? I think people equate mellowing out with becoming complacent and not giving a shit, but I don’t think that’s what it has to be.
DREW: I think I’ve just accepted a lot. It’s not compromise for me; it’s the actual acceptance. I’ve always made the music that I’ve made. I have my own way of doing things and I have my own obsession with how I like things to sound. I think it just becomes natural as you get older. It’s just… it is what it is. If you argue with it or you find yourself in positions where you’re arguing with people about it, you just remove yourself from the situation and you take a good look at what it is you’re removing yourself from, make sure it’s valid, and continue onwards. It doesn’t necessarily make for a mellow life but I can tell you that I love everybody — more than I ever have — at this point in my life. I’m ready to beat the shit out of people who come at me or my friends and I’m ready to hug everybody that comes at me and my friends. It’s really just the nature of how it is today. I’ve accepted it. I’m here to protect and I’m here to give.
STEREOGUM: You mentioned after the last round of touring with Broken Social Scene, you took some time to away just to do nothing. Have you ever really done that before? I always got the sense that everybody in the band was always working on something.
DREW: I know. I didn’t really take breaks because of the guilt of it all. Don’t slack a slacker. But I can never really do nothing because that doesn’t stimulate me… it’s just misguided energy. Looking back at everything concerning finding faults in things that you’ve done, you have to take the time to find peace with it or if you don’t, regret is going to come and kick the shit out of you. So I was kind of trying to do that… but it’s always confusing. I look around, I see my peers, I see some of them just elevated to the highest of heights. I’m grateful for them, I’m jealous of them, I wish I had their production teams, but I also wish all the best to them. But the narcissistic, egotistical side of this thing is just fucking ridiculous. I have no time for self-made, promoted praise. I have no time for misguided heroes…I’m not into it. I’m tired of listening to songs sung by fucking people who don’t know how to fuck. I’m tired of hearing songs about loving people who can’t fucking keep a relationship together. I’m tired of fucking buying groceries and hearing the same mundane songs every single time. I find it irritating. I find it frustrating. I just say, “Okay, fuck it.” What am I supposed to do? Live in this circle of why? But I like the question why. I think it’s very important, but not when it comes to that crap. You have to ask yourself why. A friend of mind said it’s not who, it’s not where, it’s not what, it’s fucking WHY. That’s where you start. So I had to let go of all that stuff. It’s hard, not giving into road rage or not being frustrated if you haven’t slept. You understand, right?
STEREOGUM: Sure. Everyone has his or her own version of that. I appreciate the fact that in your songs you never shy away from the ways that physical intimacy also gets tied up with emotional intimacy. I think people might assume after hearing “Good Sex” that the rest of Darlings will be this very visceral thing that is mostly about sex — and it is in some ways — but this record seems much more about emotional intimacy than anything else.
DREW: There are a lot of guys making millions of dollars talking about masturbating and it’s apparently provocative and it should be nominated for awards or something. It’s the reaction of, “Oh my God, someone is finally saying it!” But it’s the emotional side of sex that intrigues me the most. Without getting too personal, I see it, I feel it. I worry about the younger generation. When we were young, there were VHS tapes and you could find them in certain spots when you went to babysit at your friend’s parent’s house. You get on the phone, and you would say, “This is what you’re going to do. You’re going to go into your dad’s closet. You’re going to move the sweaters. You see the shoebox? Look for anything that says Ginger Lynn or John Holmes.” And that’s how it went around. It was the seventies style of what sex could be like. As we progressed, especially during the Clinton era, suddenly it became something else. Intimacy is the money shot. It’s wrong, you know it’s wrong, but these kids, they don’t know.
STEREOGUM: Well, when you grow up with easy access to sexualized images, the whole thing arguably becomes less special… and certainly less taboo. I feel like some of these things — not just sex, but emotional intimacy as well — you can only grasp by experience. You have to do it the wrong way a whole bunch of times before you realize how good it is to do it the right way.
DREW: Yeah, unfortunately some people die before they figure that out, but it’s the way it has to go. Also unfortunately you figure out way too late. Where do you go from there? They say it’s never too late but I don’t know about that. I think about that sometimes. I’m a lover, I’m a romantic, and I’m a failed romantic even though I will still always be a romantic until the day I die because I believe in the charm of life. I like people. I have always liked people. I find comfort in strangers. I find comfort in friends. I find comfort in family. I find comfort in believing in the best of people. I’ve been burned, but hardly. I’ve won more than I have been burned. I like looking at people and saying, “Is that you’re best?” Basically you have to be your best. It’s the same thing you say [to the younger generation], like “Look. What are we doing here?” Trial by fire is okay but you don’t want your whole entire body skin grafted because you spent way too much time on the trial part.
STEREOGUM: Well, it sounds like you’re in a pretty good place these days — not just music-wise but life-wise as well.
DREW: Well I’m 37 years old. I don’t really have a choice. The most innovative thing you can do these days is be honest. People, I believe, want that. I know I do. When I see a piece of art and there’s something real about it, I’m in. But in today’s day and age, it’s few and far between. People say that everything has been done and we’re simply just repeating ourselves and all that. Yeah, but what’s real? I understand minimum wage is hard, I get it. But you don’t have to live minimum wage in your heart. There are no boundaries anymore. People have let so much slide that we sit and find ourselves watching Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” with our kids. We might as well put on 2 Live Crew and go, “Hey, you can be a fireman or you can be this.”
STEREOGUM: Yeah, it’s the wrong kind of boundaries. We too often have boundaries around things we shouldn’t and no boundaries around things that are terrible.
DREW: The world is going to end up filled with assassins. Unfortunately the left wing will be such pussies about it that we’ll all be dead. (Laughs)
STEREOGUM: Well before that happens, what is the rest of this year going to be like for you?
