You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who loves to love more than Kevin Drew. The co-founder and singer of defunct (at least musically) Toronto rock collective Broken Social Scene is quick to recount his past relationships with loving frustration and calm hindsight. But he’s also aware of his own aversion to it. This internal push and pull between love and apathy bleeds through his second solo album in seven years, Darlings.
Featuring long-time collaborators and bandmates (and Do Make Say Think-ers) Charles Spearin and Ohad Benchetrit, the album bitterly touches on the construction and deterioration of interpersonal connections; aptly titled album opener “Body Butter” is perhaps most telling, as Drew talks about the short duration of his love. “Sometimes [relationships] don’t end well,” Drew shares over a cup of coffee, “but the real ending is how you carry yourself out.” If Darlings is any indication, Drew is taking his own words to heart.
We chatted with Drew about Mexican afterparties, “Bullshit Ballad[s]”, the lack of intimacy in pornography, and struggling in the age of disposable media.
AUX: How is your love life right now?
Kevin Drew: Mellow.
Mine is horrible.
It’s tough. I think one of the key moments in my life was leaving one relationship to go to another and then all the same problems came up and I thought, “Oh my God, it’s me!” There’s this great saying, “No matter where you go, there you are.”
That sounds horrible.
No, it’s good. You got to continue dealing with your own shit. You don’t ever reach some point where you’re good and you’re fine and that’s it, you’re done. It keeps going and you got to keep on top of it and I’m certainly one to talk, because I definitely let it slide a lot.
I heard you once say you have issues with making decisions in life and music, has this always been an issue?
It’s interesting you say that because over the weekend I was hanging out with a friend and she said, “Your hangovers really don’t help with your indecisiveness.” But for 10 years I had to make decisions for so many people that it slowly started to mess with me. When your band mates and friends start having kids and financial pressures grow stronger, you have to make a lot of decisions. You don’t want to gamble with other people’s lives. But with Broken Social Scene, I started to lose the game because I wanted to play it safe, and playing it safe is not something I like doing. You have to take chances and you have to take risks. But between making decisions for money and places to perform it just started to eat at me and wear me down. Eventually, it started seeping into my daily life and there was a period where I couldn’t figure anything out and it drove a lot of people close to me really crazy. I also think that the indecision comes from being my own boss. I work with great people, run my own company, and essentially I do what I want, but sometimes I wonder if that’s just given me too many options to…
I’m curious, when you were performing with Broken Social Scene for the Arts & Crafts Field Trip show [in 2013], did a part of you entertain you might do it again?
Well, we’re doing it again this year. What I love most about coming back for the second year is that it reminds us of why we came together in the first place, and that question of why is what I love most about Social Scene. Everyone had such a great time last year and we thought, hey, let’s do it again. At the end of the day the key to our success comes from the people and this city and it feels great to celebrate with them.
You’ve said your new album, Darlings, was inspired by the celebration of memories. What was your fondest memory during the recording process?
Going to The Banff Centre [in Alberta], and recording by the mountains. It was incredible because it’s a very powerful place that has so much energy. I had a really hard time sleeping because I was constantly feeling alive and that’s what really started the process for Darlings. There was this summer camp vibe and we jumped in lakes and played 21. For me it’s really about having a celebration when you’re making a record, and I didn’t want that that torturous aspect to [recording].
Isn’t that torturous aspect a part of the recording process to an extent?
No. I think you might get tired of [being in the studio] and I had some moments where I was kind of like, “I don’t know what to do next.” The only torturous aspect is when I’m forcing myself to sit down and write. I’m a very impulsive sort of as-it-comes-to-my-head kind of guy, so I’ve never been able to do that. I was always the type of person who did their homework last minute.
There seems to be a lot of repetition in a lot of the lyrics and themes on the album, like in “Good Sex” and “Body Butter.”
Just by the nature of who you are, the themes start to become familiar and then you start to find out what you’re writing about, but you never really know how it will turn out. Some of those tunes I’m figuring out now—just the other day I realized the song “Mexican Aftershow Party” is kind of like my ultimate anthem for denial. It represents this idea of going to a place where you can just fucking forget about everything for a second and have a good time.
