Brendan Canning is a true ’90s Canadian alt-rock survivor

For fun, we quizzed Canning on all things '90s. See where he sides on the great debate between Alice in Chains and Soundgarden.

July 25, 2016

These days, Brendan Canning is most often recognized as a founding member of the highly influential indie rock band Broken Social Scene, but his roots run deep in the Canadian music history. In the early ’90s, he and Noah Mintz formed hHead, one of Toronto’s most popular independent bands of the decade, who after three albums in six years eventually parted ways. After that, he joined José Contreras in By Divine Right for their third album, Bless This Mess, alongside future BSS member Leslie Feist, and performed on Len’s massive hit, You Can’t Stop The Bum Rush. That same year, Canning formed Broken Social Scene with Kevin Drew, and you probably know what happened next.

Even with BSS as an outlet over the last 17 years, Canning has regularly kept busy, running his label Draper Street, and playing with bands like Valley of the Giants and Cookie Duster. And like a number of his fellow Scenesters, Canning is also a solo artist. On August 12 he’ll release his third solo full-length, Home Wrecking Years, which is described as a “barbecue-ready indie album with a throwback ’90s sound and ’00s ambience.”

Seeing as he was a big player in the decade, AUX asked Canning to take our 1990s alt-rock quiz.

AUX: Sonic Youth or Nirvana?

Brendan Canning: Impossible decision really, but I listen to more Sonic Youth at home and some of my friends work for the band so they’re my pick. Even though seeing both bands for the first time was truly legendary and shows I will never forget. Sonic Youth in Berlin in 1990.

Smashing Pumpkins or Hole?

I was a massive Pumpkins fan when Gish came out, so I suppose I’ll take them, even though Hole tunes maybe stand up better over time. “I make my bed I lie in it” is probably a better lyric than Billy’s “rat in a cage” business. He hasn’t aged as well as Courtney.

Stone Temple Pilots or Pearl Jam?

I have a personal connection to STP since they opened for hHead at the Rivoli in 1992. Very kind dudes, and I think they wrote some decent ’90s alt-rock bangers. However, you can’t deny Pearl Jam, their accolades, and the fact they’ve stayed in the game for so long and been cool even if maybe track-for-track they’re not as good of a pop band.

Blur or Pulp or Oasis?

Well, none were ever my favourite, but over time I go back to Pulp more than the others. Oasis for humour, Blur for cheekiness, but Pulp for some slightly more meaningful tunes.

Pixies or the Breeders?

Pixies. Last Splash was chock full of goodies but how can you deny the Pixies as an essential alt-rock band? I don’t think the Breeders are essential.

Pavement or Guided By Voices?

Pavement. I find myself humming their tunes more often and I just never bought into the GBV legacy as much as some. I played in a band with Spiral Stairs from Pavement called Human Milk; we played one gig at Sled Island fest and my pal John McCann toured with GBV for a while. And one of their bass players crashed at my house once. Pavement still wins.

Dinosaur Jr or Sebadoh?     

Dino. I know most of their albums and a few BSSers backed up J at a couple shows playing Dino and solo J songs. Classic ’90s. Opened for them in 1993 at the Spectrum on the Danforth. Got the gig at 4:30 that afternoon because Mercury Rev got kicked off the tour the night before, and Don Fleming of Gumball fell off the stage and twisted his ankle the same night.

Archers of Loaf or Built To Spill?

Archers for their song “stuck a pin in your back…” whatever that song is called [Ed. Note: “Web In Front”].

Tad or Mudhoney?

Both are great, but Mudhoney were my first love. hHead used to cover “In and Out of Grace.”

Bush (X) or Foo Fighters?

That’s funny. I would’ve said Foos in 1997 but man they really test your patience with some of their terrible tunes. I’ll still pick the Foos but I had to really think about that one for a second. Bush X were not all that bad. They wrote an okay ballad.

Alice In Chains or Soundgarden?

Soundgarden but AIC had their moments, and I used to crank “Them Bones” a lot. But Kim Thayil is a guitar hero and I’ve listened to more of their albums over time. And the first time I heard “Loud Love,” well, what can you say? They wrote some mighty anthems and AIC were terribly boring live. Major snoozeville.

Faith No More or Rage Against the Machine?

I’ll go with Faith No More, but man, you can’t deny Rage for impact. I loved both bands almost equally but Angel Dust was such a cool third album and I don’t believe Rage ever made it to number three [Ed. Note: They did, actually: The Battle of Los Angeles]. Plus Audioslave tainted that Rage legend. I forgave Soundgarden for Cornell’s silly behaviour at times. It’s tough being a cool rock star with that haircut and facial hair sometimes.

The Flaming Lips or Beck?

You’d think I’d immediately go with the Lips and I probably will, but Beck has a great catalogue under his belt. Hmm… I’ll still take the Lips and may God judge me.

Green Day or The Offspring?

Never liked Offspring. They always kind of annoyed me, and Dookie had a good batch of tunes. Admittedly Green Day have shit the bed in oh so many ways with a lot of garbage tunes, but I don’t think I was the target market.

