Rock n' Roll Doggie
Join Date: Nov 2004
Local Time: 06:00 PM
interview with dave newfeld in torontolife
. there's some interesting bits on how he and the band came together and how they work together. yeah, it's long - shit that guy can talk. this is just part of it:
In our November issue, Jason McBride goes behind the scenes with Toronto’s hottest indie band, Broken Social Scene. Here, he speaks in depth with Dave “Newf” Newfeld, the rake-thin, dark-eyed mad scientist behind the Social Scene sound.
How did you guys end up meeting?
Through Justin [Peroff] the drummer. One of the things I was doing that never happened was I was going to make a record called Pet Songs, which had By Divine Right and all these different bands. Justin had a side project called Junior Pandé with Dylan the bass player from By Divine Right, and they wanted to finish the record at my place. Toronto’s like a ball of wax: when you work with one band, then you start to meet other people. So Brendan [Canning] came in, and he saw me finishing a mix of Junior Pandé, and he said, “That’s a very creative approach to mixing.” I had heard of BSS and seen them play and thought they were really fucking hot. In fact, I saw them play at Ted’s Wrecking Yard and I said, “These guys actually make rock music seem exciting,” which seemed fucking impossible in, like, 2002. It just seemed so tired a form. Kids were all at raves and shit. They didn’t want to see guys with guitars and drums. I never thought I’d get to work with them. And then I said to Justin, “Do you think those guys would want to do a ‘Pet Song’?” And then, a few weeks later, I’m at the Horseshoe and I met Kevin [Drew] for the first time and I liked him immediately. I thought there was something really unpretentious about him; he had this kind of sub-genius aura around him. I thought, this guy’s different, and I was like fuck, he’s friendly, too. I like that. And then they said they were gonna make a big-budget album, get a FACTOR grant. But then they got turned down for the FACTOR grant and, all of a sudden, had no money. So they called me up and said, “We have about $2,000 to spend. Can we get into your studio? What do you charge?” So I said, maybe I can do it for $140 a day, $200 a day. There was, like, a long pause. “Um, maybe we should book out a whole month, then.” (laughs)
I’m guessing your level of involvement is pretty extraordinary. You are really a member of the band—you define the sound, I think.
I wouldn’t want to take that much credit. No, I would say I have shaped their sound a lot because of my deejaying and pop sensibilities. But this is a majorly creative group of people, you know what I mean? They don’t need me on a certain level. What I’ve done is really cool and it’s a nice amalgamation, but they would have been successful without me. They wouldn’t have made that record the way we did. Just because the way the timeline would have worked, they wouldn’t have written songs like “Stars and Suns” [from You Forgot It in People]. Brendan wouldn’t have sung as lead vocalist ever. All these really cool things that became very important to the record and the live show happened as a result of their coming to my studio. I would say I’m creative and contribute, but I would never, never suddenly think that I’m the source of this shit, you know what I mean? (laughs) I’m not, but I do pull my weight. Those guys are hot, with or without me. They’re hot with me, though.
How would you describe your style as a producer?
I like passion, I like vibe, I like quirkiness, I like weirdness, I like hearing stuff I’ve never heard before. I usually love mistakes. A lot of the time when people make mistakes it’s usually one of the best parts. When someone sings along wrong, for me that’s a miracle. Could you even recreate that? I live for shit like that. I’d also say that I have this wall of sound that I’m really into. Sort of the Phil Spector thing but actually more Scott Walker. Scott Walker took the Phil Spector mono and said, “I’m going to do the wall of sound in stereo,” which I find way more exciting. I would just say I work really fucking hard, that I feel that any genuine producer worth his salt should be all over the fucking tune. Even if he’s not playing on it, he should really know it inside out and get really involved in it. I hate these producers that get paid shitloads of money, and then they come into a session and let the engineer do it all.
Could you say how long you’ve worked on Broken Social Scene?
Too much time. I don’t know, because yesterday I spent like literally four hours fucking with my computer because it kept crashing on this one tune. I don’t know if I’d count that as working on the thing. I’d say a lot of time spent listening, too. You can kill a lot of time just listening to tracks, making notes, listening again. And even when you’re mixing, a lot of the time I’m mixing, and I’ll work on a part and I’ll zoom back to the start, and press play and see how it’s all kind of working. So I’m kind of working when I’m listening, but I couldn’t say, “Oh, at 11:04, I cut this part and pasted it here.” I wouldn’t want to guesstimate, but I’d say more than most people would want to work on a record. It wouldn’t be considered normal. (laughs)
Do you think Canadian music is better now?
