In­flammable ma­te­rial

Ar­cade Fire are back with al­bum num­ber four and they’re burn­ing brighter than ever, they tell Jim Car­roll

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FRONT PAGE -

Jeremy Gara can clearly re­mem­ber when Ar­cade Fire’s adventures for the last al­bum came to a close. It was a free show for 75,000 peo­ple in the heart of the band’s home city in Septem­ber 2011 and Gara cy­cled to the show at the Place des Fes­ti­vals.

“That was such a nice mo­ment, to end in Mon­treal,” says the the lo­qua­cious drum­mer. “I re­mem­ber rid­ing my bike to the show, play­ing the show and then rid­ing down­town to meet up with some friends. Then we took a lit­tle bit of a break be­fore a bunch of us started writ­ing songs and play­ing mu­sic.”

That was the jump be­tween their last al­bum The Sub­urbs and Re­flek­tor, the sprawl­ing new dou­ble-al­bum that is the re­sult of the band hun­ker­ing down in Mon­treal and tak­ing some di­rec­tion from out­side voices.

As the band pre­pare to re­lease the al­bum, they know that all eyes are on them. Since Ar­cade Fire an­nounced them­selves with Fu­neral in 2004, they have swiftly be­come one of rock’s big­gest tick­ets. They’re now a band who are both em­i­nently fas­ci­nat­ing in terms of what they pro­duce on record and a group who con­sis­tently pro­vide vis­ceral live thrillers. Few do it bet­ter – and few have the al­bum and ticket sales to back that up.

Re­flek­tor, Gara says, is “pretty much all over the place”, re­flect­ing a state of mind which seemed to have time for this, that and the other.

“There are a cou­ple of re­ally heavy rhyth­mic tracks, there are a cou­ple of sprawl­ing Pink Floyd songs and there’s a grunge song,” is Gara’s re­view of the new al­bum. “Over­all, there are many more rhyth­mic el­e­ments in the fore­ground of this record than any of the pre­vi­ous ones. It’s not just a disco record, it’s not that one-sided.”

It took the band roughly a year-and-a-half to go from start to com­ple­tion. Gara notes that the band were more or less work­ing all the time. “The goal th­ese days is that there’s not much time off, that there’s not much time be­tween fin­ish­ing a tour and be­ing on tour again.

“The ideal is to be al­ways work­ing. It gets crazy when you have this hard, de­fined life be­tween band life and non-band life. If my whole brain is in tour and band mode and all of a sud­den, it’s gone from my life for six months, it’s re­ally jar­ring.”

That doesn’t leave too much time for side-projects or solo runs. “Ar­cade Fire is a huge chunk of life, but we all have dif­fer­ent projects that we try to stay in­volved in. There’s al­ways some­thing on the go out­side of it, be it mu­sic or some­thing else. It’s healthy. I’m al­ready fairly one-di­men­sional, but I’d be re­ally sad oth­er­wise.

“I haven’t been do­ing as much out­side of this in the last lit­tle while, but I’ve played with my friend Michael Feuer­stack from here for the last 15 years and I helped him mix his record.”

There’s also a cov­ers band that some Ar­cade Fire mem­bers play in. “It’s called Phi Slamma Jamma and it’s kind of ridicu­lous, but it’s fun. When we came to track­ing and record­ing this al­bum, we re­alised that we were in shape and play­ing well to­gether so the cov­ers band kind of helps with all those jams.”

Jam­ming is pretty much how Re­flek­tor came about, with the band spend­ing a lot of time in their Mon­treal stu­dio play­ing, play­ing and play­ing again. While it’s a dou­ble-al­bum, Gara says this wasn’t the orig­i­nal plan. “We thought we’d cut just cut out four or five tracks from the ones we’d recorded and make a su­per-short al­bum. We knew we had some re­ally long dance-y songs so we thought about do­ing a five-track al­bum that was about 40 min­utes long.

“Of course, when we put it all to­gether, we thought it was too long, but we didn’t want to leave any­thing out so that’s why it’s a dou­ble al­bum in the end.”

This time around, Ar­cade Fire took ad­vice and sound­ings from out­side voices. There was Mar­cus Dravs, who worked on all their al­bums bar the de­but, and there was also James Mur­phy, late of LCD Soundsys­tem.

