Join Date: Aug 2000
Location: Soviet Canuckistan — Socialist paradise
Local Time: 02:49 AM
Another piece from my hometown paper. Forgive me for these long articles!
The Second Coming?
Arcade Fire's Neon Bible will be released tomorrow. Will superstardom follow?
T'CHA DUNLEVY, The Gazette
Published: Saturday, March 03, 2007
"Oh God said to Abraham, 'Kill me a son'
Abe says, 'Man, you must be puttin' me on'
God say, 'No.' Abe say, 'What ?'
God say, 'You can do what you want Abe, but
The next time you see me comin' you better run.'
Well Abe says, 'Where do you want this killin' done ?'
God says. 'Out on Highway 61.' "
Will Butler is reciting Bob Dylan. We are discussing the thematic thread of Neon Bible, Arcade Fire's hugely anticipated second full-length album, out Tuesday.
"It's not quite that cynical and despairing," said the keyboardist-guitarist, and brother of bandleader Win.
"But it's a little cynical and despairing.
I mention another singer-songwriter with a soft spot for the underdog: Bruce Springsteen. The Boss's aura can be felt in a few places on Neon Bible - on the upbeat Keep the Car Running and, more blatantly, on (Antichrist Television Blues). It's a surprising source of inspiration for a band weaned more on the no-wave art-rock of Talking Heads than everyman Americana.
"Springsteen ... is the poor man's Dylan," Butler replied.
"Basically, we just had this song that was sort of this rock 'n' roll, Cajun-beat song," he continued, referring to (Antichrist Television Blues), "and we didn't want to be scared of (comparisons).
"We didn't want to be scared to put it out there, when it's a really good song. It would be cool to hear the Violent Femmes do a version of that, though probably not these days."
What does it feel like to look into the eye of a hurricane? To see it coming - or rather, to know it's coming, then see it coming, then to stand at the outer limit of its pull, knowing you are about to get sucked in?
This, one would imagine, is what it has been like to be a member of Arcade Fire over the past 15 months, watching the sequel to the group's own date with destiny come over the horizon with a "whoosh!" and steadfastly hunt it down.
Today - two days from the European and three from the North American release of Neon Bible - the little Montreal band that could, can, has and will is about as close as you can get to the edge of the storm, and is feeling the pull.
Or not. Hard to say. Reached at the end of January, as Arcade Fire was about to embark on its tri-city tour de hype (five intimate, extremely sold-out and much written-about shows each in London, Montreal and New York), Butler either had nerves of steel, was in denial or, to borrow a Bull Durham baseball adage, was truly "just happy to be here."
"I'm not really feeling the buildup," he said, innocently. "I'm just ready to play."
By now he and his bandmates have played, and how. Their London and New York shows drew rave reviews (although the New York Times gave them a lukewarm reception). The Montreal dates were nothing short of awe-inspiring. The group launches a month-long European tour in Dublin on Monday, and then returns to North America for over a month of shows (including two nights at Montreal's Maurice Richard Arena, on May 12 and 13). High-profile dates include the Coachella and T in the Park music festivals, this spring and summer.
What was a buzz is fast becoming a roar. Arcade Fire has orchestrated a flawlessly enthralling campaign of suspense around Neon Bible. Song leaks, a YouTube skit (by the band itself), a 1-800 number and Neon Bible website (each offering visitors a series of options, all playing up the title's cultish connotations), and the above-mentioned trio of sold-out runs.
It has all built up in a crescendo of excitement and expectation, the likes of which would make the most savvy marketing guru foam at the mouth.
Not that any of this was intentional, of course.
"We're taking a bit of a scattershot approach to (the promotion of the album)," Butler said, denying the existence of a master plan - and downplaying the self-fulfilling prophecy of near-religious fervour surrounding Neon Bible.
