Interview: Justin Peroff on Broken Social Scene's return and playing Manchester after bombing

Canadian collective Broken Social Scene found themselves in Manchester, the morning after the bombing at Ariana Grande's concert, trying to figure out if their show should go on. Excited to all be back together after a seven-year hiatus to promote their much-anticipated album Hug of Thunderwhich at that point had yet to be released; they were faced with a sobering reality.

Longtime drummer, Justin Peroff who had been out to dinner with other BSS members at Manchester Cathedral two minutes from the arena, heard sirens and chalked it down to being in a big city. He then turned in for the night.

"We left about 20 minutes before the bomb blast. I did not hear anything more about it till the next morning," Peroff told AXS in a recent interview. "Then we were all sick to our stomachs. In terms of what had gone down, the young lives lost, and just the state of the world we now live in."

They had to then discuss safety concerns.

 "It is the promoter and venue’s job to come up with a security plan, as a band you are a part of the conversation," he said. "When we got the all clear, we agreed that the show must go on." 

The band will kick off their North American tour in the fall and play at various shows around the U.S. and beyond. Ahead of their tour, AXS spoke to Peroff further about Manchester, how the band got back together and if we would have heard of Broken Social Scene if not for Peroff being dumped by his girlfriend back in 2001. 

AXS: I watched the video of you guys playing "Anthems For A Seventeen-Year Old Girl" in Manchester, it brought me to tears. The open-ended nature of lines like "Park that car / Drop that phone / Sleep on the phone/ Dream about me," gave the song a whole new meaning and poignancy.

Justin Peroff: Choosing “Anthems For A Seventeen-Year-Old Girl” was obviously a very appropriate tribute. We didn’t want to say too much; we wanted to just honor the city, those who lost their lives and bring everyone together with the music. It was a heavy and beautiful feeling and something that I’ll never forget.

AXS: So the whole band’s back together – even the girls, Emily Haines, Fiest, Amy Millan. Who or what was the impetus?

JP: I think you would get a different reply from every member. We always had a five year plan from the last project. We designed a five year pause, so to speak. We're all friends and still see each other and play the odd festival together; and we'd say 'what do you think, should we start pre-production? Or begin jamming?' This was around 2014/2015 when the five of us (Kevin Drew, Brendan Canning, Andrew Whiteman, Charles Spearin and Peroff) - the kind of anchors, started to have these conversations. The extension – all the girls, the horns, the guitar players and anybody else who contributes their color to the project, those people are always in the picture. It's just, we have to get that frame of the house built first, before we put up all the walls, wallpaper and light fixtures.

AXS: Do you have a favorite song on this album? I love “Skyline" for its dream-pop elements, “Halfway Home" and "Hug of Thunder" which are anthemic and instantly recognizable as BSS songs. “Stay Happy” with that bossa nova vibe. And that dreamy yet beefy sound on “Towers and Masons.”

JP: I like that you're really enjoying the whole album. I really like “Protest Song” but it’s not my favorite. I don’t like to pick favorites so I’ll say the highlights on the album for me are “Victim Lovers” and "Take Me With You." It’s really the mood. It’s not any specific part or melody but as a listener, I really enjoy the journey and the moments that those songs take you on – the deeper cuts on an album. I like sitting, in those songs.

AXS: Did you have any fun parts in the creative process like in previous albums where you get to shake cutlery in a fry-pan to double a snare-part?

JP: This album process was a lengthy and long one but they always are. We recorded about 40 songs. We recorded in a big house in Ontario, and there was a kitchen nearby so I would always look forward to getting a frypan or a bunch of utensils and just bring them into the booth with me, and create a racket. (laughs)

AXS: As a drummer how has your role in the band changed from seven years ago?

JP: I am not likely to pick up the guitar but I am always game to introduce new elements rhythmically, even if it is some percussion somebody else brings in. Apart from drums, I have also always done the band's artwork, and am taking on running the more administrative side of the band as well. Like running the merchandise. My girlfriend is a designer and we created the art on this new album and we''ll design t-shirts and other merchandise.

AXS: Are you and Kevin Drew still the ones planning the set lists – I read somewhere that you like to have control of it?

JP: Really, control?

AXS: I think it was more in relation to the pacing.

JP: Oh well yes, I guess I am a total control freak. I say that tongue in cheek. Kevin and I are still the setlist designers, and Charlie has always been involved as well. More and more of us, do chime in. But the Tour Manager will usually come to me for the set list. There are certain songs with the higher registers vocally that Kevin doesn’t like to do back to back. It’s the same concern I have when it comes to the pacing of certain songs.

AXS: Is it true that if you hadn’t been dumped by a girlfriend back in 2001, we might not have ever heard of BSS?

JP: You read the book! 

AXS: Yes I did. I have the book.

JP: That’s pulling the lens out really far. I would say ‘yes, it’s true!’ Not that long ago I bumped into her, that girlfriend, I’m friends with all my exes; she now has her own family. She said: ‘I’ve been thinking about you lately. I’m really sorry that I treated you so badly,’ then she started to tear up. I hugged her and said, 'we were so young then, it’s all good now.' Love makes you do things whatever the reason, and you find that extra you need in the tank, to do these various other things; that emotion back then, was the crucial ingredient that led to my involvement in Broken Social Scene. And what a beautiful thing it's been. I really should thank her.