Being a collective isn’t easy. Neither is changing with the times. Yet Canadian indie rock icons Broken Social Scene have managed to uphold their brand and unity over nearly two decades. If you don’t know them by name, you certainly know several of their members—Feist, Emily Haines of Metric, Amy Millan of Stars, Charles Spearin of Do Make Say Think, or any of the other 19 members could ring a bell.
In 2010, the band released its fourth album, Forgiveness Rock Record, and took over the House of Blues for a remarkable show. Now, nearly seven years later, they’re back with their fifth album in tow and an even stronger sense of life running underneath it all. Hug of Thunder is exactly as it sounds: a bold record that sees the supergroup embracing one another as well as their listeners, offering comfort imbued with strength, arguably at a time when the world needs it most. Broken Social Scene wanted to highlight the different members of the band from various incarnations over the years. Not only did they succeed in that angle, but they saw an outpouring of inspiration as a unit. According to Ariel Engle, one of the newest singers to join the group, it was nonstop happiness that erased whatever anxieties could have bubbled up in the wake of a highly anticipated return.
“I don’t think we were nervous, because everyone in the band is actually friends,” she says over the phone. “We’re the most un-broken social scene. We all stay limber by making music outside of Broken Social Scene. But the members of Broken Social Scene get together just to hang out. I think the music from the outside world has changed in seven years, but we didn’t necessarily feel it, and in turn it became a time to highlight the different people that have been a part of the band.”
To dig deeper into the band’s hyper-layered personality, we interviewed Engle for a round of Wheel of Tunes, a series where we ask bands questions inspired by their song titles. Like the enigmatic collective they are, Broken Social Scene came up with entertaining, story-driven answers that hold your attention the same way their songs do, all while placing an emphasis on good over evil in the most genuine of ways.
1) “Sol Luna”
DIGBOSTON: In your opinion, which casts a better light: the sun or the moon?
ENGLE: The moon! It’s so melancholy.
2) “Halfway Home”
DIGBOSTON: What do you consider your second home?
ENGLE: My friend Adrian’s house in Toronto. I live in Montreal, unlike the rest of the band. If you knew Adrian, you’d realize how exciting that is. She’s born in Zimbabwe but she’s a white Jew, so she’s extremely interesting just from that perspective. She’s a total lover of music. She champions people and women and her daughter—a great drummer in an all-girl band. She has concerts in her home and backyard. She’s a life force, one of the most incredible people. I met Andrew [Whiteman], who’s my husband, and he wanted me to meet his best friend, this incredibly warm, hilarious woman. So when I go to her house, I’m at home.
3) “Protest Song”
DIGBOSTON: Name one song that revs you up and motivates you but may not be considered a “classic” protest song.
ENGLE: The first song that came to mind was Gil Scott Heron’s “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” One of the best concerts I ever saw. It was in ’90s. I was underage, but it was around the corner from my house in Montreal. It was transforming.
DIGBOSTON: What skyline took your breath away when you weren’t expecting it to?
ENGLE: I would say it was when I went to Hong Kong in 1983. I was very little. It just took my breath away. It was like Blade Runner, but I hadn’t seen Blade Runner yet. I was living in Beijing with my parents, and that was before there was much car traffic. It was lots of bicycles and horse-drawn carts. Then we went to Hong Kong and the skyline blew me away.
5) “Stay Happy”
DIGBOSTON: Have you found an activity, event, talking point, or action that helps you stay happy for a long period of time?
ENGLE: Yes, swimming in an ocean. I think I go back to some kind of early evolutionary stage, before my brain developed anxiety, and I feel some protowomb feeling out in the ocean. It just feels right. Just the salt water, the waves, getting to swim around a thing that’s powerful but doesn’t know it is. It’s the wild ocean. It’s like a baptism for a nonreligious person for me. The ocean doesn’t even know it’s the ocean. That’s incredible. It’s constantly moving and heaving, and it follows the moon. When you sit in it for a while, you feel how small you are, but in the most embracing way.
6) “Vanity Pail Kids”
DIGBOSTON: Who is the epitome of vanity, and do you think they could ever grow out of that?
ENGLE: Ooh, this is spicy. It’s an element of culture that’s become prevalent, and I don’t think we can grow out of it. It’s a sign of crisis. I can’t point at anyone in particular, but there’s a trend that’s beyond shame. It’s beyond engrossment or self-promotion. I think it’s unbridled now. There were things and decorum that would keep those things in check, but now when you have someone like Trump in power, the bar is so low, you know? I think there’s a hollowness when people are so enamored with their own reflection. It’s as if people forget they’re going to die … and age. It’s a world culture, too, in that it’s become pop culture.
7) “Hug of Thunder”
DIGBOSTON: Who gave you the best hug you’ve ever received and what did it feel like?
ENGLE: My dad. It feels like home.
8) “Towers and Masons”
DIGBOSTON: If you had to do a mason job, which would you do and why?
ENGLE: I would be a little piggy. I would help out those two piggies [in The Three Little Pigs] that couldn’t build their first houses correctly. I have two kids and I don’t eat pigs, so that answer makes sense.
9) “Victim Lover”
DIGBOSTON: How do you know when you’re a victim of good/positive love and when you’re a victim of bad/negative love?
ENGLE: One makes you feel good and one makes you feel like shit. People can confuse the two because you can be wrapped up in it. I think we only understand in hindsight. You can be really into someone who makes you feel like shit, and that can be an addiction in itself. You have such reverence for that person. You want to live up to a notion they have of you. It’s like that negging concept. The thing is, when you fall in love, you fall. We have expressions for how you kind of go crazy, because it’s true. You don’t come from a place of control or balance.
10) “Please Take Me With You”
DIGBOSTON: Where have you always wanted to visit?
ENGLE: It’s a bit of a cliche, but I’d really love to go to southern India. I find southern India Carnatic singing really wonderful. In a fantasy world, I would go study that singing there for while.
11) “Gonna Get Better”
DIGBOSTON: What advice would you give to someone who’s feeling defeated and hopeless?
ENGLE: I would say, “Treat yourself with the utmost compassion.” Don’t add insult to injury by beating yourself up about feeling bad. Honor the feeling of feeling sad. Imagine you are someone that you love, like your best friend or a child, and treat yourself that way. Show yourself true, true compassion.
12) “Mouth Guards of the Apocalypse”
DIGBOSTON: What’s one apocalyptic event that you think would actually be cool to live through?
ENGLE: There’s a few. I don’t know if I want to erase ecology or class disparity, something that would equalize it all. I don’t even know if I can answer because it’s like being in an amazing buffet of apocalyptic options!
The one thing Kevin [Drew] has been saying a lot on this tour is that we’re living in a time of profound position. People are entrenched. We have to band together and find unity. So some kind of unifying apocalypse. I don’t want anyone to die, but I’d love to see us help other people.