I would say you have a new younger generation who think that indie music is pop music, that indie music is to entertain and that indie music is show business. Music is music if there’s a million dollars behind it or 50 dollars behind it. In the end, it’s people with fucking guitars strapped on, and everyone can have access to this. So I’d say it’s a new crop of talent that takes its inspiration from the success of the others. What was the legacy of the bands that we had before in Canada? Indie music was basically where you went to work, took drugs and made an album that would sell 2,000 copies. That was the inspiration, so it’s no wonder that these bands worshipped bands from outside of Canada. And also the whole grunge thing was so fucking tiresome and gross. Literally, in the late ’90s, there were still fucking bands, Tuesday nights at the Horseshoe, that sounded like Nirvana and Pearl Jam. Because of Canadians’ basic inferiority complex, I never once had bands thinking, “Dave, you’re going to help us make something that’s going to blow away the world or blow away our idols.” They just never ever put themselves in that league, never. So I think that’s a huge factor—just a basic confidence that’s been raised. And the fallout of that is you have to have a good band; it’s unacceptable not to have a good band. For me, I’d say BSS is the music of the ages. Which is where we’re at now. It all goes back to Marshall McLuhan—we’re in the eternal now. The name Broken Social Scene has total resonance because there are no real social ties, ultimately; it’s a very fragmented world. It’s true—it is a broken social scene. These guys are picking up an old ’60s hippie thing where they’re all onstage together as a big community and they play tunes. So it has a perfect resonance. Their timing is perfect right now. They’re not doing anything new or different, ultimately, they’re just celebrating that old community vibe that we worshipped in the hippie era. They’re hooking it up now with good tunes because we all have decent musical talent.
Yeah, there’s all this lovey-dovey stuff going on, but there’s also all this other shit—the infighting, Kevin saying it’s falling apart, all the rock clichés that have affected the band. How do you reconcile all that?
Of course. They’re sad songs on this record. My response to that is that we, in the band, we genuinely do love it. Like what we’ve done. We’ve got such a past. It feels like we’ve fought so many wars together, had so many victories, that there’s a bond that’s been created that you can’t break. Inevitably, you’re going to have character problems and all that stuff. And the pressure that’s put on a band when it is an “idealistic band” is that they’re not allowed to have marital problems, they’re not allowed to have conflicts with other people. No one would give a fuck if they weren’t in the limelight, but even when all those things happen there is a code of ethics at the core of the band. These guys actually have a conscience and do give a damn. So no matter what kind of infighting—and it’s minor, ultimately, most of the infighting—at the core of it, there’s this Buddhist guy, Charles, who has a certain serenity, and Kevin, who comes from a very secure background so he doesn’t panic about shit, and Brendan is so mature, he’s been in so many bands. It would take a lot to bring this fucking band down because the foundation is just so fucking solid. I’ve worked with a lot of bands and a lot of people, and I would say that they’ve earned the praise and accolades. They do deserve it; it’s not an act or a farce. They’re not phoney; they do, behind the scenes, care about the values. They treated me like no one else has treated me. They actually make me less cynical. I feel, in that way, not indebted to them—because I also feel I’ve paid them back in my talent, too—but I want whatever they do to succeed, whether it’s with me or without me. Like that’s how good I feel about them. So if they go on and do shit without me, I won’t be all like, “I hope it stinks” or “fuck them,” but I literally think, “Here goes some people with real fucking heart. I hope they go right to the fucking top, man.” Because I want to see someone at the top like them. I don’t know if I’ve answered any of your questions.
Yeah, well, I’ve got just one last question.
I can just fucking go on.
What do you want to do differently with this new record?
I’d say, on this one, not much different. I think it’s the same quality that we had on the last one: is this tune good enough, does this one belong on the album? Some of the songs, sometimes I get too enthusiastic when I’m mixing, try and escalate a song too quick and then there’s no room later. It becomes too saturated and distorted—which Kevin loves and hates. So kind of trying to do that on this. I’d say I have slightly better gear than I had on the last one, because now I have some money. I’ve been able to buy those cool old compressors. So I’d say it’s just a continuation of what we’ve done. It drives those guys nuts when we make an album; we’re not going to make any more albums like this one anymore.
Because I spend so much time on my own that they feel I’ve taken a chunk of their soul and said, “Here, let me fucking groom it while you’re not looking,” and then they come back and I go, “Look at your soul, I’ve put platform shoes on it, what do you think? Looks nice and tall now.” Aagh! (laughs) Whereas their attitude is now: you’ve worked on this one, finish it this way, but on the next one we want you in not as producer, but we want you in as a band member. We want you to come in and play—I’ll play on this one, too—we want you to have input; it’ll be like a group thing. You’re not going to take this and fucking monkey around with it, and then let us hear it, and we’re just scratching our heads trying to figure out, “Wow, okay, this is the same song but who played that?” We’re moving out of that kind of thing. So that’s what I’m looking at, as far as my future with those guys is going to be: it will be less as a producer and more as a collaborator and band member. But this one, with me being the autocratic producer, will be the last one we do this way. Its just the way we’ve evolved.