Solo Social Scenester to play Grad Club

Jason Collett, father of two, carpenter by trade, and member of Broken Social Scene, just released his second album.
Jason Collett, father of two, carpenter by trade, and member of Broken Social Scene, just released his second album.
Credit: 
Photo courtesy of sixeyes.blogspot.com
Collett will perform songs from his new album this Saturday at the Grad Club.
Collett will perform songs from his new album this Saturday at the Grad Club.
Credit: 
Photo courtesy of highroadtouring.com

Interview: Jason Collett @ The Grad Club, Nov. 26

There aren’t very many indie rockers out there who release their breakout album at age 37. Then again, Jason Collett has always been a bit of a quiet rebel.

A carpenter by trade with two teenage kids, the lanky troubadour—better known as the best-dressed member of Broken Social Scene—didn’t exactly follow a typical career path.

“I feel like it’s been going along as it should be, though—slow and steady,” Collett told the Journal by phone. “I think I’ve just taken the scenic route, and it has a little more traffic on it, but it’s getting better all the time.”

Collett released his sophomore solo album this summer to high critical praise, something he and his Social Scene brethren must be getting used to.

But it was a long and winding road that took Collett from the sleepy suburban setting of Bramalea, Ont. to where he is today.

He ran away to big-city Toronto at the tender age of 17, feeling his stifling Catholic school and the cultural suffocation of the suburbs.

He briefly fronted an alt-country band called Bird in the early ’90s,—which included Andrew Cash and Hawksley Workman, no less.

As a struggling solo artist in the mid-to-late ’90s, Collett seemed to be perpetually making demos (on his own dime) for potentially interested labels. None of them ever took the bait and Collett became disillusioned and frustrated with the music industry. He turned his back on it for a little while to focus on being a dad and working as a carpenter. But he knew he couldn’t stay away for long.

Before joining forces with his BSS buddies in the big, happy family that is the Arts & Crafts label, Collett was building his own social scene of songwriters through his weekly Radio Monday singer-songwriter nights in Toronto, which eventually led him to join Broken Social Scene.

After he joined the band, Arts & Crafts wanted to give some of his older material a second chance.

He released Motor Motel Love Songs—a collection of work from his earlier demos—in 2003. The songs on Motor certainly stood the test of time, showcasing Collett’s knack for writing hook-laden, rootsy folk-pop, accentuated by particularly stunning lyrical imagery. But with Idols of Exile Collett has taken his songwriting to the next level, creating an album that is truly one of the year’s best.

Proving that Collett isn’t afraid of wearing his family name proudly on his sleeve, the record features lots of help from the usual cast of characters from the Arts & Crafts scene, including a particularly lovely duet with Metric’s Emily Haines.

The dynamic of Broken Social Scene appears to be one of cooperative competition.

“I work in a collective of musicians and we’re each other’s best critics,” he said. “But more importantly, my peers are doing some really vital and exciting work. Working in the context of the Social Scene, the new Stars record, the new Metric record, the Apostle of Hustle record, Feist’s record—every time one of those records is completed, it feels to all of us like the bar goes up a notch and we all have to work that much harder not to slip. It’s a really inspiring way to work.

“There’s a bit of an ethos that’s been kicked around in the camp, started by Kevin Drew [de-facto leader of BSS]. He said, ‘Look, there’s no point in us making a good record anymore, because there’s lots of good records out there. We have to make a great record,’ ” Collett said. “I think a lot of us have taken that to heart, because it’s true, there are too many good records,” he said. “You have to be pretty confident that what you’re doing is worthwhile and it’s got to be great.”

Collett recognizes that he and his musical kin in BSS have all benefited from being part of something special going on in Toronto in the last few years.

“All of us in the Social Scene have got caught up in the wave of this renaissance that’s been going on in Toronto,” he said. “It’s not just in music—it’s in the arts in general and in politics as well. There is generally a lot of creative, critical thinking going on in the city. It’s an exciting city to be in right now—I think that also goes for the country as well. It’s a time and place thing, and it’s catapulted a lot of us into the spotlight where we can actually take the ball and run with it.” For as big as Broken Social Scene have become, it’s easy to forget that it’s not just Collett who’s been plugging away for years and years waiting for an opportunity like this. Just about every member of the band has been toiling in the Toronto indie scene, in dozens of different bands, for well over a decade.

And Collett isn’t about to let the opportunity he has before him today slip by.

“This is not the time to make a shitty record,” he said. “We could have made those records before when nobody was listening, but you’ve got to make the good one now, or else it’s game over.”

Collett credits the Internet as one of the main driving forces behind Can-rock’s latest wave of popularity, allowing small, indie labels like Arts & Crafts the ability to reach an international audience.

“It goes back to time and place,” he said. “This never could have happened 10 years ago.

“But I also think that genuinely, there is a real renaissance going on and that might be the biggest thing,” he said.

If you only happen to know Collett as one of the guitarists in Broken Social Scene, you may have to adjust your expectations a little before checking out his solo gig. Collett said a few people, expecting something similar to BSS, have come out of his shows scratching their heads a little bit.

“My bloodlines are very traditional in the songwriting sense,” he said. “I’ve always been a big fan of songwriters, anyone from Patti Smith to Bob Dylan to Bob Marley to Elvis Costello, and the Social Scene thing is all about turning all of that on its head, inside out and throwing out the rule book.”

But with Idols, Collett has created something that is far more than just a singer-songwriter album. With help from his friends, Collett has transcended the usual trappings of the solo songsmith, creating a captivating piece of work that moves from somber, string-plucking tales of adolescent love, to bouncy, horn-happy, hand-clapping pop, to mournful, sing-a-long choirs—and is as strong lyrically as it is musically.

While he is not the kind to ever rest on his laurels, Jason Collett can still take the time to appreciate a good thing when he sees it.

“I’ve gotten to travel around the world playing music that I’ve created with my best friends, and I’ve had a blast,” he said. “I’m old enough to recognize that it doesn’t get much better than that. If I was a younger man, I’d probably take it for granted, but I’m very happy where I am right now. I’ve never been happier, actually.”

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