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Arcade Fire interview

thankyougrandmathankyougrandma Posts: 1,182
edited November 2005 in Other Music
Time to reflect, refresh for Arcade Fire

T'cha Dunlevy

Saturday, November 26, 2005
Win Butler and Arcade Fire. (Brent Foster, National Post)

MONTREAL -- Win Butler looks away when he talks -- up and to the side, about 45 degrees, his eyes glassy and his tone reflective. When he finishes a thought, he turns and looks straight ahead, his face blank, and he waits.

There is no pretense, no artifice, but an unadorned immediacy. It's disconcerting at first, until realizing it's just his way. It's real. A tad serious, but tangible, and honest.

Somewhere in there is a 25-year-old man who, with a little help from his friends, has made one of the most urgent, emotional and inspiring rock records in recent memory.

What a year. Just 14 months ago, nobody knew the Arcade Fire. Not David Bowie, not David Byrne, Coldplay or U2. A mere 14 months later, Butler, Regine Chassagne and their band have all but conquered the world. They are indie rock royalty, having performed alongside their icons (Bowie and Byrne), toured the world, appeared in most major music publications, and garnered an ever-growing following.

Funeral has already sold 224,000 copies in the U.S. and 70,000 in Canada, according to Nielsen SoundScan -- impressive numbers for an independent debut album. Last week -- as the Arcade Fire prepared to play the final three shows for its Funeral album, all opening for U2 (Friday in Ottawa, today and Monday in Montreal) -- Butler sat in a cafe and, with distracted serenity, put things in perspective.

"It probably seems like more of a jump from the outside than inside," he said of the group's skyrocketing success. "We had never made a record before. There was no rule, as far as we knew, about how it's supposed to work.

"Everything that happens, you just figure out how you feel about it, and try and learn from it. It's the type of things you spend your energy worrying about that change, according to the situation. It feels like we're on one path, trying to think about what we're doing and not get caught up in the whole thing."

It's a very Montreal approach -- taking everything in stride, being unfazed by hype and, of course, doing art for art's sake. The Texan Butler has found his place, here -- starting a band, marrying Chassagne and, most recently, buying property.

The Arcade Fire purchased an old church, about an hour outside of Montreal ("real estate is shockingly cheap out there"), which they are converting into a studio. Winter projects include getting the studio up and running, and beginning to record music for a new album.

"It would have been very easy to end up on the road for another year behind (Funeral)," Butler said, "Which I think would have been a huge mistake. Even though, from a promotional standpoint, it would have been the smart thing to do, there wouldn't have been any more records to make, because we would have been done.

"Touring is such a tricky thing. It's so exhausting, but so great. To have the opportunity to see the world this year has been something we never could have predicted. It was amazing. We got to go to Brazil, Japan, Europe several times. Even though at the end, you start to never want to leave home again."

With a few exceptions, the band has put an end to all interviews and other promotional hullaballoo. Butler said even now it's often difficult to reflect on the group's successes over the past year.

"It's very hard mentally when you're trying to move on and do other stuff, to go back," he said. "We're doing some year-end interviews with magazines. I don't mind it, but it's hard to be always thinking about what happened over the past year, or to think about yourself as promoting your record. We might come across as standoffish, but it's really just about trying to survive."

In a moment of either generosity or masochism, Butler indulged a question about the highlights of the past year, though he went back a bit further, to September 2004, when Funeral was released.

"Finishing the record, getting the final product, was the most exciting thing. It was such a big project. We worked so hard on it. To have it be done was so rewarding," he said. "The first time we played with David Byrne in New York was really special, but the last shows in Montreal (in April at the Corona Theatre) were really great, too ... I don't know, there are too many things."

Byrne joined them on stage last November for a rendition of Talking Heads' This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody) -- a song, fittingly, about home.

"It was like meeting some professor who's an expert in your field ... I don't know how many rock people you would ever in a million years want to be on any level, cause they're all so (messed) up ... He's in complete control of what he's doing. He's a humble dude. It was really fun.

"We were all looking at each other while we were playing, like, 'This is absurd.' It wasn't even a celebrity thing, it was just, 'I love this song, and the person who wrote this song is singing it, and they're playing it, and it's just like, why?' "

It's a rhetorical question, but one that captures the magic of The Arcade Fire -- a configuration of individuals that makes music and performs with such sweeping spirit as to profoundly touch all who come into contact with it.

