Arcade Fire has its heart on its sleeve
Fame has its price, but for Richard Reed Parry it’s not the loss of his privacy. When the Georgia Straight reaches the Arcade Fire multi-instrumentalist on his cellphone, he’s walking down a busy Montreal street, untroubled by paparazzi or autograph-seekers. His anonymity, it seems, is secure, despite the fact that his band, which first broke big in 2005, has recently achieved superstar status.
But today, something is bothering him—and it’s not that his fellow pedestrians don’t know or care that there’s a rock star in their midst. Instead, he’s concerned with the nonstop activity that has accompanied Arcade Fire’s rise to the top. With the recent release of the band’s third full-length, The Suburbs, Parry’s next year has already been plotted out, and it’s a grid of tour dates, TV sessions, and interviews, leaving him little time to play with his postrock instrumental combo, Bell Orchestre, or work on the many other musical opportunities that used to come his way.
“For me, personally, I was always someone who did lots of different things, musically, and this one happened to gather a lot of steam and turn into this really popular thing,” he explains. “So, for sure, it’s a challenge for me to get my hands into as many different things as I’d like to.
“But that said,” he adds, “it’s also a real blessing to have this kind of calling card that enables you to do all sorts of things that you wouldn’t necessarily have had easy access to before.”
Parry had better get used to both sides of his increasingly high-profile occupation, for The Suburbs looks set to cement Arcade Fire’s reputation as the voice of its generation, in much the same way that obvious influences U2 and Bruce Springsteen were for theirs.
On the new disc, chief songwriter Win Butler looks, unsurprisingly, at sprawl and the sense of dislocation that often accompanies growing up in a populous non-place. His is a bittersweet task. As Parry notes, “The goal isn’t to condemn or to criticize. It’s more to examine, in all honesty, the way things seem at a certain time and place.”
It’s also a complex one. Like any proper work of art, The Suburbs lends itself to multiple readings, and it’s certainly possible to see Butler’s subtext as the social consequences of another teeming and ill-defined location: the Internet.
Parry agrees. “Sure, absolutely,” he says. “And again, it’s not just targeting the thing as a crappy institution: it’s more about just living with it, and talking about it, and just looking at it, really.”
Beyond that, though, he doesn’t have much to say about the new disc’s lyrical themes or what’s been on his bandleader’s mind. In fact, Parry seems positively relieved to return to some of the possibilities his relatively newfound fame have opened up for him—and we’re not just talking about playing upright bass with the National on Vevo.
“I got invited to write a piece for the Kronos Quartet a couple of springtimes ago, which I did,” he reveals, obviously excited at the idea of collaborating with the world’s leading avant-garde string ensemble. “And then I got to write a piece for the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony, sort of on the same conceptual ground as the Kronos thing.
“There’s a series of compositions that I’ve been working on, all involving the human heartbeat, with all the performers wearing stethoscopes and all the performances being regulated by the individual heartbeats of the performers,” he adds. “It’s really amazing to get asked to do things like that, not having really paid my dues in the composition world.”
Apparently the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony has plans to release his minimalistic For Heart and Breath and Orchestra on disc, alongside pieces by Bjí¶rk collaborator Nico Muhly and Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood. As the budding composer notes, that’s “pretty nice company to keep”.
Other matters of the heart have been occupying Arcade Fire of late, especially since January’s earthquake in Haiti. Singer and multi-instrumentalist Régine Chassagne is of Haitian descent, and she’s helped make relief for the Caribbean nation a band priority—another undertaking that celebrity has helped rather than hindered.
“We’ve been doing this thing where we’re taking a dollar from every ticket that we sell and donating that directly to this organization, Partners in Health, that’s on the ground in rural Haiti, as well as in areas of Africa and South America that are in disastrous circumstances,” Parry explains.
“It’s just a really great, really effective organization: really stripped-down and bare bones, but extremely, extremely effective in the way that it works. So it’s nice, as a focal point, to be able to do that, and to feel like we’re supporting good work in that realm.”
So much the better, then, that Arcade Fire will be busy on the road for the next few months. Parry’s Bell Orchestre fans will have to wait a little longer for that band’s next full-length—but in the interim, Haitian kids have to eat.
Arcade Fire plays the Pacific Coliseum on Tuesday (September 28).