“Mar­cus is awe­some and he has had his two cents for a while. Then we brought in James and let him have a go on the songs he re­sponded to, while Mar­cus worked on the songs he re­sponded to and we took ev­ery­one’s opin­ion to heart. Each of them got their claws into half of the songs to vary­ing de­grees of pro­duc­tion, from just hav­ing an opin­ion to ac­tively work­shop­ping the

“This time, early on, we de­cided that hav­ing some­one else’s opin­ion would let us open up a bit and push us in a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion”

song, like ‘I want you to only play the snare dur­ing this song’.”

For Ar­cade Fire, this must have been a big thing.

“Slowly, we’ve re­alised it’s OK to give a lit­tle,” notes Gara. “At the start, it was all ‘no, you can’t do that, we con­trol ev­ery­thing, no­body can in­flu­ence us, we’re the boss’. We were very pre­cious. This time, early on, we de­cided that hav­ing some­one else’s opin­ion would let us open up a bit and push us in a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion. We’d still con­trol when the fin­ish­ing line ap­peared, but we de­vi­ated a lit­tle be­cause of out­side influences.”

He be­lieves those other voices brought some fresh per­spec­tives to the mu­sic. “There’s so much di­verse opin­ion al­ready in our group that we’re kind of full when it comes to opin­ion! But this time, we de­cided to try it and see if it worked. We’ve talked about work­ing with James for years and he’s very vo­cal and opin­ion­ated so let’s try it and see what he has to say. It worked be­cause we were open to him hav­ing his say and the ex­per­i­men­ta­tion, which was re­ally new to us.”

None­the­less, Gara stresses that the buck still stops with the band. “We re­alise that we are the boss and al­ways will be the boss, but hav­ing some­one else helps us do we want to do. I would say we never give up the di­rec­tor’s chair and will al­ways have the last say.

“Record­ing the al­bum wasn’t stress­ful. It flowed, it was fun, we got it done. The last few weeks, though, have been su­per-stress­ful be­cause we want to have an opin­ion and the last word on ev­ery­thing that’s hap­pen­ing around our band.”

Ar­cade Fire are pretty nifty when it comes to ideas to pro­mote their mu­sic. Pre­vi­ously, there were in­no­va­tions such as The Wilder­ness Down­town, an ex­per­i­men­tal short for We Used to Wait us­ing HTML5 tech­nol­ogy and Google Chrome. There was also another short film, Scenes from the Sub­urbs, di­rected by Spike Jonze.

Most of th­ese ideas, says Gara, come from

the band sit­ting around and just shoot­ing the breeze. “We might meet up an hour be­fore re­hearsals and sit around brain­storm­ing. We’re do­ing a half-hour TV spe­cial af­ter­wards and that came from that process, just sit­ting around and talk­ing. ‘Let’s do a va­ri­ety show on TV, man’. One per­son might have an idea and the rest of us will just flesh it out.

“This time around, more than be­fore, we’re try­ing to get the ideas ac­tu­ally done. Usu­ally we achieve about five per cent of the ideas be­cause they’re just lo­gis­ti­cally in­sane or too ex­pen­sive or what­ever. This time, we’re say­ing ‘let’s just do it, why not?’”

What comes next for Ar­cade Fire is a re­sump­tion of tour­ing to plug the be­jay­sus out of the new al­bum. While the band have been hugely suc­cess­ful to date, Gara says there haven’t been too many changes as a re­sult.

“Life hasn’t re­ally changed. I’m ob­vi­ously a lot more fi­nan­cially com­fort­able – all of us are – and I’ve a mort­gage on a house which I might not be able to do if I was still play­ing in the punk bands I was play­ing in 10 years ago. But other than that, life goes on. I bike to the stu­dio, I bike to the gig at the arena.

There are, though, some neg­a­tives. “As the band grows,” says Gara, “a lit­tle bit of fame and celebrity creeps in on the out­side, which is a game we don’t play or have any in­ter­est in. It’s a con­ver­sa­tion and a world we try not to have any­thing to do with.

“You sort of have to want that and we don’t, though we do walk that line a lit­tle. It’s fun to use a lit­tle bit of that world to make peo­ple hear our mu­sic. The goal is for peo­ple to hear and ap­pre­ci­ate the mu­sic.

“But even nav­i­gat­ing a lit­tle bit of that is not fun. I cer­tainly don’t feel like I’ve com­pro­mised my soul in any way. I’m not part of that world. I can still go to the same places I’ve been go­ing to for 10 years and no­body cares about me or what I do. That’s great for me”.

Re­flek­tor is out to­day and is re­viewed on page 14

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