For the entire album it’s just you singing but on “You In Your Were” you added Feist.
I didn’t want anyone from Social Scene on it, but Leslie was one of the ones who came up to the studio and hung out. We’ve always been close, we obviously dated years ago, but something happened during recording where we just got back together [musically] and reconnected. I love her very, very much, and because she was there in the moment it just seemed right. Especially at the tail end of the song where she sings, “You never got it, but you remember all that you could,” I just found something so sad and sweet about those lyrics, and her voice is just one of the most powerful things there is, it’s just so strong. It’s not a duet but when you hear her vocals it just cuts through and that’s what she does and I was honoured to have her. I love my friends, man. I don’t know what else to say.
What’s the story behind “Bullshit Ballad”?
That’s my fuck you song, my protest song that’s like, do you know how much bull-fucking-shit emotional crap we have to listen to? God, I am just so fucking sick of all this dishonest ballad writing and people apologizing for using other people and when these records are successful I just get so angry because they’re winning on dishonesty and acting. Acting has no place in music.
At the same time though I feel it does. If you look at most of these major label acts they’re the furthest thing from being honest. It’s built on dishonesty.
I think the most innovative thing we have going is honesty, that’s what I’m saying. If I feel, read, listen, watch anything honest, I’m sold. We deal with all of this shit every day and it’s just too much. As a man who has been in and out of relationships his whole life I say fuck you to the people I constantly have to hear singing about ”oh I’m sorry about this.” Don’t get me wrong, there are extremely genuine ballads out there that I love, but most of them are just not good.
I’m curious how you measure if someone is being genuine on a song or not?
You can hear and feel it when something connects with you; it’s yours and it’s yours alone. I don’t need to know what they’re like as people, but when you put on a record and it’s not trying too hard and it’s not trying to sound like 17 other car commercials, it’s beautiful and that’s how I listen to music. That’s what I look for.
In earlier interviews you said the album is about the rise of love and sex, do you think that the common man or woman values sex, making love, or even intimacy anymore?
I think there’s a coldness to it and there’s something happening in the subconscious that people are not aware of. Tenderness is taking a backseat and I’ve been confused by it. I realize it’s a porn society, but I think that within that element we need to remember that having a connection is important. I’m not talking about some digital connection where you have the “guts” to meet somebody by going online and swiping left or right. I’m talking about eye-fucking contact. I’m talking about having the balls and making an effort to go up and talk to someone. I’m talking about not being a coward which is what people want me to be in today’s day and age because they’re making billions of dollars from it. Your loneliness is filling people’s wallets and it’s just… I understand it’s hard to meet people and it’s tough out there but the reason for that is because of how people are living their lives.
I think it’s encouraged to be kind of cold and indecisive, because you can be as honest as you want, but the other person on the other hand …
Nobody wants to get fucking hurt dude, and vulnerability shows a sign of weakness.
I feel there is courage in vulnerability.
Yes! Vulnerability is the fucking greatest thing out there. Pain is inevitable because love is fucking painful, but it’s also beautiful and you got to deal with it. I know for me, I’m 37 and through all of the decisions I’ve made I got to go in and figure out why I’m so terrified of [love] even though I have so much to give. At the same time, you go this route with somebody you’re interested in, then you take another and eventually you’re tired, you get knee scrapes all over, your fucking ankles are swollen, you can’t walk, and you wonder what the fuck happened? Well, you know what happened, but there is just so much money being based around the fact that you don’t know and you should try all these different options to help solve it. Our sense of self is being overtaken by fingers, digital fluff and it’s just fucking slicing me down.
I mean I’ve met people who think most porn is real and that’s what sex is supposed to be like.
