Six months ago, the Arcade Fire inadvertently ignited a hype inferno they couldn't contain.
The Montreal chamber-rock collective's 2004 debut, Funeral, was seemingly on every critic's top 10, while February New York shows saw Davids Bowie and Byrne taking in their live act, with Byrne joining them onstage to cover Talking Heads' "This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)."
Major-label offers poured in, and the band even received such ridiculous offers as that of designing cars. "My idea was the Honda Crucifix," singer Win Butler recalled. "It was sort of a hotrod shaped like a crucifix — but environmentally friendly."
Amid the storm, the group sold 75,000 records with virtually no radio play or video support ("Rebellion (Lies)" didn't hit MTV until March) and then seemed to disappear. The band cleaned house, changed managers and implemented a near media blackout before taking off for Europe in what was perhaps a calculated move to sidestep the spotlight's glare.
"It felt fake and stupid to read about yourself all the time," Butler said. "We were sick of ourselves, so I don't know how other people couldn't be. It was easy for the whole experience to feel like eating a 10-gallon tub of ice cream when you really only wanted a bowl."
More important, they understood that too much success too soon destroys bands. "We'd all been in bands that had messy breakups," he said. "So we know just how delicate the whole thing was."
Formed by Butler and his wife, Régine Chassagne, in 2002, the Fire quickly enlisted multi-instrumentalist Richard Reed Parry, bassist Tim Kingsbury, Win's little brother Will on guitars, and eventually drummer Jeremy Gara and violinist Sarah Neufeld. The group named its debut Funeral after a series of loved ones died within a 10-month span.
After talking ad nauseum about the dearly departed and the Butler-Chassagne marriage in interviews, the group decided to let the music speak for itself. And a bunch of recently released new (and old) material does exactly that.
Sick of seeing its limited-edition 2003 EP being auctioned on eBay for exorbitant prices, the band re-released the eponymous seven-song disc (which included the live staple "No Cars Go"). And the Arcade Fire took time out from their busy touring schedule to hit Montreal in April to record with legendary producer Chris Thomas, who has worked with such Arcade Fire favorites as the Beatles, Roxy Music, Pink Floyd, Brian Eno and the Sex Pistols.
The sessions yielded the track "Cold Wind" for HBO's "Six Feet Under" and a cover of "Brazil" from filmmaker Terry Gilliam's 1985 dystopian classic. "At the time I saw 'Brazil,' it had huge emotional resonance," Butler said. "And I loved how Gilliam took this romantic song and thrust it into this really dark context. It fit with 'Cold Wind' because I heard both songs as sort of about summer but with a dark undercurrent."
The group has shot a surfeit of videos for Funeral's opening four-part "Neighborhood" suite: an animated clip for "Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)," another described as "strange and beautiful" for "Neighborhood #2 (Laika)," and one by director Lance Bangs (Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Belle & Sebastian, Pavement) for what will likely be the album's final single, "Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)."
Bangs has also been following the Fire on tour, shooting live performances for a DVD they hope to release next year that will also likely include music videos.
Having bought a small church in rural Quebec in which to build a studio, the band is scheduled to start work on a new album in late fall. New songs like "Winter for a Year," "Virgin Mary Highway" and "Burning Bridges, Breaking Hearts" have been played live during the past year, but Butler said it's too early to tell what will make the album. The group has no shortage of new material, including a song for band booster David Bowie.
"We'll see how it goes," Butler cautioned. "We're all super excited to cut ourselves off from the outside world and get recording. We missed this past winter while on tour, so it will be good to see some snow again."
After months in Europe, the Arcade Fire are ready to hit North America again. True to the one-month-at-a-time schedule they've adopted to stave off burnout, the band will play New York's Central Park SummerStage on September 15 and will wrap up the trek October 7 in Vancouver. Fellow Montrealers Wolf Parade and Bell Orchestre (an Arcade Fire side project) will open the non-festival shows.
North American Arcade Fire tour dates according to Merge records:
- 9/15 - New York, NY @ Central Park SummerStage
- 9/18 - San Francisco, CA @ SF Weekly Warfield
- 9/20 - Portland, OR @ Crystal Ballroom
- 9/21 - Seattle, WA @ Paramount Theatre
- 9/23 - Austin, TX @ Stubb's BBQ (w/ the Black Keys)
- 9/25 - Austin, TX @ Austin City Limits Music Festival
- 9/29 - Minneapolis, MN @ First Avenue
- 9/30 - Winnipeg, MB @ Burton Cummings Theater for Performing Arts
- 10/2 - Saskatoon, SK @ The Odeon
- 10/4 - Edmonton, AB @ Red's
- 10/5 - Calgary, AB @ MacEwan Hall
- 10/7 - Vancouver, BC @ TBD