Success Challenges Arcade Fire

March 18, 2007


With the release of its second album "The Neon Bible" and a string of sold-out shows across the United States, Montreal's Arcade Fire is the most successful indie-rock band on the music scene today.

According to drummer Jeremy Gara, the biggest challenge for singers and songwriters Win Butler and Regine Chassagne and fellow musicians Richard Parry, William Butler, Tim Kingsbury and Sarah Neufeld is ignoring the expectations of fans, the press and the industry to concentrate on what matters most: making lush, gorgeous but rhythmically motivating orchestral pop music.

I spoke with Gara by phone from Canada before the start of the tour that brings the band to a three-night stand at the Chicago Theatre this weekend.

Q. When I interviewed Win in the midst of the tour supporting "Funeral," he seemed overwhelmed by all the attention. How did that affect all of you?

A. The momentum kept going, so we didn't dwell on it for too long. When you stop and go home for a while, that's when you really start to think about it, but we just were on the road. The first show was the record release party in Montreal, and it was huge! We kept rationalizing everything: "Well, we're at home in Montreal. Of course it's going to be big." But mid-tour, the shows started getting bumped to bigger venues, and that's when we played with David Bowie.

Q. Tell me about making "The Neon Bible."

A. Well, we finished the tour and then went right into the studio and started recording. We just lived in the studio, setting up bedrooms and stuff, and basically jammed.

A whole new set of stresses came up because we didn't have day jobs and there wasn't that normal pressure of being limited by financial resources and having to make an album in a certain amount of time. It really took a long time, and we weren't focused; if we set a deadline, then we'd be focused the week before the deadline and just [mess] around for a month!

Q. Was there pressure to top "Funeral"?

A. To be honest, not really. We really didn't talk about it until midway through the process, when it became clear that we had to think about that a little bit just in terms of business decisions. When "Funeral" came out, it was like, "Merge is going to press 10,000 copies and we'll see if we can sell them." Now, it's like, "We actually have to sign papers and allocate money because setting up the studio, recording an album and pressing 500,000 copies is really expensive!" Still, the main thing in the back of our minds was, "No matter how good this record is, it's a sophomore album, and people are going to treat it as such!"

Q. There is a much darker vibe running through "The Neon Bible." At what point did the lyrical themes about organized religion, warfare and hypocrisy gel? Were these issues on everyone's minds?

A. Pretty much. Win and Regine write all of the lyrics, so the influence that the rest of us have is just like talking over coffee. Since we're always together, we share the same TV shows on our computers and we're in the same realm of awareness as far as what's going on in the world. I think the reason this album feels a little more worldly is because we were on tour together for so long, and we weren't as attached to any one news source. Reading the papers and watching TV in all of these different cities, you get a sense of the world a bit more, and that couldn't help but influence Win's writing.


Arcade Fire rhythms start with the song

Drummer Jeremy Gara joined Arcade Fire after the recording of 2004's "Funeral," but just in time for the endless tours supporting that disc. Since much of the band's appeal stems from its rollicking grooves -- with everyone banging on percussion instruments at times -- I asked about the origins of those crazy rhythms.

"People in the band have such strong opinions about the rhythms. When Regine comes to us with a song, a lot of times there is already a drum thing in mind. I love being told exactly what to do, and it's sort of challenging, because a lot of the things that I'm doing in the band aren't natural to me at all. My natural tendency is, 'Let's make it as complicated as possible, and it'll be really cool when it becomes ingrained.' But nine times out of 10, the better move is to simplify.

"A couple of us have the tendency to really go overboard, but you don't want a cymbal bashing through all of the songs. There is no room for it, because there's already eight to 10 other people playing. The emphasis with the rhythms is no-frills, slightly obtuse, but at the very core it's 'keep the song together.' It's fun, but I can't really take a ton of credit for it: Win and Regine have the songs in their heads, and the whole writing process for us is learning how to communicate that to each other."


 7:30 tonight (with St. Vincent); Saturday and Sunday (with Electrelane)
 Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State
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