The Resident Art-Throb filling in for The Abang and guess what –
Broken Social Scene Presents… Singapore Bands!
(Pics courtesy of The Esplanade)
Yes, after an awesome concert on Tuesday night, the Canadian indie band followed it up with a workshop/master class/jam session with Singapore bands tonight.
Super mega-props to the Esplanade folks for organising this. They do it for visiting performance groups but I think it’s the first time they’re doing one with a visiting indie rock band.
And we’re grateful to BSS for agreeing because apparently, it’s also a first for them.
Held at the Recital Studio, it was an invite-only event that was basically divided into two things: a Q&A and a jam session.
Audiences included members of local bands as well as a smattering of “observers”, including yours truly.
So here’s my main observation for the night: the local bands were either too starstruck, too shy or – and I hope this certainly isn’t the case – too blasé about the entire proceedings.
Maybe I was expecting too much but I had imagined that they’d all be rushing forward when BSS asked them to join in a jam session.
But, except for a few, Kevin Drew actually had to cajole the rest into joining them in front.
Eventually a handful of them did come up for the next round of jamming. But still, why so shy boys?
The night could’ve really been much more fun – the notoriously moody Kevin Drew seemed really into it and was gushing wit throughout; and the ever-game and flamboyant Andrew Whiteman (aka Apostle of Hustle honcho) was, too. At some point he was walking around the room rapping…!
But it felt like the audience didn’t take rise up to the challenge.
It was a rare peer-to-peer moment. How many concert organisers would actually bother trying to convince a high-profile band to engage in something that’s craft related and not just an autograph signing session?
And from what I understood that’s exactly what it was – a bunch of famous Canadian musicians meeting up on par with a bunch of prominent Singapore musicians to talk shop.
As for the Q&A part, here’s something that Whiteman scribbled on the latest Apostle of Hustle CD I had him sign (yeah, yeah, I was the one screaming for AOH songs last Tuesday). Something that I think is pertinent to the night’s proceedings.
You see, it wasn’t only an opportunity to physically jam with BSS – it was a chance to pick their brains.
Kudos to the couple of folks who did ask (and there were also a couple of us “observers” who did, even if technically we weren’t supposed to because hey, it’s all about BSS meeting local bands, but if no one’s asking…).
But for the most part there was a lot of dead air, which was kind of disappointing.
Trust me, Drew – who does most of the press interviews – is damn hard to corner. I interviewed him before for their first concert here and it lasted all of five minutes.
Apparently, the same thing went for The Abang for this concert.
I mean, there was so much to ask — but nobody did.
Song-writers could’ve asked about ideas behind songs or song structure. Guitarists could’ve asked about guitar tones, about gear. Questions about sound, album production, et cetera… Post-rockers could ask about Charles Spearin’s other band Do Make Say Think, et cetera… Heck, I wanted to ask Whiteman why Art House Director (from their latest album) was about film-maker Gus Van Sant — and then maybe start a discussion about where their ideas come from…
I hope the next time such a masterclass happens (and I sincerely hope it continues), we’ll see more enthusiasm from the folks it was catered for.
Anyway, the night wasn’t without its perks. I thought I’d scribble down some random notes about what went down for those who missed it.
1) They started off with a couple of impromptu jams to “demonstrate” how they create their songs: basically, the usual fooling around with riffs, layering it with drums, guitars, horns, some singing. Which was all for show, apparently. “It’s usually messier,” quipped Drew.
2) BSS – like practically all Canadian bands – are partly funded by the Canadian government. While their first two albums came out of the pockets of Drew and partner-in-crime Brendan Canning (who, after shaving his beard off, looks more Erlend Oye-meets-Larry Bird than that dude from Phish), the rest received funding from the government. Imagine that: A government telling a rock band “Eh, good job, guys. Here’s more money, go and make some more.” And apparently they get touring money as well.
3) Canning calls the C and G chords “cowboy chords”. Go figure.
4) How they got together? They just hung out and bumped into each other. The same formula as “how you make friends”, said Charles Spearin.
5) In response to that odd (and, actually, quite brilliant) question from the audience about the occassional odd-sounding chord or note in their typically pop-structured songs, Spearin apparently has the perfect formula: put an explosion over the weird part.
6) BSS songs are weird because they simultaneously feel like they came out of a jam but also there’s a sense of structure in it. On the question of whether some of them walk into the studio with a song intact – yep they do. But again, an advice from Spearin: stay open-minded and don’t be too prescious about it. Be aware that even if you’re bringing a song to the table, it’s going to come under scrutiny from other creative minds.
7) On songwriting credits: everyone gets it. It’s good for a band’s longevity, said Drew.
8) On making song parts, here’s my favourite advice of the night, again from Spearin: “Fearlessly add, skillfully remove.”
Too which I’ll add: Fearlessly ask, skillfully participate.