Kevin Drew: Nothing to Lose

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It’s Valentine’s Day, and Kevin Drew is buying flowers. He never tells me who they are for, like I never tell him the name inspiring my comments and questions during our conversation. We both leave something for ourselves, knowing that it is important to do so.

The longtime frontman of now inactive Canadian indie institution Broken Social Scene, Drew is putting out his second release under his own name, titled Darlings. The word is one of the most tender terms of endearment in the English language. It is something you could be called by your grandmother or your lover or you could call a child regardless of sex. Darlings are favorites; they are held near to the heart. They are personal and precious.

This title is both contradictory and perfectly in-line with the subject matter of the album, and with what is on Drew’s mind these days: namely, honest self-expression that people can relate to and take comfort from. Every day doesn’t begin with a walk to the florist for a fresh bouquet.
“I don’t even think about honesty in my writing,” Drew says. “I just do it. And when I listen back, I smile. I crack myself up. Look at the first line of the record, ‘get the body butter baby we can party all alone.’”

“Body Butter” kicks off the collection with another contradiction, this time between sound and substance, with the lyrics daring to be called a joke while the music is, well, quite lovely. And though the song may reference masturbation overtly, it is not hard to see the connection to the title Darlings. Drew seems to take this approach across the board, even in his interaction with a reporter, and on through moments that seem to have happened on stage with regularity at Broken Social Scene concerts.

For one, he says my name from time to time during his answers, a stray “Philip” inserted to show he is present in the moment and make sure that I am right there with him. It’s an intimate act for a conversation with a stranger. He also voices his internal monologue occasionally. At one point he can’t think of a word and screams—away from the phone but still near enough that I hear it loudly: “I hate doing fucking interviews!” He quickly regains composure and restates back to me directly, “I hate doing fucking interviews when I can’t remember the right word I am looking for.” And with his explanation assuring he does not hate our conversation, he sadly admits he can’t think of the word for when a brother and a sister have a sexual relationship. I know the word and tell him, lifting his spirits instantly.

“When I was 18 years old,” Drew recalls, at the flower shop now, carrying on a conversation about his explicit lyrics while presumably pointing a various shades of rose or tulips or lilies. “I had a four-track, and my first record was called Suburban Masturbation. And it’s almost 20 years later, and I still haven’t veered far from that.”

Those 20 years have included songs like “Lover’s Spit,” “Gangbang Suicide,” “Handjobs for the Holidays” and “tbtf” which stands for “Too Beautiful to Fuck.” It’s easy to focus on the words that might be used only in private, only as depicting sex as dirty or shameful.

“I think a lot of the words are hollow,” Drew says. “I dated a girl, a lovely girl, that said to me ‘I want to thank you for making me not believe in words any more, only action.’ And I said ‘oh, do you feel better,’ and she said ‘yes, I do,’ with a boisterous laugh tacked on.”

“’I love you’ is an industry,” he continues. “It’s a notion. It’s something that people strive for and depresses people. There are many ways of describing emotional aspects that are quite blunt, that cut through and get the message. I always try to make it unlike comedians when they describe jerking off. I want it to have that emotional aspect. The idea of being alone and loving yourself, or wanting to go into the fantasy that you can’t live in reality but you certainly want to dream of. And I found that is the jackpot in it.”

Sex is on Drew’s mind because it is on everyone’s mind. But the implications of sex on our interactions, on the people we are and become, are profound and often hidden from each other. We let one partner in, maybe, but divorce rates show the risk in that, leaving people fearful of trusting each other.

“If you’re gonna bring peanut butter and handcuffs to the bedside table, you certainly want to feel safe,” Drew says. “Or you have that aspect of the danger making you want to be in the bed, the dangerous aspect is such a fantasy for so many. And I get it. Danger and safety are two very contradicting things that have formed a kinship together.”

“I’m talking out of my ass right now,” Drew says as an aside, again breaking character with verbalized internal thoughts, “but I’m going for it.”

“I’ve made jokes that good sex is safety,” he continues, “But what is great sex? It’s being dangerous. It used to take a lot of fucking effort to see sexual acts that you can go online and see now no problem. When we were young and we wanted to go into video stores, you had to time it right, you had to make sure no one was around. Basically, porn meant masturbation, which meant that you were a pervert. And that’s how we grew into it.”

