The Arcade Fire: Interview
Good to be Lucky, Lucky to be Good


Based out of Montreal The Arcade Fire is centered by newly married Win Butler
and Régine Chassagne. Though we can't say that we really know them yet, their
self-released debut EP blew us away and has us looking forward to a full-length
in 2004. We decided to track them down to see if we could get to know them a
little better, maybe even be friends. Win agreed to answer a few questions if we
promised to drop the whole friend issue.

Based out of Montreal The Arcade Fire is centered by newly married Win Butler
and Régine Chassagne. Though we can't say that we really know them yet, their
self-released debut EP blew us away and has us looking forward to a full-length
in 2004. We decided to track them down to see if we could get to know them a
little better, maybe even be friends. Win agreed to answer a few questions if we
promised to drop the whole friend issue.

TMT:
After reading your bio I'm not sure this is possible, but can you give us a
brief run-down on The Arcade Fire. Where everyone is from, how the line-up got
together, etc.?

Win: Me (vocals, guitar,
bass) and my brother Will (bass, synth, hitting things) are from a planned
community north of Houston. Régine's family is from Haiti, but she (vocals,
synth, drums, anything if you give her a week) grew up in Montreal. Richard
(guitar, hitting things, playing anything) lived in England, Toronto and Ottawa
when he was little (I even think in Jerusalem one year), Tim (bass, guitar) is
from Guelph, Ontario and Howard (drums) is from Montreal. 

In the very, very, very beginning I started a band called The Arcade Fire with
my best friend Josh Deu (who was the best man at my wedding this last summer,
and who designed the website with my little brother Will). He was also the
reason I moved to Montreal (because he had gone to school up here, and had great
things to say about it). He still adds little bits to a bunch of the songs and
helped write the music to "Headlights" from our demo EP and other songs off the
new record.

The most dramatic change in my life thus far has been meeting Régine. I was
looking for a drummer at that time and saw her singing Jazz at an art opening,
and I knew I had to make music with her (and hey she even learned to play drums
since then). I will also say that now departed members Dane Mills (who now plays
in Rivers and Mountains and Crackpot) and Brendan Reed (the Letlowns and Les
Angles Mort) contributed a lot to the sound of the Demo EP and are fantastic
performers.

TMT: In your bio you mention that you moved to Montreal on intuition.
Was it a pure gut decision or did you have some plans to pursue your musical
interests there?

Win: I woke up one night in a cold sweat with the name
Montreal on my lips. It was like I had never even noticed that the map went that
far north, and I had to investigate.

TMT: Having never been to Canada before you moved did you experience any
sort of culture shock?

Win: I still don't feel like I know Canada that
well... Montreal is in Canada only by a legal technicality. (Unless Open Mike
with Mike Bullard has anything to do with Canada, and I'm not convinced it
really does).

TMT: We're (Canada) still trying to figure out the
whole Mike Bullard thing too. What is in the works currently for the band? Is a
new album still on the books?

Win: We are recording with Howard at Hotel 2 Tango
here in Montreal, and a bunch at me and Régine's place. We will be done
recording in early April, and it depends on the distributors when the official
release will be (probably a couple of months later). We hope to put out a single
some time in the next few months.

TMT: How come you will be producing the new album again yourselves?
 Is it out of necessity at this point, or more a comfort/control thing?

Win: Well Howard is engineering the record this time,
and recording at the Hotel 2 Tango is definitely a step up from how we recorded
the Demo EP. Recording on our own is certainly a comfort thing. We are kind of
in our own little world and we don't need to think about what people are gonna
think about the recording, and we can just eat dinner, and think of songs, and
put things to tape.

TMT: Have you been approached by any record labels? Thoughts on signing?

Win: Record labels are strange but necessary. It is
kind of an exciting time on that front. We have been doing a lot of research,
and being really thoughtful about who we want to put out our music, and how we
wanna do things in the future. There is this weird thing about music in the
legal sense that it can be treated as "art-for-hire"... which is the same thing
as a computer company hiring a writer to write a technical manual. So in other
words, if a label pays for a recording they can own it outright. That is why if
you look at a record put out on a major label it will say, "lyrics reprinted by
kind permission" of the label. They own the lyrics and the music. On the one
hand we want as many people to hear our music as Bruce Springsteen or The Cure
or people like that, but the music industry keeps getting worse, and it's hard
to realize that the same opportunities are not available. There are too many
people trying to take advantage of you... What are poor artists who want to
communicate using mass media to do?

TMT:
It sounds like Régine and yourself have shared the
bulk of writing responsibilities so far. Will the new album be drawn from
previous work or new collaborations with other band members?

Win: One of my favorite songs on the new record is
based on a synth line and vocal melody I came up with 4 years ago and could
never really finish, other stuff we finished last week. In fact even as I am
writing this Régine and I just wrote a song called Rebellion that I'll bet 50
dollars will be on the record. The others guys haven't even heard it yet. I
think we will still be using material from the last 4 years of our entire
career, because it has been an incredibly prolific time, even though we don't
have much recorded material to show for it. Everyone in this band contributes a
ton musically, and I am confident that a lot of stuff we do will be more and
more collaborative, but it's always a balance.

