Charles Brownstein recently caught up with Justin Peroff (Broken Social Scene) and chatted about Eight And A Half, the new band featuring himself, Dave Hamelin, and Liam O’Neil from The Stills.
CB: Eight and a Half is quite different from previous projects you guys have been involved with, how did the band came together:
JP: It was not necessarily a preconceived idea… Dave and Liam and myself, we met on the road when Broken Social Scene and The Stills initially played a SXSW show together and then went on to become touring “compadres”, and that’s when the friendship manifested itself so.. we were friends who didn’t play music together, and then I guess it was sort of something that would have ultimately happened, and then eventually did happen.
It was sort of a phone conversation that happened between me and Dave: I wanted him to come visit Toronto when Social Scene was doing one of our Harbourfront concerts –one of our free shows. We’ve done a few of those, and those are really fun. Dave said “I really can’t make it, but you really should come to Montreal—you’re long overdue for a visit”, and I said “yeah, absolutely”. So, I went to visit him that summer and then myself and Liam and Dave just ended up jamming together, just making some noise together, and we really liked what resulted from that jam and we decided to make more music together. Eventually had enough material that equaled the length of a record, and we decided to put out that record under the name Eight and a Half.
Over the last couple of years I’ve been listening to a lot of, more sort of future-forward instrumental hip-hop, reference any artist that may fall under the “Brain-Feeder” roster: Brain Feeder is a record label headed by Flying Lotus. I’m really into that stuff and I’ve been playing a lot of this stuff for Dave and Liam who also enjoy the artists on that label, and they are very familiar with Flying Lotus themselves. That wasn’t necessarily the reason why we ended up making a more electronically-tinged-sounding record. I think that reason was more based around the fact that we weren’t all living in the same city, so we were actually sending a lot of parts, whether it be drum sequencing or that sort of thing, via email.
So, you know, I didn’t really have the resources to write and record a full-on actual drum kit played by me: I’d write a drum piece, and Dave would write a drum piece, or synth pieces, or even vocals, guitars, and so on. We were really sending a lot of these parts through email, so I think that’s why, perhaps, it ended up sounding a little more electronically-based. When sending these drum parts through the mail, we also had intention of either simulating these parts on actual drum kits, or just not really preconceiving the end result at all… but we really liked the way it sounded keeping these parts, instead of replaying them, and then also playing live kit on top of this stuff. So, that’s more or less the reason why it turned out to be a more electronically-sounding record than our previous bands.
CB: How hard is it for an artist to walk away? I mean, this is obviously a completely new project, (Eight and a Half), and you were involved in your previous band, Broken Social Scene, for I guess about ten or eleven years… and the guys from The Stills were together for a long time as well. Is it hard to change direction and start the art over again?
JP: The decision for Broken Social Scene to press “pause” for the time being was a decision that was agreed upon by everybody involved, so, for us it was timely, and it was necessary, and like I said, there was a handshake. With The Stills, I don’t want to speak on behalf of Dave or Liam, or the rest of the guys in that band—they’re all friends of mine and I love them very much. I know there was a very different reason for their parting, but again, from what I know, it was also for the best. From my perspective, this has been once again a lot of fun, and an educational experience, and it’s a lesson in growth as well. It’s par for the course, and it’s time. It’s been a lot of fun doing this.
To answer your question “was it hard?”, I think already, I’m starting to feel a little nostalgic over Broken Social Scene, I mean, because you can’t simply just ignore, like you said, 12 years or so of history. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t cruised some YouTube videos of our final performance in Rio, or that wonderful Film Noir show, or even shows we did at the Harbourfront. It’s something that is really near and dear to my heart.. and speaking of growth, I did a lot of growing up in that band, you know: those were some pretty formative years. It all really happened between the ages of 24 to now—I’ll be 35 this year, in October—so yeah. I mean, Eight and a half… my experience thus far with these guys has been great and it’s only gonna get better. We’re having a lot of fun onstage and a lot of fun in the studio. Social Scene? Again, I had an incredible 10, 12 years of activity and we will play again, most certainly, and when we do, it’s gonna be just as big of a party if not bigger, onstage with these guys. Was it hard? No, because we made that choice to shut down for now, but being a silly little nostalgic dude, watching these things online brings a make-believe tear to my eye you know what I mean? It’s fun. Broken Social Scene’s a lot of fun, lots and lots of fun, but also necessary to shut down for now.
CB: From reading your bio, I found the quote (I don’t know if you said it or who said it) that “This isn’t a couple of friends just dicking around on weekends”, so I guess Eight and a Half is really in it for the long haul, or for a while anyway.
JP: Yeah, that’s the scene. I mean, Broken SS is a band made of up bands, right? Our friend Stewart Berman wrote that Eight and a Half bio, so that was actually his quote, but I think we want to just let people know this is very much a real band. It’s not a side project that’s just gonna pop up every now and again: we’re gonna dig our road ditches, we’re gonna hit the road. We just got back from SXSW, and we were there for 8 days. We’d never been there for that long, and I never thought I’d get out alive, but I did. We’re doing the necessary work, you know, any band that’s just starting out needs to do. We’re not spoiling ourselves because of our past, and we’re not flexing the diva thing, you know? We are happily playing the smaller rooms, to smaller crowds, and some of the shows thus far have been smaller rooms and smaller crowds, and others have been bigger stages and bigger crowds. These are the dynamics of a new band, just starting out, which is what we are… even given our pasts.
CB: What can we expect from the “sound landscape” of the record?
JP: Well, this record has its moments of more sort of raw, rock and roll energy interspersed with some electronic tinges. Certainly an honest record in the sense that it’s a little darker, and lyrically, Dave really has a way with words: often cryptic, sometimes not so cryptic, so the general tone of the record is darker, with some hopeful little pinholes in the skylight.