[Part 1 of 2]
Poor K-Mart. The company has no idea that six rock ‘n’ rollers from Montreal are decking out their manic live shows with the retail giant’s life-sized, wire-mesh holiday reindeer. Instead of gracing the front lawn of some middle-American home, Donder and Blitzen, all aglow with Christmas lights and with their mechanized heads nodding eerily to the music, were firmly planted atop two amplifiers at the group’s sold-out Sunday night show at Philadelphia’s First Unitarian Church.
But such are the Arcade Fire’s eccentricities. After a few years marked by in-fighting, drastic lineup changes (the current roster includes Win and Will Butler, Regine Chassagne, Richard Reed Parry and Tim Kingsbury), family deaths and an inter-band marriage (between Win and Chassagne), a little onstage weirdness should be expected and forgiven, especially considering the band put together such a glorious debut album in the process. Funeral, released September on Merge to massive acclaim, is a sparkplug of a record. Songs like “Wake Up” and “Rebellion (Lies)” mix post-rock’s symphonic drama with punk’s inclusive energy to thrilling effect.
Amid the confusion of their pre-show set-up (those electronic reindeer don’t put themselves together, you know), we secured a few minutes with the Arcade Fire’s live-wire multi-instrumentalist, the ambling Parry, in an effort to find out a bit about how the Montreal crew is taking all the hype and what it’s like making albums for the iPod generation.
There seems to be real camaraderie among Montreal bands and musicians surrounding Hotel2Tango, the recording studio/living space used by many of the Constellation Records acts. Besides the fact that you’ve recorded there, do you feel a part of that?
Richard Reed Parry: I don’t know; I think those guys would deny anything like that. There’s the Constellation crowd, and that’s definitely its own thing, but it branches out and we’ve worked with them; we’re friends with them. The Hotel is cool. A couple of the Godspeed guys helped out with recording. A couple of the Silver Mt. Zion string players played on our record. There’s a bunch of different pockets of separate communities, and I guess when you look at it from the outside, it looks like one big community. In truth, I think there’s a separation that doesn’t need to be there.
Yeah, I realize from my narrow perspective these things can seem much less complex than they really are.
There’s been a lot of hype about the Arcade Fire, especially after New York City’s CMJ Showcase. How are you guys dealing with that? Do you pay attention to it? Is it invigorating?
It’s not really invigorating, no. We have very little control over it, if any. We do interviews and are willing to be in some magazines and some publications and not willing to be in others. The only choice we have in the matter is whether we will do the interviews.
But it’s not really invigorating. I don’t think any one of us is like [pumps fist], “Yes! Pitchfork likes us. I’m so happy now.” That does mean there will probably be some people at our shows, though. As soon as we played that first show after the Pitchfork crap and all these positive reviews came out, people were like [mockingly], “Oh my god! How do you feel about the hype? Do you think there’s a backlash now?” We were like, “A backlash? We put out our record four days ago and you’re asking whether we’ve noticed a backlash?”
People pay so much attention to that stuff it’s insane. We noticed it, and it’s like, “Oh, people just reviewed our record, that’s fucking weird. And they liked it.” It’s kind of a trip, but you can’t do anything about it. All you can do is take it and run with it. Okay, people wanna write about you. They do. Just keep playing. It’s by far not the most important thing. It’s not really important at all to us. It makes a difference in the long run, ’cause it means people will come to your shows and it means you’re selling more records and more people are hearing about you.
In the big perspective of the population, there aren’t that many people who seek out new music. Being on the label that we’re on [Merge Records], we happen to be, kind of by default, catering to people who are more actively looking for new music and will find us more easily than if we were on another label. Just by virtue of being on Merge there’s a certain demographic that is …
… going to pay super attention to what’s going on.
Yeah, but there are by far more people who don’t pay super-close attention, with their ears to the ground all the time. I guess being in the New York Times or in Spin magazine, people who don’t play as close attention get to know who you are and then they listen. It presents it to more people — “Hey, this band exists if you care.” I don’t know; it’s a funny thing, thinking about what the ultimate goal is. We’re constantly thinking about that. It’s just important for us to focus on making music and trying to reach people.
I’m curious about how much Funeral was consciously en honorarium of the people who died during its creation or if was it something that happened more organically as the record was being made?
Organically, as it was being made. Obviously, there’s a specific song about Regine’s [Chassagne, a vocalist and multi-instrumentalist for the band] mom, but she died way before the record — like, way before. That’s an old song. But it just happened organically. People were dying; we were going to funerals all the time.
There’s this constant discussion of “neighborhoods” — neighborhoods of family, of friends, of literal neighborhoods. What does that term mean to you, or to the band as a whole, in the context of the album?
I don’t write lyrics for the band, but when Win (Butler, the group’s lyricist, guitarist and singer) was typing out all the lyrics and noticed that the same words came up in a lot of the songs, he was like, “Oh, weird. I wonder what this idea or this theme is in a lot of these songs.” And he pointed that out, ’cause I guess that [theme] runs through a lot of the songs.
Just by virtue of doing something like that, you call attention to the linkages between things. Like when visual artists do a triptych [with] parts one, two and three without them actually being [part of the larger whole]. Further than just grouping the songs on an album, which is kind of passé, [you’re saying the] album should be listened to in this order, which is kind of difficult and irrelevant nowadays because people have playlists more than they have records …