"What is (the title) about?" he asked, repeating my question. "I don't know. Is it about anything as a whole? Uh ... I don't know. ... It's not like a real ... It's definitely got an air of ... We watched a lot of TV preachers, get-rich-quick schemes on YouTube, but mostly in the later stages, once we had decided to call it Neon Bible."
The recording process began the way work on any life-changing, career-catapulting second album does, with one of the world's most talked-about indie rock bands taking a break, looking to get away from it all and make some new music.
The group's full-length debut, Funeral, had brought it around the world, garnering accolades from all corners, fans in high places (insert your rock god name-drop here) and selling over a half-million copies along the way.
In December 2005, having just capped the journey by opening for U2 for two sold-out nights at the Bell Centre, Arcade Fire set up camp at an old church in the Eastern Townships.
"We knew we wanted our own space," Butler said.
"Regine (Chassagne, multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, co-songwriter and wife of Win) saw an ad for a church for sale. ... There are pros and cons to being out of the city. You definitely get distracted a lot less. In town, you go for coffee, dinner, have friends over; you don't work as intensely. The downside (to being out of the city) is you stay inside all the time. There's nothing to do outside of the studio."
Which creates an appropriately intense environment to record an emotionally charged album.
"We were all in the same room," Butler said. "It definitely affected how the record came out. ... We could fit a bunch of things in a circle. (Violinist and collaborator) Owen Pallett had lent us his little pump organ. And we had a piano. We would just get in a circle and play."
How many songs they recorded is anyone's guess. According to Win's diary on the Arcade Fire website, they posted more than 100 songs on MySpace under fake band names, compiling the album's final track list from the most popular songs. Truth or myth?
"You'll just have to search MySpace and see what you find," Butler said, coyly.
What is true, he went on, is that they set out with two songs - a reworking of their utopian, early-career anthem No Cars Go, the second-to-last track on Neon Bible; and what would become the album opener, Black Mirror.
"Black Mirror was definitely the starting point," he said. "We knew it was really good, but that it wouldn't be the whole album. It's really dark. We didn't want a totally dark record. But we knew we wanted it to be sort of ominous - like a big, ominous steamboat."
And so the good ship Arcade Fire set course. Neon Bible, like Funeral, is about searching for light in the darkness, sense amid the nonsense, meaning to the everyday struggle.
It's a valiant battle, one that Win Butler wages with a balance of vulnerability and resolve. Rumble and static bookend Black Mirror, adding to the sinister tone. "Beware the dark side," we can almost hear Yoda warn.
No Cars Go begins with a flutter of Disney-esque flutes, horns and strings. "We know a place where no planes go," Win sings over soaring, noodling guitars.
"We considered not putting it on the album," Butler said of the song. "But we knew it would be a release. ... The idea was to not try to kill the listener. We tried to end on a hopeful note."
Another unlikely source of inspiration was the King. The waltzing coda of The Well and the Lighthouse and the bare-bones torch song My Body Is a Cage (which closes the album) both bring to mind Elvis Presley.
"We had one mic that we called the Elvis mic," Butler said, "a classic silver box-mic with lines on it. There were no attempts at mimicry, but some classic old slap delay always sounds good."
Neon Bible is rife with references. Like Funeral, the album often sounds instantly classic - like great, timeless music, even when hearing it for the first time. These songs fill the heart, and stir the soul.
It is dangerous to make grand proclamations, but it's hard to shake a premonition. The smart money says this Arcade Fire thing could get mighty big - much bigger than it already has. How comfortable is the band with the prospect of superstardom?
"As long as it's easy to be huge," Butler said, "to be big musically and stay a real human being; as long as that's one of our goals.
"Who knows, maybe it's impossible. ... But that's my naive belief. If you do something really awesome, and people are relating to it, the rest will take care of itself.
"Maybe it will come to a point where we have to sell our soul. And it will be like, 'Okay, I guess I won't then.' We'll burn that bridge when we come to it."
Arcade Fire performs May 12 and 13 at Maurice Richard Arena. The shows are sold out. For more on the band, go to www.arcadefire.com.