The Arcade Fire

In such a time of emotional flux for the Arcade Fire; losing close family members, founder members getting married, recording an album of immense beauty, it is no wonder so many people have taken them to their hearts. We look back at their glorious year.*

THE ONGOING project for rock and pop journalists to justify their own existence by dreaming up new and completely pointless genres of music has not shown any signs of abating over the last five or six years. One of the worst examples was the popularisation of the term ’emo’ about three or four years ago to refer to a confessional type of angst ridden pop metal with the emphasis on lyrics with an ’emotional’ quality. Of course this produced an abattoir full of whining, egregious idiocy as peddled by Dashboard Confessional, Finch and Thursday. Luckily the Arcade Fire, a collective from Montreal, were on hand to show up this entire genre for the emotionally illiterate, borderline-misogynistic, self-indulgent twaddle it was.

Partners in both music and love, Win Butler and Regine Chassagne, formed the group with friends to experiment in styles ranging from krautrock to post punk; from bossa nova to jazz and were in the middle of writing material for their first album when their project was galvanised by an unhappy coincidence. Within months of each other Chassagne’s grandmother and Butler’s grandfather, Alvino Ray (a famous rag time composer), died. Drawing on their grief, the band produced a beautiful album of great emotional range and complexity. A concept album of sorts, Funeral opens with the magic realist story of a pair of young lovers digging tunnels beneath a city to escape the sorrow of their grieving parents and be together. A complex psycho-geographical metaphor for love and loss being intertwined is built up over music that nods to everyone from Talking Heads, David Bowie, Roxy Music and Silver Mount Zion.

The debut became a word of mouth success, slowly spreading across the globe at the end of 2004 and, in this hack’s modest opinion, becoming the album of 2005. So what with the band’s mammoth world tour just ending and with them heading back into the studio to record their sophomore effort, it is the ideal time to catch up with Win and ask him about his strange and brilliant year and what the future holds.*

At the moment we’re going through a period of real conservatism musically. In such an age of cynical major label marketing campaigns and such like, are you surprised that you’ve ended up with such a slow burning, word of mouth success?

I’m kind of surprised at the number of people who have been turned onto to our stuff over such a short period of time but if people really like something then other people will find out about it eventually. So there’s also that aspect of it. There are lots of records that don’t that well initially but then do well over a period of time. It’s not that strange a phenomenon but I suppose the whole internet press marketing thing of it has been quite new.

At what point after Funeral came out in North America, did you realise it was becoming this international phenomenon?

I don’t really know because I guess there wasn’t really one specific point, I guess it’s just become available to people who have given us a really good response. We started getting emails from people overseas pretty soon after the record came out there. But we were getting emails from these places before the record was even available in the country however, after the album leaked online.

Have the meanings of the songs off Funeral changed for you now, in that what started, presumably as a very personal, confessional bout of song writing has now become this massively consumed and appreciated thing?

I don’t know, I mean, it wasn’t like someone found our journal and published it. Songs are meant to reach people. For example it’s not all as personal and confessional as it might seem, there’s a lot of fiction on the record. So it might start from a place of real emotion and then go somewhere completely different. It’s not the story of my childhood or anything like that for example. We did want people to hear these songs. It’s totally out of our control in this band as to whether people like what we do or not or whether or not they care. All we have control of really, is what we do in the studio and our live shows and things like that.

I read over the last couple of days that you’re writing new material and in some ways it was being shaped by your own reactions to the hurricane Katrina and…

God! Jesus Christ! I’m never doing an interview again. MTV are such idiots! Someone sent me a link to that article and some journalist completely pulled that out of his ass. He asked me if I was affected by fucking Hurricane Katrina and I was ‘Yeah, it’s terrible’ and from that he’s said that we’re making this whole album, it just isn’t true.

Ah, sorry man. We saw it on the internet and it did strike us as being a bit odd…

Sure. The story got everywhere. Fucking idiots. I did an email interview with MTV. It was a fucking email interview so there was nothing to misquote or misunderstand, it was all written down. And they said that we are writing a song for David Bowie when we’re not. Somehow they managed to extrapolate this story from nothing. It drives me fucking bonkers.

Well, to turn the question on its head, do you think that it’s unhelpful to have the beady eyes of the press on you, trying to second guess what you’re doing for the second album when you’re getting ready to record?

I don’t feel second guessed. It’s all about the extent to which you let it into your life and let it affect you. It would be very easy for us not to do any press but at the same time I realise that a lot of the people who are going to be really into our record are like five years old right now. A lot of the bands that mean a lot to me now, I discovered ten years or twenty years after they broke up. So the little day to day annoyances such as these stories on NME or MTV; no one knows or remembers about them after a month or two. On the one hand it is really annoying to be misquoted and misrepresented but in the larger scheme of things it doesn’t really matter because people are going to like the record or not like the record despite these stories. It’s so funny, I’m reading a biography on The Clash at the moment and the press in England were so down on them, they got such a hard time. Before London Calling came out they were totally written off and everyone said they were shit. It’s interesting to me because what the fuck do I know what the NME said about The Clash in 1979? I discovered The Clash in 1996 and all I know is that I have London Calling and I listen to it all the time and I have an emotional response to it. It doesn’t matter what was being said back then, because time eliminates all of that bullshit.

You are obviously a well oiled machine live, but you retain a certain spikiness in the sound and you all seem to be enjoying yourselves; is it hard to maintain this kind of dynamic when there are that many people on stage?

I don’t know if it’s got anything to do with the number of people but it is something we’re very concerned about. We’ve been playing for the better part of this year but we’ve still only done about 100 shows. If you look at a band like Keane or The Killers who probably do 250 shows in a year, so on the one hand we play relatively few shows but the energy we put into shows, in order for it to be fresh, has to be high. We’re not trying to iron out all of the bum notes or make it sound really smooth. Today in sound check we did a New Order song that we’d never played before and we’ll play that live tonight. It’s a way of playing stuff we’re not super familiar with so we’re not too slick. It’s tough and that’s why we’re going to wrap it up soon.*

AND WITH that he is off to play the last show of the tour before heading back into the studio to start work on the band’s sophomore album. And if Funeral is anything to go by, their loss, yet again will be our gain.

© John DoranDisorder, December 2005

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