The scene: Guelph, July 2006. The Toronto mega-band Broken Social Scene is onstage at Hillside, the yearly music festival held at the Guelph Lake Conservation Area. I'm cold and tired after two shitty nights spent folded up in a friend's pup tent like a lawn chair. Blinking and shuddering near the stage, I stare up at Jason Collett, who has abandoned his guitar during a frantic rendition of "Cause=Time" and is now shaking a water bottle back and forth like a maraca. The sloshing sounds have been amplified through the microphone, making the island feel like it's slowly sinking under water. He grins and belts out lyrics like a maniac---a man at the top of his game, amongst friends, being adored, and loving it.
Jump forward two years. Broken Social Scene again performed at that year's Hillside, with a number of members notably absent or on tour (mostly Stars, Feist and Metric). The supergroup has lost its protective, pithy layer of high-profile musicians for the time being, and it's led established members like Collett to concentrate on the things that made them successful before BSS erupted. Collett's fourth album, Here's To Being Here, is a pared-down effort in comparison to his 2005 effort Idols of Exile, which featured most of his BSS bandmates in one capacity or another. This effort features contributions from Collett's touring band Paso Mino---many of whom sport impressive beards and are a decade younger than he is. (He's 41.)
"We've become tight in both meanings of the word," he says on the phone from his Toronto home. "There are several burgeoning songwriters in the band. I'm constantly growing and learning---and I think a big part of that is that most of the guys in the band are under 30. It keeps things vital. I'm appreciating the youthfulness, and the eloquence of a group of guys who have been playing together since high school."
Despite the new faces, Here's To Being Here still features Collett's breezy songwriting style. The beginning of the album in particular has a warm,'70s soft-rock vibe, and may send those of us weaned on Rumoursand The Eagles' Greatest Hits '71-'75 into throes of nostalgia. Collett says he feels it, too.
"It's something I've relaxed into," he says. "I believe music is the background landscape to your childhood, which for me is FM radio. As a musician you're just strumming along most of the time, but I think the childhood thing just gets under your skin and stays there."
Collett, who's bringing Paso Mino along to this weekend's show at the Seahorse, has also made no secret of his equally retro love for the road. For him, the tour bus is a sanctuary: It's here that he can mess around on campfire-style singalongs to Beatles songs with his bandmates, read novels by Carson McCullers and enjoy a brief respite from what he calls a "busy domestic life" with three children. Here's To Being Here's "No Redemption Song" wears this romanticism like a shag jacket. It's a quiet paean to that stretch of Ontario highway between Kingston and Montreal----where "the houses look haunted in every farm we pass." For Collett, even the banality of highway travel has a beauty to it, especially if your travelling companions are Paso Mino.
"I love going to cities all over the world to see how they function," he says. "How the good ones work really well, and how the bad ones don't. And it's about the band itself, and the dynamics of the friendships. We don't stop playing offstage. Hotel lobbies, hotel rooms. I like being surrounded by that---that kind of environment where everyone is able to play and share."
The relaxed atmosphere also translates to Collett's onstage performance, fitting in nicely with the lazy, hazy Californian spirit of Here's To Being Here.
"You can psych yourself out if you try too hard," he says. "You're not bridging the distance between yourself and the audience when you do that. With us, there's a casualness that becomes a strength because it's honest and sincere."