TMT: Can you tell us about the recording process for the EP? How come you
recorded it in a barn in Maine?

Win: We hadn't played together for a month (even then things were
a little tense with the group) but we all decided we had to document some of the
stuff we had been working on. Those were 7 of our favorite songs from playing
live, but there were many more we never got around to recording. Even though we
were there for a month, we were extremely inefficient. A lot of swimming, and
running around, and working at ice cream shops, and mowing lawns. The ocean was
never too far away. My parents own a little piece of property in Maine, and I
always wanted to do something creative in the Barn... and my chance finally
came.

TMT: You also mentioned in your bio that you recorded the EP out of
necessity because you had a backlog of 100 songs. How did you decide on the
songs to record, and why only seven?

Win: The band never played 100 songs, those are just
songs that exist, at least for Régine and I. 7 is a number of biblical
significance.

TMT: The EP is quite stunning upon first listen, and after repeated
spins. I always feel very uplifted and inspired after listening to it. What do
you hope people get from your music?

Win: That is really cool to hear. I hope our music is
uplifting in a really full sense. We don't just wanna make people feel good.
Being scared or confused can be uplifting too. Music has this rare potential to
be creative and completely non-destructive at the same time, which is a really
powerful idea, even though it is rarely seen. I know most people in the world
would probably not get much from our music, but you can hope right? Funerals are
a lot more important than records.

Régine: But there's almost always music at funerals. I
like to sing for funerals. I sang for my mom's funeral, I sang for my grandma's
funeral.

Win: Can you imagine if there was a publication like
Spin Magazine or Rolling Stone about funerals? There would be articles about hot
new trends in funeral services, and profiles on hot up and coming funeral
directors, as well as lots of stuff about people who have been in the business
for years, and keep doing quality work. Then in the back there would be reviews
of services. "The first 15 minutes were really meaningful, but then the brother
stood up and said some really cliché played out stuff." Maybe there could even
be a rating scale about how meaningful or useful the persons life had been. I
hope I get 7.5 out of 10... 

TMT: Though I haven't had the pleasure of experiencing your live show yet
I hear it is not to be missed. How does one become a good live band?

Win: I think that bands that feel strongly about the
audience and the other people in their band (either love or hate) tend to put on
a great performance. A great live band is not necessarily polished. I'm not sure
we will ever be particularly tight, but we do feel like passing out after
singing certain sections of our songs.

TMT: Is there a formal effort made on your part to do things the audience
will remember, or is just something you have or don't? Is it a chemistry of band
members and the possibility that anything can happen in the heat of a
performance?

Win: I played in a band in high school that mostly
played Cure songs, and the lead singer was my friend Jesson. We played this
crappy outdoor earth day festival at the school with all these jam bands. Our
plan was to take a bunch of food and smash it on stage. In the first song Jesson
smashed some eggs over his head, but he start to get all sticky and hot. Our big
finale was to smash this giant watermelon, but the Spanish teacher told us we
couldn't do it, so Jesson ate through the rind, and split the watermelon in half
and ran through the audience making people eat from it.

Some people like Bob Dylan can just sit there and sing and it absolutely
fascinating. Either way the performer is doing something memorable. When I saw
The Cure when I was younger the only part of the show I still remember was when
Robert Smith fucked up all the lyrics to Disintegration, and just started making
stuff up. I don't think there is any rule to what makes a good performance, but
everyone knows it when they see it. It is pretty exciting that it doesn't
necessarily have anything to do with talent, but can come from a weirder place.

TMT: What inspires you personally to make music? Art, other music... ?

Win: I make music because I have to. I've heard so
many people say this, but its true. I don't think about it, it's just what
happens if you leave me alone in an empty room for 30 minutes. The thing that
keeps me going is when after 2 weeks of struggling I sit down and write an
entire song (the chords, the melody and the words) in one sitting. It is rare,
but that is the most magical feeling in the world, because you feel like you are
just taking dictation of something that isn't entirely from you. I don't know if
that is true, but that's the way it feels. Only since copyright laws have people
really felt protective of the ownership of their music (that's not entirely true
but what the hell I will say it anyway). There is something strange this does to
your ego that isn't entirely in line with the experiential aspect of making
something. The best songwriter in the world can turn around and write the
shittiest song you have ever heard. This is because artists don't really create
anything... they grab little specks of beauty out of the air and put their name
on it. Watching people being themselves or telling the truth is terrifying and
inspiring. I'm not talking about our band. I am more talking about people
actually doing things in the world.

Régine: I feel the same way as Win. That probably
explains why we play music together. In the middle ages, art was an anonymous
act. I really miss that. I know nobody has really heard of us... but even in the
last year the small amount of talking and press that has been going on made me
feel really scared. I'm going to hide in the woods now, Bye!

TMT: The support system for the band seems fairly tight. Lots of talented
people helping out here and there. Some contributing to the music, designing the
website, etc. How important has this support and DIY approach been?

Win: The DIY aspect of what we do has become
increasingly important as more and more people have been offering to do things
for us. Its kind of beautiful to play a show a have a bunch of people come
because their friends told them it would be good, and not cause they saw an add
in a magazine saying you are the best thing in the world. We have amazing
friends who are great artists who help us and love us a lot. We are very lucky.

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