The Arcade Fire is one of the exciting and inventive acts to come out in the few years. Inventive instrumentation, and plugs from people like David Bowie, made their debut album Funeral a Cinderella success story and overnight they became the next it band. And they've capitalized on that success and the freedom it has brought them to play odd venues for sheer joy of, to throw themselves into odd situations that feed the creative process. I called multi-instrumentalist Richard Reed Parry at his Montreal home the day he got back from a grueling European tour and, true to form, he was more than willing to shed some light on the band's creative motives and influences.
Your European tour schedule looked like a laundry list of summer festivals, that seems like a good way to see Europe as a band. Yeah we just got back from playing a ton of festivals. It's been a learning experience, and I'm not sure we're going to do it again. It was exhausting. We're learning what we can do and what it takes to perform and keep it fresh and interesting and not get burned out on what we're doing. Festival shows are great, but in a lot of ways their even more work than a regular show. You have no time in the space beforehand for sound checks or just to get a feel of the venue and really try to make it your own, and you have to fit, at least I feel like I have to fit everything I can into every second and it's really exhausting.
What did you come to learn about the new album while playing it on the road? Really I feel more like a human being doing a human activity day to day rather than recording an album. On that level you feel more aware of the body of work and the atmosphere and can better develop a body of work that envelops a listener and bringing it to people, you face to face with them on a nightly basis make the whole thing sit, as a body of work, inside of you better, it kind of brings it home. You don't feel like that when you make a record and put it out there. I find that you become more aware of the gestalt package – not package that's kind of a vulgar word – you just kind of become aware of the entire work when you play it all together rather than recording it in pieces. But it's a peaks and troughs kind of thing and it's really exciting to have the band learn that together and it's something that comes gradually and develops bit by bit as you tour. And then you go back and listen to the records as a musician and your body misses that element because you get to that part of the song and you go 'oh yeah it really lifts here,' and you notice it doesn't really lift there on the record and we only learned after we recorded it that it does, or should.
What have you learned specifically about Neon Bible by playing on the road? Well, we learned a lot about the work in the way that you do a lot of your learning about the art that you make in retrospect, I mean you write it and it's one thing and there's lots of things that are there because they feel right at the time and you start to have a little bit of a window into why they're there by playing.
Excited after playing these truncated festival sets, and having learned to actually play the songs off Neon Bible to come back to North America for a tour of your own? At this very moment, I got back yesterday from tour, so I don't feel excited about playing those songs at all (laughs) but I will when it comes time to do it. But in a global picture, yes, I am excited about doing it on our time in our own environments.
Despite the tragedy that informed Funeral, Neon Bible feels like a darker record, would you agree? I think it's a little more confrontational in an ideological way, in the presentation of certain ideas in a way that Funeral wasn't.
The song “Antichrist Television Blues” comes to mind. Yeah. Case in point. Yeah, that's a song that has a very specific point to prove and points a finger pertty directly, in a pretty specific direction at a pretty specific individual [Jessica and Ashlee Simpson's father Joe Simpson]. I feel like it's confrontational and is a kind of glove across the face. It uses a single person as a springboard to call a lot of people out on their potential actions. You use one dude who pimps out his daughters to make money as a focal point for pointing to society at large and pointing out that people are really sleazy to other people for personal gain.
How did the Take Away Show with director Vincent Moon on the French blogotheque.net came about? Well, once upon a time, we played our first show in Paris, and at the end of the show we out into the street singing and playing and went into this alleyway and some people came out and followed us, and Vincent Moon and been out front with his girlfriend before the show looking for tickets and, I didn't know them or anything, they seemed like really nice people and I wanted them to see the show so I snuck them in they were some of the people who followed us afterward. And I think that's how it started, he was like this is a great idea, let's have bands play in alleyways when they come through, or things like that and we can do interesting and weird little concerts that only happen once that a person would never get to see. And we didn't get to do an official one until the one in the elevator in Paris. We were trying to plan something on the street, we just decided in the last minute to do this thing in an elevator and then walk out into the crowd and play in the crowd.
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Are performances like that as magical for you as they seem as I sit and watch them in my cubicle? When it's good, it's good and you can feel that it's going to be really exciting. You know some things are going to be a kind of pain in the ass but really interesting and worth and you go for it. We did a similar thing that was really exciting for me when we were playing this series of concerts in these old churches in Montreal and in New York and London. One of the nights in London we went out into the crowd and played a Clash song -- “The Guns of Brixton” -- that we had learned just before the show. And it felt really exciting to be out in the crowd in the neighborhood where this song was written. Our friend filmed it and it turned out really beautifully. And that's one of the amazing things about the age that we're living in right now if people are paying attention right away you can watch it again quickly with the whole YouTube thing. And when you do some that feels exciting and you can watch it and say yup, that was exciting it is still exciting for us to watch afterward something that came together on the fly that could have fallen on its face but you really wanted to make it happen and made it happen is amazing.
Does that feed more work like that? It's not really about the feedback loop of doing it and then being able to watch it off of some dude's phone an hour later (laughs). Just doing it and having it feel really exciting is makes it like, 'yeah let's throw ourselves more curveballs and let's learn new songs on the fly and let's get in people's faces in new ways. We're just in such bizarre position that people are paying so much attention to this band and that can make things really exciting. But also, if we play “Wake Up” in the crowd one night and it's all over the internet the next day people are waiting for it, and that's not the point. The point is to do something that is spontaneous and takes us by surprise too. So that same feedback loop can take away some of the magic out of it and it stops being this ephemeral moment that is lived ... But, whatever. We're lucky enough to have this many people paying attention to what we do.
So the creative entrances to shows, playing in the crowd or the like, keeps you the band on their toes as well? The more you can break down the wall the better, we try to use the stage to the best of our ability and really respect the power in it, but we also like to get into people's faces and do a sort punk rock thing where the connection is there and you feel like there is something real going on.