The day this interview is conducted, another one with Drew is published on Stereogum that covers some similar ground, but one thing he said in that interview was that he “shouldn’t do interviews, [he says] too much.” But he doesn’t say too much; he’s just not afraid to actually say something, to say the wrong thing or to upset someone. He is himself. And our conversation bounces from internet porn (“Your kid is going to look up the Shrek pony and the next thing you know there’s something happening”) to relationships (“You gotta know how to stick around in that relationship. I think when you are with someone, they gotta have your back. And you gotta know going into a room with them that you guys are gonna be okay and protect each other. You want the stories coming out of their mouth to stimulate you. And you want to learn from the intimacy of what’s pure. But of course, you want to have a bedroom that is filled with victories.”) to forgiveness (“Forgiveness is the strongest thing in the world. You’re only going to win if you can get past yourself”), to such extent that it is hard to tell how we got to this point, but we get there with easy, thought-provoking dialogue that seems to be only about what is important in life. And of course, there is love.

“It’s not wanting to be hurt, and it’s the vulnerability of giving yourself up and realizing ‘this person could annihilate me,’” Drew says, clearly on a roll. “And sometimes it’s the scariest shit you are ever going to feel. And it can make you swallow your own tongue. It’s intoxicating.”

“I love people, Philip. That’s the reason I had such a big band,” he notes, discussing the upcoming touring that will support Darlings. “That’s the reason I live in the city of Toronto and run around. I have no problem trying to have a great time and trying to remind people to enjoy their life. That’s why I loved being on stage and, as a band, I should say we always wanted to have people leave the show feeling better. I understand that it is hard, and I understand that it is amazing, and I just wanted to bridge the gap between the two. And I love it; give me a microphone and I’m a cheeseball. I’m a bar-mitzvah king. I’m like Uncle Rick, that’s my other persona where I just love it and have fun and crack jokes and scream for people to feel alive. It’s an exhilarating feeling. It’s fun and it’s silly and it’s incredible at the same time, and I just love that trio. ”

Drew notes that his previous solo album, the criminally underrated Spirit If…, will be well represented in the set. This kind of decision making process shows that the wounds of BSS are still fresh. As the primary songwriter for Broken Social Scene, Drew has a harder time than others separating the two, and he is appreciative when I talk about it all like it comes from the same source. He even breaks into some internal monologue confessing his desire for people to look at his work as one project, not these various bands and names.

“We haven’t played live yet, but in recording, Social Scene and this is no different,” he says. “I wish I could just call it Broken Social Scene and get back out there and play to the same amount of…Cause it’s no different. I press play on this record and I hear Social Scene.”

“But I have to follow the guidelines of what we created,” he continues. “But I very much feel that it is Social Scene. I very much feel like I want that name to keep going, but that just wouldn’t work with the guide…the family that I created that music with, that just wouldn’t work out, that would be disrespectful, because they are incredible in their own right and are part of the band. Jeff Tweedy has something there. I think financially it is a smart move, financially it is a great move, spiritually maybe not so much for me. So I have to take on a solo persona and go and find everyone that is Social Scene fans and hope that they will come with me.”

“One of the posters I designed,” Drew says, “I wrote ‘My Life So Far’ and I wrote down all the album titles, from the KC Accidental records onwards, and if you look at the last song I wrote before this, it’s ‘Me and My Hand’ and the next song is ‘Body Butter.’ I got a kick out of that. I’d like to think that if something happened to me and I wasn’t going to get to be here anymore that there would be a little boxset that people cared about, that there is a notion to the music that you could follow the way my life went and how I’m living. It’s what you do with everybody, right? That’s what the careers are about.”

Drew’s voice is almost sadly reflective, and he struggles to get the bit out about people caring. He’s said often that you are only as good as your last record and in mid-February, he is still not totally sure how much interest there is in his music. A guy who has spent his career singing about love, sharing wisdom and trying to enrich lives, he likely only wants those things given back. And it doesn’t take talking to him in person to hope that he gets what he wants or needs. He deserves it, and the proof is in every song.

“I have nothing to lose,” he says, “and that’s the best way to create something. Plus, I think when you do that, people can sense it. I think you would have. When you surround yourself with people that love you and want you to be you, it is just going to be what it is. And I love writing about what I love. And I’ve always wanted to get inside of people’s bedrooms, because that is where I listen to the most music. I always thought that I want that. I want to have an emotional effect on people.”

“And I realize now that music is here today, gone tomorrow, and time comes and goes and everyone is doing something that everyone else is doing,” Drew concludes, “but I still believe that people want to hear people’s honesty. Because I certainly do. I am a massive music lover, Philip. When I hear something good, I’m happy.”