Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Arcade Fire 04: Tim & Richie

More Arcade Fire files from the summer of 04, just before the release of Funeral, all conducted for this Exclaim cover story. As always, I'd recommend reading that before diving into the ubergeek fest that are the unedited transcripts.

These conversations took place at a time when they had no idea who would respond to Funeral, or how or why. Opening a U.S. tour for the Unicorns was the biggest thing that had happened to them. There's a innocence to this time, before every interview focused on how they were dealing with their success, before every question focused on everything except the music itself. That said, even know I know them all personally, there's always a guarded hesitancy when the microphone is turned on. Much of what you read yesterday and today was accompanied by plenty of second guessing, qualifiers and long pauses. It makes sense that a band who puts great care into every little thing they do wants to make sure they get it right before they go on the record.

Having been lucky enough to receive a copy of Neon Bible today, it's immediately apparent that there will be plenty more musical discussions, not media ones, to be sparked in the coming months. It's just as dense, dark and joyous as Funeral, with mountains of sonic detail that make each successive listen more rewarding than the last. I'll hold off on saying any more until I get a full grip on it.

In the meantime, today's chat is with Tim Kingsbury and Richard Reed Parry. Both are multi-tasking instrumentalists, both deserve credit for helping rescue the Arcade Fire after it seemed like the whole project was in peril. Richard also leads the instrumental band Bell Orchestre, with AF's Sarah Neufeld and sometime AF sideman Pietro Amato. Before Arcade Fire, Tim and Richie used to play in a band called the New International Standards; Tim has slowly been working on a new solo project when time permits.




Arcade Fire

Tim Kingsbury and Richard Reed Parry

August 10, 2004

Locale: La Sala Rossa dining room, Montreal

How did you both meet Win and Regine and get involved?

T: Richie met them first.

R: I almost lived with Win. I answered a roommate ad he put up, which read: ‘I found a great place above a bar which means you can make a lot of noise all the time.’ I called him, but it was too late. Later on I met him through his friend Josh [Deu]. At that point, Josh, Win and another friend of theirs were the Arcade Fire.

Did you ever see that incarnation play?

R: No, I kept missing them.

T: Didn’t you see them once in class, or something? And you were not that impressed?

R: Oh, that’s right. They played in my electronic art class, and I thought, who are these American assholes? It was Tim Kyle, Josh and Win. They were supposed to be doing an interactive electronic art presentation; Josh was in my class. Instead, he called in his buddies to sing a folk song, that I didn’t like very much, on acoustic guitars. The electronic portion was that they had these Christmas lights that blinked at a certain part of the song and a non-working video installation of a video Win had made. I was really unimpressed.

When did you become impressed?

R: We became more friendly when they came to see the band I had with Tim, the New International Standards, and one by one they told us they liked it. Then I saw them at a loft show, and it was great—really great, it kind of freaked me out how much I liked it. I was sick for a few days after that. It was a matinee show at a loft above Barfly.

Tim: The same thing had happened to me a few weeks before that. It was Win, Regine, Brendan [Reed], Dane [Mills] and Myles [Broscoe]. Anita [Fust] was playing harp when I saw them. I was totally shocked at how much I liked it. It was way quieter than it is now, and there was no real P.A. at this loft. Win was singing through his guitar amp. Brendan was really striking to me; he and Regine were really fun to watch. And Win was hard to ignore. [all laugh] And I had the songs in my head afterwards, which doesn’t happen often.

How long were the New International Standards around and who was in it?
T: That was about two and a half years. It was the two of us and Annesley [Black] and a rotating line-up of drummers, including Mike Feuerstack. This guy named Juan knew how to play Latin beats really well—all the Latin beats that the New International Standards ever needed to know. [laughs]

How would you describe it? At all similar to Arcade Fire?

T: Not really, no. It was mostly Annesley and my songs, a couple of Richard’s. It was pretty mellow, pop.

R: But not, also. [awkward pause, laughs] It was not unrelated to the Wooden Stars. We’d get that comparison a lot.

T: I was on tour with Aaron Booth and the New International Standards stopped being a band.

Were both of you there when Arcade Fire recorded in Maine?

R: Theoretically I was just there recording, but I ended up playing on everything.

T: Later that fall I’d wanted to get something together again. Royal City was playing at La Sala Rossa with Broken Social Scene, and I wanted to play the show. I emailed Lisa [Moran of Three Gut Records] to see if I could do a solo set or get a band together. I was talking to Win, and he had wanted to play it as well. We agreed that we would do it together, doing a few of my songs and the rest Arcade Fire songs. We ended up playing one of my songs. [all laugh] It was only because of lack of practice. It was way easier for me to learn Arcade Fire songs, which I already knew.

That was their first show in six months, wasn’t it?

T: Yeah, their first since the summer. About six months before the CD release when the band broke up.

R: After I got home from that summer, I took a break from hanging out with them. It was when Bell Orchestre started being more of a band. We had existed previously, just doing music for dance performances, but we decided to just be a normal band for a while. Then I saw that show with Royal City, and I’d forgotten how much I loved their music. Before that, my saturation point hit in the summer. The band was a mess in Maine, it was a total disaster. Too much intensity. There were two halves of the band that weren’t talking to each other, and I was the only one talking to both. It was not was I was expecting.

Was it a productive month?

R: In a way.

T: They ended up doing a lot of work when they got back, though. They did overdubs for two or three months and mixing and everything.

R: Compared to how productive it could have been, it wasn’t that productive at all. But we didn’t really have a plan, either. We cobbled together some gear but it wasn’t functional at all, like we didn’t have speakers to listen to what we were recording, so we ran it through guitar amps. It was technically half-assed, and the relationships were skewed and not very healthy.

Was the Casa show in March, 2003 the first time you played with them?

R: I think so.

T: That was the first time I saw you with them.

What do you remember about that show?

[nervous laughter]

T: Being scared, and feeling sick at the end. It was a pretty big deal how many people were there. There was so much tension in the band then.

Had it been building since the summer?
T: It was pretty complicated. I don’t know how much I should say on the record because it’s not my place to say.

What I remember was that the room was so full, that unless you were in the first 10 rows of people at the front, you probably didn’t see what happened. People at the back were all going nuts, and everyone at the front was stunned. I was talking to Win and Regine this morning about the state of the band at that time, and it seems like right after that everything started falling in place.

T: That was right when Will [Butler] got here. That was the first show he played with us.

R: So the three of us were the new band.

T: We played a few shows with Dane and Brendan, but it melted down. Win had already decided to dissolve the band at that point. We did a couple more shows, but Brendan and Dane didn’t make it to all of them.

Was there a point when you felt like things were in place?

T: Around then, Richie, me, Win and Regine felt more like a unit. We didn’t have a drummer, but after not too much longer it felt like there was a new base.

What made you both want to be in the band and commit to it, when you both had other things you could have done? Or were still doing?

R: I’ve always liked playing with Win and Regine. At the time when New International Standards were still happening, there were a bunch of times when me and Tim would just go over and jam. It was fun. It wasn’t consciously forming a band. It was more enjoyable just to dick around and play rock music. There were so many ideas flying around, and it felt good—which it doesn’t always, playing rock music. It can often be a fate worse than death, in some ways, trying to start a rock band from nowhere. It can feel so silly.

T: I found the Arcade Fire challenging in a way that playing with other people has never been. Often I’d play something and be happy with it and look around and no one else would be nearly as excited as I was. I’d just shrug and move on, and eventually I’d find something way better than what I would have originally settled on.

R: I felt the same thing.

Do you think it pushes you in ways that Bell Orchestre doesn’t?

R: It’s totally different. Bell Orchestre doesn’t happen if I’m not there. Arcade Fire will happen if I’m not there. It’s not my baby. I love it and it’s become a big part of my life, but I didn’t start it.

Something that’s always struck me about this band, and knowing you personally, is that Win and Regine have extremely high standards and are very hard on themselves, always pushing to be better.

T: Definitely. Musically, for sure.

R: All of us are aware of the lack of… I don’t want to come across as a dickhead, but there’s not much…

T: Careful, Richie!

R: Everybody really wants to be doing something really good. Everybody’s not just there to play rock shows for the sake of playing rock shows. Everyone really, truly wants to do something really special.

That comes through in the passion of the performance. You’re not a band who just sets up and plays and stares at their shoes, and there’s no ironic distance—‘hey, we’re putting on a rock show.’ Right from the opening notes, it’s always a real show. And I love watching the audience watch you, especially if they’re seeing you for the first time.

T: It is a spectacle. The band definitely has a unique physical presence: the tall red-headed kid with the wide open mouth beating his drum; the tall blond-headed Texan who is scaring the hell out of everyone in the room; the shorter Haitian-French girl who’s dancing around and being really intense… I don’t even think I stand out very much. I’m just the guy who looks like he’s trying to keep the bass line going.

R: You’re the least outlandish.

The choir boy who stumbled into the chaos.

T: The songs, too. We often start with ‘Wake Up,’ with this Atlanta Braves kind of thing, which we’re singing at the top of our lungs and it’s kinda hard to ignore.

R: It’s kinda like ‘We Will Rock You,’ really.

Is it draining?

T: I feel it’s energizing. When we start that song—and I know Win feels this way all the way through the set sometimes—but I feel like I’m gonna barf.

R: At Hillside I almost puked or cried during that.

T: But it’s fun. I love it. I hope it will energize people a bit. It’s easy to go to a show and watch it and be bored or think it’s nice. I’ve been to shows like Calexico, where the music filled me up and made me want to go home and create something. I’d love to be able to do that. [ed note: Calexico's horn section guests on Neon Bible]

R: The shows where the music is an emotional catalyst, that’s the best thing—when you come home from a show and feel like you can climb a building. If one person in the audience is super inspired to go off on their own and do something exciting, it would make my day.

I know some of you come from religious backgrounds, and the music has a stirring, spiritual side. How does that play into it, if at all?

[long pause]

R: Whew! Them’s deep waters.

T: From talking to Win, one thing that he feels strongly is that death is very real. He incorporates that into his songs. He’s pretty scared of the idea of sitting around and not doing anything, of following a spirit that will ultimately lead to nothing. That’s where a lot of the lyrics come from. Even the theme of the record—a lot of it is Win’s ideas.

R: On a conscious level I share that, which is part of the reason I’m in this band. I know that’s a big idea for Win, but it’s a huge idea for me. On a conscious or unconscious level, I’m sure it is for everyone. There was a specific point for me where you’re really engaged with the idea that you’re going to die, and now what are you going to do? It’s easy to go through life and not fully engage with that.

T: I think it comes across in everything you do. You can tell when people are on fire with something. For me, there have been points in my life when I’ve been writing songs but I didn’t feel like my heart was in the right place. It’s easy to get stuck in a routine or a habit. I think part of what this band is about is actively avoiding that state.

R: In terms of what makes the live show happen, this is kind of an obvious thing, but everyone in the band has specifically been very inspired by certain music, really inspired, and as long as you have had that little spark in the past, it’s almost a natural thing that you want to pass that on. You want to show that.

Is it hard to maintain that every night on tour?

R: Not really. I still feel like we’re coming from the same place at every show.

T: Sometimes, but usually it’s just due to tension in the band or some dumb thing will throw you off that’s discouraging. It’s not hard to get it back.

R: I think what I was trying to say before is that I think everyone in this band has been profoundly been inspired by a musical moment or another, enough that they have to make something special happen themselves.

It sounds a bit evangelical.

R: In a weird way, yeah. That’s the nature of any quasi-spiritual or inspirational moment. It doesn’t really let go of you. You have to put some of that back into the world.

Are you happy with the record?

Both: Yeah.

I got the impression that if Merge hadn’t imposed a deadline that you’d still be working on it.

T: I’m really, really glad Merge gave us a deadline.

R: I listened to it today all the way through, and thought, ‘Oh, god.’ There’s so much I wanted to change or do better. But I’m still happy with it.

What did you learn about touring with the Unicorns last month?

T: One thing that was inspiring to me was that the first time I saw them, I didn’t care at all. I thought they were an awful band! Musically, I thought, ‘What the hell is going on?’ I always thought some things were cool, and Nick and Alden have always been great. But touring has turned them into an amazing band. They play so well and have such a good energy, which I think came from touring, and that gives me hope for us. There are certain things about us that are unrefined, and could use some refining.

And you’re going to learn that from the Unicorns?!
T: I know, it’s pretty funny!

How was Mergefest for you?

T: Great. It was funny having Lou Barlow open up for us. I’m sure it was just because he didn’t have a band, but still, what the hell? He was really into it, really encouraging.

As the new band there, did you feel like the new grandkids crashing the family reunion?

R: We were like the new adopted kids from the foreign country, but everyone was extremely welcoming. I was really inspired by how family-like the whole thing was. Seeing the Superchunk show—seeing the hundreds and hundreds of people who love them and know every word and have clearly been there for them for so long, that was beautiful. And Superchunk being there 20 years later or whatever was really inspiring. Everybody there totally believes in what they’re doing and they love the music.

[only super geeky folk or official biographers dare read the rest]

I just have some final fact-checking questions. Tim, how long were you in Gentleman Reg’s band?

T: Oh, that was a long time ago. I don’t even know. It was me and Jamie [Thompson of the Unicorns]. I was still in high school. I think it was for a year or two. I think I only ever played one show outside of Guelph with Reg.

Then you moved to Ottawa and played with Clark?
T: Yeah, but before Clark was this band called the Killers with Geoffrey Pye. That was fun. Then Clark for about a year and a half. There were lots of others that no one has ever heard of. Stewart Gunn Band.

But Richie is on records that everybody owns, right? Weren’t you a child star of sorts?

R: I wasn’t a child star, I was in a community of people where there were a lot of records being made.

T: Come on, you were a child star!

R: I was on the Sharon Lois and Bram records, Eric Nagler and Fred Penner records. Me and my sister would oftentimes be in the children’s choir on those albums, and my parents played on a lot of them.

T: Are you credited on them?

R: Oh yeah. It was all Toronto people, the Mariposa Folk Festival crowd and their kids. My dad’s band was the Friends of Fiddlers Green, who were an infamous Canadian folk band on Stan Rogers’ label.

The mandate was any Canadian folk song over 100 years old, wasn’t it?

R: Pretty much. It wasn’t a mandate, but most of the songs were pre-1900. And my dad put out a couple of his own records which were pretty good. We were a musical family, but I was never taught how to play anything and we didn’t sit around jamming or anything. We were just ‘doing’ music. We had a Christmas show that we’d do at the Tranzac Folk Club in Toronto every year, the Parry Family Christmas Show.

You studied electro-acoustic music at Concordia?
R: Yeah, that and contemporary dance.

Were there other bands for you before New International Standards and Bell Orchestre?

R: Yeah, lots no one has ever heard of. I played in an Ottawa band called Big Fish Eat Little Fish for a little while.

So did you move Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal?

R: No, more like Toronto-England-Toronto-Israel-Toronto-Ottawa-Toronto-Montreal.

Did you two know each other in Ottawa?

T: No.

R: No, but I did see you open for Joan of Arc in Ottawa.

T: Really? Wow, that was my first gig in Ottawa.

Is there anything else I should know?
T: This band is a sweatshop. Get me out of here! I’M DYING!

-end-

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