Burning Down the Nuthouse

Artist: Arcade Fire
Published: 2004-06-10

It's been said that the gap between reality and dementia is but a thimbleful. With this in mind, I welcome thee to the domain of the Arcade Fire, a wacko sextet out of Montreal that has been piloting a slowburn of underground praise the old fashioned way: one skull at a time.

Renown for their chaotic performances that typically feature enough orchestration to choke a tween, the band recently inked a deal with Merge Records—the Chapel Hill powerhouse run by the members of indie rawk stalwarts Superchunk.

"I was in the merchant marines with Spott, the manager at Merge, in the late 1990's," says Win Butler, mouthpiece and founder of the Arcade Fire. "I tell you, military service creates unbreakable bonds… like boarding school."

Butler, an American expat originally hailing from Texas, formed the Arcade Fire in 2002 after meeting his wife and current bandmate Regine Chassagne at an art exhibition. The duo soon began holding hands, writing songs and fleshing out an ensemble for the stage show. With Butler's brother Will, Tim Kingsbury, Richard Parry and Howard Bilerman in tow, the band is in the midst of a three-week US tour.

"This is our first proper tour," confirms Butler. "We had played a few disastrous shows in NYC and Boston, and a few really good ones too, and they keep getting better. I suggest that fledgling bands play a ton in their hometown and write music that people in other towns will want to hear repeated times. It took us three or four trips to Toronto for people to really warm up to us there, and now it's one of our favourite places to play. People are just scared to outwardly express that they're excited about something unless they've heard it a bunch of times or have someone from outside telling them to like it."

Indeed, simply hearing the Arcade Fire up until to this point has been a chore. With a mere self-produced EP (released eponymously in 2003) as the extent of the band's discography, the band has instead opted to cut its teeth on stage. The music of the Arcade Fire has drawn stiff comparisons to the dreamy soundscapes of Mercury Rev and Broken Social Scene but the cacophony of the band's instrumental empiricism truly sets them apart. Accordions are provoked and compressed, tambourines are slammed against upright drumsets, electric guitars gurgle and then die without warning. It's a spectacle that Butler feels the band has captured with their upcoming full-length Funeral, currently slated for an autumn release.

"I think our new recording captures pretty nicely how we sound live. At times, we may have dug ourselves into a hole with over-the-top instrumentation that will be hard to replicate but our live show is definitely a different beast from the EP that is currently available. The thing is, we're such a young band. Everyone expects you to do something groundbreaking all the time but it often takes years for an artist's recorded material to catch up with the spark you can see live. Just look at Bruce Springsteen or Tom Waits… or Natalie Imbruglia!"

With Funeral already receiving advanced hype on both sides of the border, it should be a blistering summer for the men and women of the Arcade Fire. Just don't expect Butler and company to buy in just yet. "There are things that are surprising to me about the way the record sounds, but who knows what people expect? There are some songs that people would probably be excited to hear in a club but then they might be sad or confused or uncomfortable if they really hear what the lyrics are saying. Of course, only 1,000 people in the world have heard of us so I actually don't think anybody is expecting anything really."

The Arcade Fire play Lee's Palace in Toronto on June 23rd. For more information, visit their official website at www.arcadefire.com

Writer: Cameron Gordon

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