Canadian singer Jason Collett has a history of collaborating with other artists. As a member of the now-dissolved Broken Social Scene, Collett played alongside bandmates like Leslie Feist and Brendan Canning. Collett is no stranger to solo work, though. His new album Reckon, was released Sept. 25, which is his fifth solo effort that comes two years after Rat a Tat Tat.
We caught up with Collett to talk about Reckon and how the Occupy movement influenced his writing.
How is Reckon different from your previous solo records?
Jason Collett: Well, I think the main way as far as the meat and potatoes of recording is that this band that has become my band for the last half dozen years or so, essentially, this band Zeus. They’ve sort of become their own thing. They just released their sophomore record on Arts and Crafts. It was too much of a conflict to use them as a touring band so we’re parting ways, and I made the previous record with them in mind and it was the first time that I’ve written for a specific band, playing to their strengths. That was a fun record to make that way.
This was kind of going back to square one for me, and it changes the way you write. I think anything on the record is colored in some way by the economic fallouts. A lot of that sort of seeped into my pores just from touring the last four years. It became a bit of a prism, being this sort of theme. I was aware that I had this political thing cropping in. At once I was sort of excited about it but also a little nervous about it because writing political songs is treacherous because you have to be careful of rhetoric. It can be a real turn-off. I just tried to let it be a very personal thing.
I feel like I managed to skirt that kind of rhetoric. For me, it was partly a departure from working with this band, even though they’re on the record as players, it was less of a collaborative thing and more of a Jason Collett solo focus once more.
Reckon was recorded during the Occupy Movement. How did that affect the tone of the album?
Jason Collett: It does moreso after the fact. It actually gave me some confidence that when I was hitting the studio this was happening, that this was something that’s a shared experience. The voice of a movement was actually happening and what I was doing as a writer was timely and a part of that.
The Occupy thing sort of lent a confidence and credibility to what I felt like I was kind of sticking my neck out, but not in a big way. I think a lot of artists fear being political. It’s a bit of a risk. Like I said, I feel like I approached it more from a personal place. There’s a lot in our culture that’s reflecting on this now.
I was just halfway through reading a movie review about this kind of thing, reflecting on what has happened. It’s been devastating for a lot of people, the middle class that have lost livelihoods and that have lost homes. I think that a lot of our culture’s reflecting on it. To refer to it as political is kind of dismissive really. It’s a pretty monumental part of what’s happened to the economy. It’s a monumental part of what’s happened to lives. It’s destroyed a lot of people’s lives.
When did you know that there was this shift toward the Occupy movement and you knew it was going to start influencing your record?
Jason Collett: I think just as I was settling in to start recording it. Just a sense that this is on people’s minds in a really big way and in a national way. I found that it’s a further reflection on it and it’s partly my responsibility as a writer to reflect on it as well. It was more of a confirmation than anything.
Loss is a big theme on the record. Are there any songs on the album that inspire a sense of hope?
Jason Collett: Yeah there are. I don’t think it’s a cynical record. I don’t even think it’s dark. I think it’s kind of matter-of-fact. I included a song, “Daddy Was a Rock n’ Roller,” more of the sort of the reflection of a time when you could, my father’s generation, leave high school and work in a factory job and raise a family. You’d have to work hard but you could do it.
We’re living in times now when people are holding down two, three, sometimes four jobs and they have a really hard work ethic but it doesn’t matter. It’s not paying off because unions have been so eroded throughout North America. So, it’s made for a desperate climate and I’m only reflecting that. I’m not being cynical writing about that. Often I think the notion of hope can be a little misguided. It’s not realistic. I think there is some hope in being truthful about where things are at and having the resolve to change that.
What other themes are explored on the album?
Jason Collett: I think there’s a number of love songs on the record, for lack of a better term. They’re kind of antithetical love songs, which I’ve always found more interesting. Exploring, you know, the sort of the less typical side of pop love songs. I think partly that those are representative of a certain mood that lends itself to this sort of political part of the record. I hate that term, ‘political,’ when referring to the record because it is more personal. I think that love songs are just sort of taking the temperature of the times.
The album art for Reckon is pretty interesting. Why did you choose to put a turkey on the cover?
Jason Collett: I have this cousin of mine, West, is an artist in Toronto. He’s in his 80s and he’s a real character. He recently had a life’s work exhibition at the AGO, a big gallery in Toronto, the Art Gallery of Ontario. This was one of the pieces. They were just some sketches he was working on and for some reason I just liked the image. It reflects some essence of the record, this sort of…There’s a beauty and there’s an ugliness in the turkey and also turkeys’ whole history as an icon.
Once again, it’s very nice to have a personal relationship to this elder statesman of an artist who’s in the family and be able to keep it in the family and keep it personal. Those things were important to me.