WHEN Kevin Drew brings his latest solo album, Darlings, to the Burton Cummings Theatre on Monday night, the Broken Social Scene founder will find himself in a unique position. He will be the opening act.
"I never really did the opening slot," he admits over the phone just a few days before he's set to hit the road on a run of Canadian dates with Modest Mouse, his first national tour since Darlings was released in March. "With Social Scene, I just kind of started working and didn't go out on the road until people were in front of us."
Still, he's not above repaying his dues, as it were, as a newly minted solo artist.
"I feel good about it," he says. "It's been a very different experience for me. People say it's career suicide to go solo -- and maybe it is -- but on a spiritual level, I've been enjoying it." He recognizes that even though his name carries cred, "you've got to remind people to care about you. You have to write your friends and your peers and ask, 'Can I open for you?'
"I've known (Modest Mouse frontman) Isaac (Brock) for years, and I've been listening to Modest Mouse since I was 19 years old. He's done shows with Social Scene. It's nice to go out (on the road) with family, in a way."
Darlings is Drew's first solo album since 2007's Spirit If... and, in many ways, his first true solo album, period. Unlike its predecessor, Darlings doesn't bear the 'Broken Social Scene Presents...' tag. Musically, it's the most far removed from the music he made with his sprawling indie-rock collective -- the band that gave rise to the very phrase "sprawling indie-rock collective" -- which is on indefinite hiatus. Darlings sees Drew eschew lush sonic bombast in favour of a more straightforward approach.
Because, if you ask Drew, Darlings is a protest record.
Written as a response to the "coldness of intimacy these days," the album finds him protesting the dearth of real, live, human connection in our increasingly compartmentalized, technology-dependent, smartphone-addled culture -- a culture ruled by screens that force us to look down at our palms instead of making eye contact with one another. A culture in which, to borrow a line from Louis C.K., "everything's amazing and nobody's happy."
Through writing Darlings, "I came to the realization that I don't like where we're at," Drew says. "We think we're so connected -- more connected than ever before -- but there's a coldness out there. We're constantly on our phones all the time. I believe you need eye contact and touching to maintain intimacy. I don't believe in the narcissism of status updates. I don't believe that phones have a place on car rides -- you should be looking out the window and daydreaming. Kids today know how to f but they don't know how to make love."
Darlings is a record about making love. Drew's warm, sparse bedroom soundscapes evoke sweaty brows and flushed cheeks and falling asleep to a lover's heartbeat, that teenage feeling of falling in love for the first time. As much as its about physical intimacy -- see Good Sex -- Darlings is also about emotional intimacy. The directness in his lyrics is mirrored in the album's arrangements, which are given plenty of space to breathe.
You know, the same kind of space we crowd out in our day-to-day lives with our Instagram addictions. The instant gratification offered by online validation is a drug like any other.
"Soon, there'll be rehab centres dedicated to social-media addiction," Drew says. "It hurts to watch someone you love become addicted to their phone. You don't want to watch someone go downstairs and do cocaine every 10 minutes. That's what it feels like. 'I'll be right back.' 'I'll be right back.' 'I'll be right back.'"
At 37, Drew is old enough to remember a time before the Internet. He marvels at our willingness to "give ourselves away."
"If you had told me, in 1996, that there would be a device on which you could take a photo and instantly publish that photo on this thing called the Internet -- and that once you did that, you didn't own that photo anymore, I'd laugh in your face.
"People need to understand that they don't need to sell themselves out every goddamn day. It's such a boring conversation to say, 'Please don't Instagram that' or 'I want this to be private.' But privacy is key to building a life with someone. You take that away, and what do you got?"
Darlings is an achingly beautiful reminder of exactly how much we have to lose.
"They're trying to take it all away by saying they're giving you everything," Drew says. "Don't let them."