It's a question that conveys Funeral's sense of childlike wonder, sadness and redemption, the breathtaking fervour of the band's live shows, and Butler's fascination with faith (he completed a degree in religious studies at McGill University).

"I'm religious, but maybe not in the conventional sense," he said. "Religion tends to take the more f--ked up side of human nature more seriously than humanism. I tend not to relate to stuff that says, 'It's all good.'

"Religions dwell on the f--ked up stuff too much, but at least they're looking at death, and taking stuff seriously. MTV doesn't take it very seriously."

The title Funeral came after Butler, Chassagne and band member Richard Reed Parry each lost family members during the making of the album. And while many songs resonate as distinctly anthemic, Butler said that to him, the music is rather heavy.

"A lot of it is pretty dark. There are always two sides to a coin. You can hear a song like Power Out, and the line, 'There's something wrong in the heart of man / Take it from your heart and put it in your hand,' and interpret that as uplifting. I see it as, if there's something f--ked up in your heart, you're going to put it in your hand as a sword."

And so, with hearts of darkness and armed to the teeth, Butler and his bandmates are infiltrating the hedonistic world of MTV.

"We heard one of our songs (on the radio) the other day, followed by something really awful, and with something really awful before it," Butler said. "It's hard to even want to go there; it's such a depressing situation.

"But at the same time, when I was 15, all I heard was stuff on the radio and MTV. I found Radiohead because I saw their video on MTV, and Bjork, all the stuff that ended up meaning a lot to me, and that helped me appreciate the Smiths and the Cure and all this other music that I ended up exclusively listening to, that was so under the radar for someone living in the suburbs of Houston. So I definitely don't feel snobbish about it."

At the same time, he knows that critical and commercial acclaim is unreliable, not particularly meaningful, and often simply irrelevant.

"You read (UK music magazine New Musical Express) reviews of (The Clash's) London Calling, and they're kind of mediocre. It's like, 'what were these people thinking?' Or some David Bowie stuff that was way ahead of its time. Or Bob Dylan, everyone booing every show when he was at the height of his creative powers.

"Not to compare us to those artists, but you feel almost like you're cast in some random time, and how people react to you is out of your control. Ideally, you keep doing whatever it is you're doing, without getting too f--ked up by what you think people are going to think about it."

On Sept. 8, they played three songs with Bowie for Fashion Rocks in New York. That performance has been turned into a live EP, available exclusively from iTunes, with all proceeds going to hurricane relief charities.

A week later, Bowie joined the band for a performance at Central Park's Summerstage.

"He came out for the encore, and he just owned the place," Butler said. "He's so good at what he does, so comfortable on stage, even though it was a really punk rock version of the songs, really sloppy. I was pissed off at the audience, and the whole crew was really annoying.

"We came off stage before the encore, and the backstage guy was like, 'If you don't get back on now, you can't play. You're out of time.' Earlier he had been stressing us during soundcheck. So I was like, 'Don't f--king talk to me.'

"We had 15 minutes left, which I didn't know. I threw a chair against the wall. David Bowie and his wife were right there. (Bowie) said something about how he felt like he was watching (temperamental Nine Inch Nails frontman) Trent Reznor. I can't believe I threw a chair in front of David Bowie."

[email protected]

© CanWest News Service (The Gazette) 2005


On U2: "I saw them when I was about 15. It was a really amazing show, just at this huge level. They did some pretty inventive stuff. It will be interesting to meet them. They've been doing it for so long. They seem like a smart group of dudes."
On U2's music: "The last couple of records don't really do it for me. It might just be an age thing, I don't know. But The Joshua Tree, War and a bunch of the earlier stuff, I liked. You just hear it so much. It's hard to appreciate how different With or Without You sounds when you've heard it a million times. I remember the first time I heard it, it was like, what the f--k is this? It's really timeless sounding for something coming out of the '80s, compared to Duran Duran or whatever the hell else was happening at that time. It's pretty impressive."
On The Joshua Tree: "To me, the songs have always worked more than the album. It's so frontloaded. The first four songs -- bam! Then, whoa, I'm exhausted. Where the Streets Have No Name, With or Without You, I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For, Bullet the Blue Sky, all in the front of the album. It's hard to listen to the second half of the record, even though they're probably great songs."
"L'homme est né libre, et partout il est dans les fers"
-Jean-Jacques Rousseau
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