Ween or Butthole Surfers?

Ween. Chocolate and Cheese is an American classic. Both bands enjoyed their drugs, so respect to that, but I’ve enjoyed more Ween tunes. Special mention to Butthole Surfers version of “Hurdy Gurdy Man.” Great cover! “Jesus Built My Hotrod” wasn’t too shabby either! [Ed. Note: That’s a Ministry song featuring Butthole frontman Gibby Haynes on lead vocals.]

The Lemonheads or Juliana Hatfield/Blake Babies?

Even though I crushed out hard on Juliana, It’s A Shame About Ray is a great collection of pop tunes. hHead were first on the bill before Juliana and the Lemonheads at Lee’s Palace in 1992. I remember Tyler from Barenaked ladies said he liked our song “Collide.” I left my Goo long sleeve Sonic youth T-shirt backstage and never got it back. That was a good shirt. Too bad Evan is a fuck up and Juliana couldn’t pen many good tunes. “Nirvana” was a song of hers I liked. I can still remember when Attic Records offered us a really shitty record deal and on our visit there we watched the her “My Sister” video. I crushed hard.

Teenage Fanclub or Weezer?

Fanclub. I’ve spent more time with their music. However, if I were booking a festival it would be, “Uhh, sorry TFC, you guys are on at two this afternoon, and don’t eat any of Weezer’s Boursin!”

Sugar or Superchunk?

The ‘Chunk. I always enjoyed their scrappiness. Foolish is probably my favourite album of theirs. Bob Mould is a legend, no doubt, but I still gotta go with Superchunk.

Nine Inch Nails or Marilyn Manson?

NIN. Pretty Hate Machine and The Downward Spiral were big albums for me. I used to work at Supercentre grocery store and would listen to NIN on the headphones while collecting the carts.

Presidents of the United States of America or Cake?

I’ll take Presidents because I never liked the Cake guy’s semi-sarcastic vocal delivery. “Peaches” is not the worst tune. My first SXSW they were the buzz band. It’s hard to believe they still play gigs and people show up. And Cake are popular too. So weird.

Red Hot Chili Peppers or Primus?

Primus, just because they were weirder even though “Breaking the Girl” is a great tune.

Elastica or Suede?

Suede. But not until later in life did I learn to like them. Saw Elastica once in Montreal. It was just okay.

My Bloody Valentine or Slowdive?

MBV hands down. We opened for them in 1992 at the Opera House. Loveless was so huge. 

Ride or Lush?

Such an even split I had them on the same T-shirts when they toured together in 1991 – Gala/Nowhere. I’ll take Lush, but that was close.

Swervedriver or Catherine Wheel?

Swervedriver. When I saw Swervedriver I asked promoter Elliot Lefko for a gig and got the MBV gig that night. Even though I played a few gigs with Catherine Wheel, Swervedriver had deeper cuts.

Spiritualized or The Verve?

Spiritualized were one of my favourite bands and turned in some amazing gigs and still make good albums. Sadly, the Verve do not, even though they had a great moment.

L7 or Babes In Toyland?

Babes all the way. I even read their biography. Saw them on that Sonic Youth tour in Berlin. Life changing.

Sloan or Eric’s Trip?

You can’t make me choose. Too tough. Both great for what they did and do.

Thrush Hermit or Hardship Post?

Thrush Hermit opened for hHead in 1993 in Halifax and they were much better than us so I’ll pick them for showing us up.

The Super Friendz or Local Rabbits?

Super Friendz all the way. Never really got into the Rabbits even though I thought it was cool they covered the Zit Remedy. But I play soccer with Matt Murphy and he played in my group Cookie Duster. And “Karate Man” is a jam.

Jale or Plumtree?

Jale. I had their shirt, licensed a song of theirs for a movie, was friends with Laura for a bit way back. I never listened to Plumtree.

Age of Electric or Limblifter?

Limblifter, even though they didn’t write the “Remote Control” song. Limblifter hold up much better over time. Kurt and Ryan [Dahle] are dudes.

Moist or The Tea Party?

Moist. They took us on tour and it was fun. No, they were never cool, but sometimes being cool ain’t that cool. Then there’s the Tea Party and good old Jeff Martin. What can you say?

Hip Club Groove or Stinkin’ Rich?

Both legends. Stinkin’ Rich by a nose.

Doughboys or Rusty?

Doughboys had a few more bangers and could turn in a decent live show. Rusty had a moment that came and went quickly. 

Econoline Crush or I Mother Earth?

I Mother Earth, because Econoline Crush were the only band I made a point of getting kicked off a bill I was on. EC were terrible and IME weren’t so bad at the time.

Zumpano or The Inbreds?

The Inbreds. I never listened much to Zumpano, to be honest.

Treble Charger or Killjoys?

Treble Charger. They were/are my buds. Spent a lot of time with those dudes. Sorry it didn’t go a different path for them. They could’ve been Death Cab For Cutie had there been a better dynamic in the camp. Grieg was too busy in Sum 41-land and everything went to shit.

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