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Off Here's to Being Here (Arts & Crafts)

Jason Collett's "Papercut Hearts" 

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While "Papercut Hearts" opens with a cool bar chord crash, the thing really propelling this pop-rock nugget is its rhythm section: Drummer Rob Drake and bassist Michael Clive forge a busy bottom-end, adding a chewy pulse. A nice fill opens each verse, and Clive's visceral bassline allows the guitar to lie back, pealing off little country-tinged squawks at will.

While a love song is a cliché trifle in many hands, Collett has fun with the melodrama implicit in his subject here: He hails the "bullet-point teardrops like inky dead stars," suggesting that when the real thing comes "You'll come undone/ like all of the reckless ones." Citing the tides, the moon and our animal nature, he calls love's stab "a little flame of a little pain to keep you warm," nailing both the self-destructive romantic impulse and how it fuels internal dramas.

At the break, the song springs into a jangling, tambourine-abetted chorus whose country twang subtly recalls both the Stones' "Just My Imagination" and its album, Some Girls, in general. In the final verse, Collett makes a nice connection between his superficial titular target and smokeless bars, questioning their authenticity and whether they're just "old world news."

In the end, the bard imprecates himself among the "reckless ones." After all, who's not a little scared of "the stab of love"?

Our conversation with Collett about "Papercut Hearts" was fraught with break-ups, poor cell coverage, and technical snafus. These questions are caged from two conversations a few days apart.

INDEPENDENT WEEKLY: How did you know Here's to Being Here producer Howie Beck?

JASON COLLETT: I originally knew Howie because he did a lot of drumming for me on some really early recordings from the mid-'90s, and we became friends and started hanging out. He started bugging me to produce, and he had really great ideas. I liked his stuff, so he produced my previous record, Idols of Exile, and it went off so well, our relationship working together, that it was a no-brainer to work together on Here's to Being Here.

How big is the producer's role in creating your albums?

It's pretty huge. I really value having an objective opinion, and I'm always very interested in hearing what someone is going to think, or their take on how it's going to be. Howie and I work really well together in that I tend to not be so precious and I kind of rush ahead and more inclined to write the next song than to fuss over getting the first one finished.

I've asked you about the break with it's echo of the Rolling Stone's "Imagination," which no one had brought up, but that it didn't surprise you.

I think I was saying something about the effect that the music of your childhood gets under your skin in an indelible way. And as I get older I realize there is less and less point to fight that instead of just letting go into it. And so if you hear those kinds of reference points in a song, it's something I no longer even question. It's just that sort of indelible thing coming out. It's not different than growing up Catholic: You can't shake that shit off. It's just one of those things that makes us who we are.

You said you wrote "Papercut Hearts" fairly quickly, in like 20 minutes. Is that unusual?

I think the best songs are the ones that come quickly and relatively intact because you don't have any time to second-guess anything. And that's where the trouble begins, when you start to think about what you're doing or intellectualize it in any way. I would say the whole process of songwriting is a real mystery to me. I do subscribe to the Townes Van Zandt view of songwriting: He said it was as if the songs had all already been written, and that a good songwriter just happens to be present in the room when one floats by.

Do you have to deal with different expectations about your songwriting because of Broken Social Scene?

Mostly I don't care. Inspiration comes and I'm kind of beholden to it, whatever it's going to be. If it falls into some sort of mid '70s feel good groove, so be it. I often write in a very simple 2-3 chord structure just as a way of jostling out the inspiration. It's almost a childlike way of doing it, a nursery rhyme sort of melody, something that puts me into a rhythm that allows for the song itself to come out lyrically. And then I can take that and change the melody. The whole sort of craft thing comes later. But the crucial moment is just that moment of inspiration. I find that if you take the time to adjust the melodies and the structure and start thinking about how this all should be, you can often lose that moment, you know what I mean? It will slip through your hands.

Going back to the thing about over-thinking.

Yeah, exactly. I often have songs, and there are a few of these on the record, such as "Charlyn, Angel of Kensington." I've had the lyrics around for a long time, but I've totally changed the melody. Sometimes the musical part, the fit, it might take years for that to come along. I just never had the definitive version until the last minute when we were in the studio. I wanted to take another crack at that tune.

You don't know when the true inspiration will arrive.

Some of them take years. But I had the lyrics, the story. It was done. I just never had the right tune—in my mind, anyway. But then there's a lazy quality to me, too, where I forget the tunes. I'll be leafing through old notebooks or something, and rediscover something I've written that I've forgotten about, that I can't remember the tune and I can't be bothered to search through piles of cassettes to find. So I just write it again. It's always fun to do that. And that's what happened with that tune. But I think the best songs are always the ones that arrive intact, with the tune and the lyrics within 15 minutes. Those are the ones that always stand out.

Jason Collett plays The ArtsCenter with Paddy Casey Saturday, April 12, at 8:15 p.m. Tickets are $12-$15.

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