DREW: I’ll be honest with you. The value of my name is the topic. I keep hearing the word value. Even in my own country it’s like, what’s the value of Kevin Drew? Can he sell tickets? What’s coming out of the gates is that I have a great band and they are lovely guys… All I’ve ever wanted to do was play in front of as many people as I could. That was it! Play in front of as many people as you could, don’t sell your songs to awful places. Try to fight the man as much as you can, but understand you who have to feed your family, figure out what your boundaries are, and then get out there. I gotta do all this stuff. I have to do videos, do interviews, do radio sessions — if they’ll have me. Who knows? I own a label. In my label what I see is expectation. And to quote Isaac Brock, expectations are a bitch.
STEREOGUM: It is a bummer whenever there’s that feeling that everything you release has to do as well if not slightly better than the thing before it… or it is considered an abject failure.
DREW: You’re only as good as the last Bolognese you made.
STEREOGUM: That’s a bummer.
DREW: It’s good for morale in a way. I’m a fighter, but I’m quiet about it. I’m not that competitive — I should have been more competitive with Social Scene. I certainly see my friends winning victory through competition. Whether they played the game right or wrong, it’s not my place to say. I will say that it’s a competition. It’s a popularity contest.
STEREOGUM: Tell me about the “Good Sex” video.
DREW: The video happened because I looked right in front of me and there was this gentleman standing there, who happens to be a neighbor of mine named Samir Rehem. He had never really done a music video, maybe once years ago. He worked in and out of television and he was kind of wishing he was doing something right now. Lovely man. So I played him the song. Originally I wanted to go in and burn down a porn shop, just go in and smash it up with a chainsaw and a baseball bat, just destroying lust. That was my idea. And Samir looked to me and said, this is a love song, you should do something beautiful with this. And so I just looked right at him and said, “Why don’t you make something beautiful with this? I’ll make it with you.” Later I was talking to Leslie Feist — who, you know, is a dear friend and someone that I’ve known for many years and who appears on the record — we were talking and she said, “You know, I don’t think good sex should be represented by just one couple, you should have lots of different couples.” And that’s how we came up with the idea of using a variety of real people in the video.
STEREOGUM: I knew that you were holding auditions for the video. How was the shoot?
DREW: I was really moved. I didn’t know what was going to happen. People submitted these little things on what lust and love meant to them and then we had them come in and do an interview. We had about 60-70 applicants and about 18 couples came in. We chose all of them! You know some of them were young, some of them were old, and some of them had just met. I sat there and interviewed them and I talked about things like: What’s vulnerability? What’s jealousy? What’s love? What’s lust? How scared are you? These people talked to me. And that’s all I want in life. That’s all most people really want. You want to have a conversation, you want to be heard and you want to listen. So we ended up shooting it. They went on camera and they went as far as they could. And they did it for the song and they did it for the people. The director, Samir, put together a team and they did it all for free… and it was not a small job. There I am standing there, going into this thing for the first time, and I have a crew. It’s difficult sometimes to have a crew, there are opinions and things go sour, but at the end of the day it came out like roses. It’s hard to get that kind of goodwill from a huge group of people, and to have something like that happen to start a project off is a massive sign of good luck.
STEREOGUM: How long did the process take?
DREW: It was all two days. It was shot in one studio and all the couples came to us. It really was this crew that made it happen, I gave them a small budget. They heard the song and they loved it and they said let’s do it. And just the idea of these couples coming in and getting intimate in front of me… was amazing. Originally I was going for something provocative and it became beautiful. There was just no way around it.
STEREOGUM: You’re 36, right?
DREW: I’m 37. I like to say I’m pushing 40 but people slap me when I say that. I’m one of those guys who talks like he’s really old. Quite frankly, I hope there’s a lot more life that I will learn from. I don’t mind getting old, except that your body starts to play tricks on you.
STEREOGUM: I know you’ve been working on a record with Andy Kim as well.
DREW: Yes, I’ve made a record with Andy Kim. I hope that you have a chance to interview him. We’ll be putting it out later this year.
STEREOGUM: Is the record totally done?
DREW: Yeah it’s done. It’s been done for a while. Andy is amazing and working with him really changed my life. When Andy came into my life and we became friends he would tell me that he loved me every single day. At first it’s like, OK man, I get it. I love you too. It’s a little jarring. By the third month of knowing him it was weird if he didn’t say it. You know, it really brings you up to be told that you are loved by someone. To have someone say to you “You are magical. I love you. You can do this!” is really life changing. You forget sometimes how much it changes the quality of your life just to hear it spoken aloud how much someone cares about you… and how good it feels to say that to someone else. It’s important! Right? I’m sorry… I get carried away. I should probably not do interviews. I say too much.
STEREOGUM: We’re doing an interview to promote your record — it is what it is — but that doesn’t mean we can’t talk about what moves us. Being able to have real human moments with other people is what balances out the silly bullshit that you also have to do as a result of this job.
DREW: It is. I mean, I can’t imagine doing the 9-to-5 thing. The sun is going down, I’m in the bath, I’m hungover drinking a beer and I’m thinking this interview is going pretty good.
STEREOGUM: Exactly. You have to appreciate that.
DREW: I love my album. I’m very happy with my album. I want my album to be the biggest thing that it could be. It could possibly not be heard. People could be like, Your video came on but then I saw a video of a cat playing with a mouse. What is this? You have to check it out, look at that cat playing with the mouse! And I’ll be over, but it’s just how it is. You’re just surfing, you just want to catch a wave. All you can really do is try.
Kevin Drew’s Darlings is out 3/18 on Arts & Crafts.