“Kevin Drew is very charming and persuasive. It was a ridiculous amount of fun.” This is Jason Collett’s opinion about the beginning of his time in Canadian indie supergroup Broken Social Scene and it’s that brand of nonchalant austerity that is at the heart of Collett’s wholesome persona.
After hoofing it out in Toronto bar bands for years – including a wild and short-lived alt country group, called Bird, with Hawksley Workman – Collett finally committed himself to a calculated shot at a solo album in 2005 with Idols of Exile. The album came following two low-key and haphazard efforts in 2001 and 2002, before he joined Broken Social Scene.
Collett willfully admits that the rabid success of Broken Social Scene certainly had a heavy hand in helping him pursue his own eclectic brand of country-tinged Canadian rock. It was the success of Broken Social Scene’s You Forgot it in People that allowed Collett to pursue his own thing.
“Of course, it carries connotations, you wouldn’t ask otherwise,” he says, noting the ever-present association with the star-studded group. “And I wouldn’t still be answering these questions about BSS after all these years. [There's] no pressure though, I’m real proud of everything that band has done and remain close to everyone involved.”
Collett is a down-home, humble guy. The boy next door of Canadian indie, he’s been toughing it out as a solo artist for well over a decade and with a subtle, sensual croon and clever crafted twang, he’s been subversively taking the Canadian scene by storm, one intimate record at a time.
“I’m interested in the varying chemistry created by the myriad of characters I’ve surrounded myself with over the years,” he says, noting his reputation for working with a revolving door of musicians. Collett’s tours, like his albums, include a wildly diverse and constantly changing cast of cohorts, with each era and iteration bringing something exciting and uncertain to his chords and concepts.
“Tony Scherr, Afie Jurvanen (better known as Bahamas,) all the Zeus fellas, and a revolving door of BSS members,” he says, describing his cyclically revolving entourage. “All players with strong personal styles that I’ve used in various combinations over the years. The potential for alchemy amongst this disparate crew is unlimited.”
It’s not surprising, considering Collett was born and bred on the intensely, and borderline incestuously, collaborative Toronto scene.
“Toronto simply benefits from the density in its population,” he says about the city’s notorious intermingling of musicians. “The ideas rub up against each other and the sparks fly. [But] we’ve begun to lose artists to more affordable cities,” he notes.
“I think there’s a certain edge gained living in more affordable communities like Halifax or Saskatoon or Portland, Oregon for example, where there’s a community of bands that go to each other’s shows and play in each other’s bands. This allows younger musicians the time and space to find a sound and distill their work without constantly hustling to pay rent.”
It’s this kind of foreboding upheaval and palpable sense of impending crisis that coats Collett’s latest effort, Reckon.
A slick and sincere sonic landscape of alternative country croon and cultural and economic upheaval, it’s a stark representation of tough times and the inevitable perseverance of the human spirit. Whether you choose to see it as revelling in the uncanny doom and gloom of sadness, or embarking on a cathartic journey, Collett admits that the record is deeply grounded in the concept of loss.
“Reckon is all about loss – lost jobs, lost houses, loss of faith in our political and financial institutions,” he says.
“I wasn’t interested in making a ‘political’ record that was shrill with rhetoric though. It’s personal in its approach,” he says, noting that he’s recently taken to embracing that personal touch live, performing some shows purely solo with an acoustic guitar.
While all this stewing in loss and crisis could very well send someone spiraling into a deep existential depression, Collett keeps a cool head, preferring to think that concepts like loss and sadness are there to enrich us, to inform us, and to show us how to live better.
“I had this quote from Augustine I’d scribbled in one of my lyric notebooks that I think served me well,” he says: “‘Hope had two daughters: Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are and Courage to change them.’”
Catch Jason Collett at Commonwealth (Calgary) on October 26 and at the Royal Alberta Museum Theatre (Edmonton) on October 27.
By Nick Laugher
Photo: Dave Gillespie