I think there’s a fair share of people that just want the next thing so they can crap all over it and move on to the next new thing. But I think there are also a lot of people who really like music. And I think the people that are connecting to the music and connecting to the lyrics are the people we’re ultimately going to be involved with.
story by Don Bartlett
In the world of indie rock, where credibility is the local currency, hype has become a four-letter word. Win Butler is conscious of this fact, though it seems to amuse him more than concern him. His band The Arcade Fire has come storming out of a scene-stealing weekend at the CMJ Conference in New York City last month, and just in case anyone missed it, a feature-length story on the band in the New York Times got them up to speed. In the space of a few months, the band has morphed from obscure Montreal art-rockers into “the next big thing.” Chicago Innerview spoke with Butler as the band rolled out of New York, and he shared his thoughts on the privileges and perils of success.
At first glance this seems like a story we’ve all seen before. Bands like The Killers and Franz Ferdinand explode onto the scene seemingly out of thin air, and within months they’re in heavy rotation on MTV and dominate old-media standbys like Rolling Stone and Spin. While The Arcade Fire may find themselves at the beginning of a similar trajectory, the path they’ve taken to this point has been traveled quite on their own. Their home is Merge Records, the small but prestigious North Carolina label owned by Laura Balance and Mac McCaughan of the band Superchunk. Lacking the powerhouse marketing muscle of larger imprints, Merge has built its reputation by signing great musicians and letting them make music.
Given the lack of a major label marketing blitz, Butler seems justified in his defense of the building buzz. “Look, we’ve just done some live shows and put out a record,” Butler says. “It’s just some review sites that have been hyping it, and people who have been to the shows. It’s not like there’s some dude in a suit out there coming up with catchy slogans to get people to like it.”
In recording their debut LP, Funeral, The Arcade Fire made one important marketing decision….they created a brilliant album. Their unique blend of orchestral art-rock has built a following from word of mouth and near-universal critical acclaim. The record plays like a unique journey, leading the listener from the David Byrne intensity of “Neighborhood #2 (Laika)”, to the Brian Ferry sensitivity of “Une annee sans lumiere”. Surrounded by a unique brew of guitars, strings, xylophones and accordions, the lyrics are the cord that unexpectedly binds the album together.
Butler and his wife Regine Chassagne, who together handle most of the singing duties, approach the songs with a child-like innocence, infusing the music with a naïve honesty that would approach the corny if it were not pulled off so expertly. The result is refreshingly unpretentious, a magical realism that leaves the listener with the powerful catharsis that great art provides. As Butler explains, “It’s hard to tell what is connecting with people. I think the subject matter of a lot of the songs is different from typical rock fare. In a certain way, you’re trying to use surreal imagery to talk about something very real and scary.”
Translating this controlled chaos to a live setting is a challenge, but Butler feels confident that the soul of the music comes across. “We’ve always been most comfortable and felt that our music has the most impact in a live setting. And my experience is that when people see something they like [that] they are excited about it, they tell people about it. And that’s not hype, that’s the music.”
As he speeds off into the New York night, Butler is both realistic and optimistic about the future. “I think there’s a fair share of people that just want the next thing so they can crap all over it and move on to the next new thing. But I think there are also a lot of people who really like music. And I think the people that are connecting to the music and connecting to the lyrics are the people we’re ultimately going to be involved with.”
The Arcade Fire :: at Logan Square Auditorium (all ages) on November 25 :: and at Empty Bottle on November 26.