Jason Collett | Character Built Through Adversity

I really like the idea of having a day to reflect on death and honor loved ones who’ve passed. After having several people close to me pass away, I realized how unequipped our culture is to deal with it.

 

 

I caught Jason Collett in the flow of his renowned polychronic life. Instead of a blurry connection or thick accent, bluesy tunes blared from a piano in the background. “I’m sorry. There are musicians in the house and they’re getting rowdy,” Collett said. When he’s not raising Toronto’s cultural renaissance, touring with Broken Social Scene, or promoting his solo career and most recent album, Idols of Exile, he flips to domestic mode. Collett’s two teenagers are accustomed to walking in on late-night kitchen jam sessions hosted by Dad and friends. This close community, family vibe reverberated throughout the rest of our conversation.

Collett’s part in Toronto’s Broken Social Scene is an ideal example. With a reputation for being a big, talented, histrionic, happy, dysfunctional indie family, Collett is viewed as one of the mellower, grounded members. “There’s drama, but for the most part, I think it’s amazing. It’s a great collective of artists who you can draw a lot of strength from for solo material.” Collett’s concept of “solo” seems pretty communal; several Arts and Crafts musicians and Broken Social Scene members pitched into Idols of Exile. Those who dropped by the recording studio include Kevin Drew, Brendan Canning, Andrew Whiteman (Apostle of Hustle), Charles Spearin (Do Make Say Think), Leslie Feist, Andrew Cash, Chris Brown, Stars’ Evan Cranley and Amy Millan, and Metric’s James Shaw and Emily Haines.

According to Collett, “Your peers are your best critics.” Similar to his definition of “solo,” his concept of peer critiquing is unique. Objectivity seems difficult in the face of so many peers who double as friends. It also seems challenging to create distance toward a friend’s work to which you’ve contributed.

At the same time, this brand of friendly evaluation plays a major role in Toronto’s cultural renaissance. Collett’s Radio Mondays provided a supportive, laidback, non-studio format for new musicians and songwriters to perform and discuss their craft. It was a media outlet that bypassed marketing and went straight for content. “It’s healthy to work as a collective. There’s a strong bond and I think there always will be.” Unfortunately, Radio Mondays are currently on hold since Collett begins his European tour this month. “I was hoping to do a series in January, but I won’t be in town. That’s in limbo.”

His absence also keeps him from touring with BSS to promote their self-titled 2005 album. “I’m focusing on my own thing. Our tour schedules overlapped, but it’s a good problem to have and I’m not complaining.” Nevertheless, the effects of Radio Mondays live on as creative Canadians head to Toronto to become part of the cultural awakening. Perhaps it’s not quite Italy’s eye-opening seed that sprouted seven centuries ago, but it’s well rounded enough to earn a resemblance. “It’s rich. There’s a real renaissance in town, but not just amongst musicians. Other artists are in on it, even politicians and critical thinkers.”

Regardless of Toronto’s blossoming urban culture, Collett’s suburban past still haunts him. Our conversation desecrated my preconceived notion that Canada is an almighty, liberal stronghold. “Bramlae is one of Canada’s first satellite cities and is named after the company that designed it. They were uber-efficient about creating a new way for people to live. The streets are alphabetized. It has the highest suicide rate amongst housewives in the country.” It’s no wonder he left at 17 and didn’t look back for nearly two decades. “You hit your thirties and you finally find a bit of time to reflect on what you ran from. I started to shift through and cultivate a little bit of memory, dredge some stuff up.”

Collett’s song “We All Lose One Another,” which receives plenty of my replay attention, is based on the idea of Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). “I really like the idea of having a day to reflect on death and honor loved ones who’ve passed. After having several people close to me pass away, I realized how unequipped our culture is to deal with it.” The combination of an opening riff that’s strangely reminiscent of Smashing Pumpkin’s “Disarm,” Julie Penner’s langouring violin, and Collett’s refrain, “This is birth and this is death, all in the same breath” makes me tear up almost every time.

True to the cliché, adversity builds character; perhaps psycho Stepford suburbias push the sensitive and insightful to reflection and action (or the other way around). Collett’s fortuitous exodus helped mold a nurturing honing ground for recovering suburbanites, indie musicians, and artists of every trade to productively strum, bang, paint, speak, and write out their pain and frustration.

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