I think there’s something really beautiful about dirt. If you’re going to bring peanut butter and handcuffs to the bedside table, make sure you feel safe. People love danger and when you’re doing things you’re not supposed to do its like, “Oh my god what a turn on.” But if that’s the only thing keeping the relationship going, where do you go from there? I don’t see any spooning.com websites blowing up anywhere. I think there’s a massive pressure that sex takes on in today’s society where people feel they should constantly be having it and if they are not, they wonder what they’re doing there in the first place. The first place is because of how you felt when you were around that person. It wasn’t a sexual aspect, it’s a connection. I worry about the younger generations and what they’re learning. When I was young porn existed, but it took a lot of fucking effort to find it. Now, you can just go jerk off in the bathroom right now watching a threesome.
I remember there had to be a strict timing because absolutely no one could be home or you would get caught.
What about the pay per view? PPV kicks in at two, but then someone unexpectedly comes home when you’re in the middle of watching a fucking rocking anal adventure. I have to say I just think that the accessibility to things is a growing problem. Music is disposable, art is disposable, and now sex is disposable. What are we becoming and where do women fit into this aspect? It’s like men have been put on this earth to treat women like fucking shit.
Ever thought about how you’re going to raise your children in this digital era?
No. I mean, yes. Children for me are a touchy subject right now because I’m getting older and I thought I would’ve had them by now.
I don’t think it’s something you want to rush into.
I’m a man, when do you truly ever want to have kids (laughs). However, when I do worry, I turn to my friends. I have a lot of great fathers in my life and I ask them how they feel about their kids and [raising] them in this whole “we’re screwed so fuck it, who cares” society, and they give me hope. They tell me about how they want to turn it around and be better people out there. For me though it’s like, once you have a kid, that’s it, so you want to have a kid with someone that you’re interested in creating somebody with. You want to raise this child and love that person. I’ve had friends who had kids in difficult circumstances and those kids turned out awesome. No matter how you slice it, it’s your child and I do believe—and I haven’t had this happen yet—but I do believe whichever way this kid arrives in my life, I’m not going to fight it I’m going to be grateful. When the chosen one is born, the chosen one is born. (Laughs)
You’ve talked in the past about the importance of music programs in school and dealing with dyslexia. You’re known as this prolific singer-songwriter who I think most people wouldn’t assume could have issues with reading or writing.
Oh, I’m terrible. Texting slices me, and my spelling is atrocious. I had a very hard time in school because I had attention deficit disorder, but I was also very lazy. I never went to college or university because I kind of knew what I wanted to do and I never wanted a plan b because I didn’t believe in it. If you know what you want then just go for it.
With Feist’s “The Water” video and a couple of other film credits, you’ve always stated that you’ve had a real interest in films, but you never followed up on it. Why?
It’s one of those things where it was exactly what I should have been doing, but never got to it, and then you fall into this place of ‘maybe I’ll never actually do it.’ At the same time, the way people appreciate things now, it kind of hurts me. I don’t understand how to rent films on iTunes anymore because they come out so fast. Even the way people listen to music, I feel like a bit of a chump [making music]. I feel a bit foolish putting all this time and energy into something that’s disposable, but you’re not supposed to think that way. I’m part of that school where there was an effort to things like photography and music, but now you can buy an app for it.
Who are you checking out in the Toronto music scene?
I just focus on the label because we have so many effin’ records coming out this year. I don’t go out and see bands as much anymore because when I love something, I want to get behind it, but you can’t take that shit lightly, so I’m focusing on my own work and the records that are coming out on the label. Record cycles are three to four months now and that’s kind of crazy to me. I really hope mine lasts because I’m not touring until the fall, so I hope it cuts through!
Do you think someone needs to come out and shake things up?
I think the Toronto scene needs to be shaken up again because we’re going back to our old ways before all of the attention came. There are shows here all the time, there’s distribution on the internet, and you can find amazing things happening, but I think there’s repetition. I can’t really speak [completely] about the Toronto scene because I’m not out there a lot and I think the first person who would say that are the kids in the bands, but I still love all the great [music] coming out of here.
What should we expect from you and this album?
I just want to play live. I want to scream, I want to help people let it go and talk about my shit with everyone and have people talk about their own shit with each other. We can do this.
[magazine month=”April” year=”2014"]