Our favourite artists dig up five records that they consider “Essential” by any definition they like. This week, Broken Social Scenester turned solo artist Kevin Drew picks the five albums that changed the game for him.
Kevin Drew has never made his influences a secret. In projects like Broken Social Scene and K.C. Accidental, they tended to be right there in the song titles: “Late Nineties Bedroom Rock for the Missionaries,” “Something For Chicago” and of course, “Ibi Dreams of Pavement” always made clear where the Toronto musician was coming from.
It's less obvious on his new solo album, Darlings, but Drew is still all about name-checking. “What affects the way I approach the record is who I do them with,” he says. This record was made with fellow Broken Social Scene alumni Charles Spearin, Ohad Benchetrit and Apostle of Hustle drummer Dean Stone, with a couple of assists from Leslie Feist and Metric’s James Shaw. “You just kind of wing it, you're hanging out and you're just writing stuff. It's an impulse. I like to take things slow very quickly: work very quickly and then take my time with them after. ”Recorded over three separate sessions, Drew bonded with co-producer, and Eight and a Half member Dave Hamelin over a shared fondness for the work of producers Nigel Godrich and Dave Newfeld. “Newf instilled into Dave and I that idea of just going for it and just being as expressive as you can,” says Drew. “It's the accidents, it's the first moments, the first impulses that are usually the best. So that's what a lot of this was. You can see in all my songs that I’m struggling and I'm searching. Perfection is not in my vocabulary, and neither is stuff like ‘cool.”
True to his method of focusing on The Who rather than The What, he chose to dig deep into his past for his five essential albums. Dubbing them “the albums that changed the game for me,” Drew, now 37 years old, recalls his transition from allergy-addled kid to drug-dabbling teen (“I took a hit of acid and thought 'this is the best shit ever!'”) and the music that laid the groundwork for the groundbreaking music he’s made over his near-20 year career.
AC/DC, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap (1976)
My brother and I were very young we had this really cool babysitter. I think his name was Jeff. It was Christmas, I must have been maybe three or four, and my parents said, "These are from Jeff." It was two records: Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and AC/DC's Dirty Deeds. These were the first records I would listen to getting out of Raffi, getting out of Minipops, getting out of Anne Murray says there's a hippo in my tub.
So, in a way, the introduction to music for me was AC/DC and the Beatles. And I always remember feeling cooler when I put on ‘DC, because Sgt. Pepper still sounded like a kids record to me. But then you put on the ‘DC and the way it opened, with “Dirty Deeds,” that sound and the beat, greatest rhythm section of all time - I couldn't believe it. It made me go to the vacuum - the Beatles didn't - and sing into it. And then it made me get a tennis racket and start rocking out on the tennis racket. Me and my friends had an air band, a ‘DC air band.
My brother and I used to sing “Big Balls” for my Dad and his friends. He used to come downstairs and say, "Put on the song." I thought it was like soccer balls, tennis balls, basketballs. So I’d be like, "I've got big balls," and they'd be killing themselves laughing. I thought they just liked my singing. Of course later on it became "You asshole!” Now I realize what was going on.
Cyndi Lauper, She's So Unusual (1983)
Huge! You put that record on today, it sounds incredible. The production on that album was essential. It works anywhere, and look at the songs on it: "She Bop" was the first song about masturbation. "Money Changes Everything," when I was a kid, that's another one where I'd go to the vacuum, and it was like, "Okay, I guess I'm a woman now." I always dressed in drag at Halloween, which my mother loved because she didn't have any daughters.
I found something powerful and trustworthy in Cyndi Lauper when I was a young guy. It's hard trying to figure out girls, but Cyndi was explaining it to you very simply. "Time after Time" and all that stuff, if you put that record on now it still fucking kills. It just does. She killed that record. Seven singles! Can you believe that? She was quirky and different and she hung out with wrestlers, which I loved too. I'm still fucking cool you pieces of shit! Come at me, I'll drop some Cyndi on you.
The Jesus And Mary Chain, Barbed Wire Kisses (1988)
Grade 5. When you're the youngest (I have an older brother), you can find yourself through music. I grew up on The Stones, The Beatles, Hendrix, Cream, Creedence, The Moody fuckin’ Blues, The Big Chill soundtrack... Jesus, don't get me started on that. But you have to find your own.
I was listening to "Raspberry Beret" and I was listening to “The NeverEnding Story.” My uncle sent some tapes over from England and bought me Level 42, Running In The Family. And my brother got U2’s The Unforgettable Fire. I remember taking that tape and thinking, "this is better," but my brother would never let me borrow it. I really liked that rhythm. It's what made me want to get into drumming. I'd never heard a record like that.
I heard "Sidewalking" on the radio and it blew my mind. A B-side album! I didn't know what they were doing. I understood that these were guitars and they were making feedback, but the only feedback I knew at that time was Hendrix feedback. I couldn't tell who was singing; one guy was high, one guy was low, but it was one singer. I'd never heard music like that and I became obsessed with how dark it was. I was 10 years old. When I heard the song "Upside Down" I said, “This is me, this is who I am.”
I was a dramatic, outgoing kid. I was not an introverted kid at all. But when I heard that song I knew there was a sadness. I was connecting to something. Something's up. It's like the first time you masturbate. Like, "Jesus Christ, what is this?" I just heard this tour de force, the rhythm and the drums, and just noise. I know it all comes down from Phil Spector and I knew Phil Spector by the time I was 10 years old. “Upside Down” changed me. And thus I went and discovered so much.
Coming to the table with The Jesus And Mary Chain with the cool kids? Forget about it. Next year at camp, I slayed. Councillors started playing me 7 Seconds, started playing me Doughboys and Sonic Youth, they started playing me all these bands. I remember I heard Suicide when I was 12. I was like, “Who's this? This is fucking freaky!” It was wild. And then, where do you go from there? You go into the Velvets, you get into the zone of all that.
Pavement, Wowee Zowee (1995)
What an album. I call it their White Album. At the height of their game, “Cut Your Hair” being a hit and everything, it was brilliant, absolutely brilliant. They really did master the "we don't give a fuck,” and Malkmus's lyrics were of the same nature. "I'll out-write all of you. I'm going to put an effort into this by being effortless.”
I was 18 years old and I'd drive around in my dad's car listening to Wowee Zowee. I remember the Tuesday it came out, when records coming out meant something. It was just an incredible day. And right at the beginning, the acoustic strumming, the opening song, "We Dance," I was sold. "There is no castration fear…"
There was something about those guys, coming out of the Pearl Jam/Soundgarden era that we were all caught up in, their sloppiness sort of felt insulting, but then you realized it was actually freeing. Wowee Zowee to this day is still one of my favourite albums. Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain is their best record, but the time when Wowee Zowee came out...
The Pharcyde, Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde (1992)
This is my favourite hip-hop record of all time. From a Social Scene point of view, I loved the group aspect thing. People always compared us to Wu-Tang. But I was always more liked The Pharcyde, because musically they were so fucking odd. The beats, the melodies, and the rhythms, and their voices, and their rhymes and what it meant in that day and age to see them going for it. It's one of the greatest hip-hop records of all time. Period. Not be argued with.
That record blew our minds. It just went all over the map. What I connected to the most was the mixtape aspect, which you can see in You Forgot It In People. I love mixtape records. New Order's Substance showed me that. Pharcyde showed me that. The Clash Sandinista! showed me that. These are bands that showed me you can go all over the place that it doesn't matter.
Listen to a playlist of Kevin Drew's picks here: