For a numbers of reasons — both reasonable and unreasonable — Toronto’s Do Make Say Think are unfailingly overshadowed by their label mates and buddy bands. However, as the exuberant Broken Social Scene and “post-rock” genre stealers like Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Explosions in the Sky steal the limelight, Do Make Say Think have been making critically acclaimed music that is just as musically meticulous as it is beautiful.
Do Make Say Think, a purely instrumental band, are masters of the wall of sound. Their songs present simple musical ideas that begin to cook as they are layered with reverb, melodic counterpoint and harmony. The results are concrete musical compositions that shadow modern classical compositions more than rock or jazz.
Charles Spearin, one of the leaders and principal songwriters of Do Make Say Think and a key member of the Broken Social Scene, is the tallest member of the band. His Wikipedia page says he “is easily recognized on stage by his trademark moustache” and he clearly is the navigator of the group in live settings. Before the band’s Saturday night show at the Metro, I got a chance to sit down with Spearin over a cup of tea to talk about touring, the creative process and Broken Social Scene.
Q. After playing more than 130 tour dates this year do you find the music has become tighter? What’s the general feeling after being on the road for so long?
CS: It’s good and bad. It’s like everything becomes kind of a sixth sense. You can read everybody so instantly by looking across the stage. The looks and cues become so subtle and this creates the sense that we’re really working as a band, which is really great. It feels like we’re all on a boat pulling the ropes together. But at the same time it’s a little bit harder to do things differently after that many shows. Having a spontaneous moment becomes a surprise.
Q. After seeing the band perform live I got the sense that everything was very arranged and planned. How much improvisation takes place during your shows?
CS. There is hardly any now. This whole year has been about presenting the record. Every once in a while we’ll have a moment or something like that without a known direction and that’s fun, but that doesn’t happen too often.
Q. At the beginning though, that was more the direction the band went in.
CS. Oh yeah, totally. When we started it was all improv and basically just ambient music. That was what we did playing chill out rooms and raves and stuff like that. And then we just kind of got more into recording as we went along and then the composition of the music. Discussing the compositions, really working them and then finding in the compositions something we really enjoy. And then once we did that we wanted to present them. Gradually the improv worked its way out of the music.
Q. So when you write the music is it very compositional or does it begin more with jamming?
CS. When we’re writing the music it’s very much jamming. Basically anything goes when we’re writing music. We’re trying to be as fearless as we can when we are creating music and then find a way to translate it to a live show. So it’s almost like we have to learn the songs after we’ve recorded them and kind of be a Do Make Say Think cover band.
Q. So is Do Make Say Think your main project right now, over Broken Social Scene?
CS. Things kind of shift focus. This year has been dedicated to Do Make Say Think and I haven’t done any Broken Social Scene shows. Ohed and I helped produce Kevin’s [Kevin Drew, BSS front man] record, so that was what we were doing at home but definitely our main focus has been on Do Make Say Think.
Q. How does that work- the organization of Broken Social Scene? How organized is the group?
CS. It is amazing actually. It wasn’t always organized, it sort of became organized out of necessity. It was really easy to have the band in Toronto when people could just show up to the show and play. But then all the bands started touring and it became sort of an organizational feat to have any tour happen.
Q. Is it hectic when you are touring with so many people? [Broken Social Scene typically carries anywhere from six to twenty people]
A. It’s hectic, but it’s also kind of hilarious. It’s a huge feat. I mean we’re touring with a huge crew this time. There are fourteen of us on the bus because we’re touring with Apostle of Hustle too and that’s a full bus. We call it the submarine. It works because we get along. I thought it was going to be a nightmare but everyone is aware that it’s a tight space and it’s a good mature group of people so it has been working well.
It’s a little easier for me with the Broken Social Scene because they have the management and the road managers. There are just a lot of people involved and taking care of things, so I just kind of fit into that picture. Then with Do Make Say Think it is only this year we have gotten a manager. We have been very independent with everything we do up until this year. So it’s a little more work for me with the Do Make Say Think stuff.
Q. Do you like that kind of control?
A. Yeah, I feel like it’s my project. Not my project exclusively, but it’s our project. I feel very attached to it as something that I raised from a pup. (laughs) I was around in the beginning with Broken Social Scene too, but it was clearly going its own direction and I was just with it. Where as with Do Make Say Think I feel like we have all been steering it the whole time. So there is definitely personal attachment to it.
Q. So are there any Broken Social Scene plans coming up?
A. There are always plans.