Arcade Fire interview: 'We want to save Harry Potter'

By Sinead Garvan
BBC 6 Music reporter

Image caption,
Arcade Fire are renowned for their fervent, energetic stage show

2010 was the year in which Arcade Fire finally made good on their early promise.

Heralded as the future of rock with their 2005 debut, Funeral, the Canadian band have seemed on the brink of becoming the new U2 ever since.

Bono even tipped his hat to the newcomers when he chose their rousing anthem Wake Up as U2's walk-on music during their Vertigo world tour.

But it took The Suburbs, a sprawling, 16-track concept album about small-town life and the geography of adulthood to finally push the group into the mainstream.

Q magazine declared it a "masterpiece", Rolling Stone praised the "magnificent" title track, and the record charted at number one on both sides of the Atlantic.

Speaking to BBC 6 Music before their recent UK tour dates, the band's lynchpins - brothers William and Edwin Butler (Will and Win) - were clearly in a buoyant mood, joking about Harry Potter and Kanye West as they reflected on their stellar year.

Image caption,
Win says Arcade Fire's 2010 warm-up show at Hackney Empire was among the band's 'best ever'

If you look back to the beginning of 2010, before you'd released The Suburbs, how did you feel then?

Win: We always do this trick where we're so screwed trying to get the record out that we're kind of in this intense cocoon. We'll arbitrarily pick a date and put an immense amount of pressure on ourselves just to finish everything. It usually ends up going from that into touring, so suddenly we'll be like, 'wait a minute, we've got to learn to play 16 songs that we don't quite know how to play yet'.

Did you feel the anticipation your fans had for the record?

Will: The release came the day before we played two giant shows in Madison Square Garden in New York - so those days were certainly circled on the calendar as 'Hope it goes well!'

Win: One of the first times we toured, we met the writer Robert Hillburn, who had been the head of the music section of the LA Times since the 1970s. He's retired now, but he wrote me an email as the record was coming out, and he was like, 'Guys, it kind of feels like a Beatles album is coming out. There's something electric in the air'.

Then the reviews came out…

Will: It was great. Everything came up roses, basically. Which was a real relief, because every day people sell less and less records.

Win: Last time in the UK, we lost out on the number one by 500 records. We're not the type of band who cares about that kind of stuff until we lose out on number one by 500 records. I was like, 'wait a goddamn minute, I could have bought those 500 records!'

A lot of people said this record cemented your position in the indie-rock firmament. What did you make of that?

Win: People expect you to fail, rather than have this slow growth. I was a big fan of The Cure in high school, and they had seven records before they were really at the kind of size that we're at now. It's good to keep that in perspective in the band. But on this record we've felt comfortable in our own skin, which wasn't always the case in the past.

Image caption,
Multi-instrumentalist Regine Chassagne is a key member of the band, as well as Win's wife

Any personal highlights in 2010? Didn't you meet the President?

Will: Oh, we met him ages ago. We're over that.

Win: One of our best friends is a fashion designer, Renata Morales. Her family's from Mexico City, and they threw this epic party for us at their house.

There was a 17-piece Mariarchi band, and a whole fireworks brigade. Fireworks in Mexico... It's just some dude holding a huge firework. He's got gloves on, but he's just holding up the firework instead of shooting it off, and he's just getting sprayed with the sparks. And there was a big tilt-a-whirl at the end, which just went around in circles and spelt out Arcade Fire, and we were drinking out of the bottle. That was really something.

You've topped loads of album of the year polls. How does that feel?

Will: Boo-ya!

Win: Hell yeah, baby!

Will: How do you like me now, Kanye?

Win: Ahhhh... Will's personal beef with Kanye continues.

Will: Hold on a second, let me tweet this… beep, beep, boop, beep. Yeah, I just tweeted him.

Does the recognition mean something to you?

Win: Yeah, it feels good. It's not the foundational pillar of my notion of selfhood or anything, but it's obviously satisfying when a quality institution such as Radio 6 gives us its mark of approval.

Image caption,
The eight-piece band say they will take the winter off to recover from 2010's hectic promotional duties

What was your favourite record of 2010?

Win: I'm not a big list guy. I've listened to The National's record [High Violet], Joanna Newsome's record [Have One On Me] and LCD [Soundsystem - This Is Happening]. Those are probably the three I've spent the most time with. When we're on tour, we're in airports a lot with our iPods, and I kind of fell in love with actually listening to records again.

What do Arcade Fire do for Christmas?

Will: "It's really changed since Dumbledore died and the death eaters took over Hogwarts. It's a much more sombre environment than it used to be.

Win: Yeah, we mostly just try to keep Harry alive.

Will: We sing lots of carols.

Win: We take pleasure in those moments when Harry's scar isn't burning. We can just be the friends that we once were. [collapses in fits of laughter].

So no Christmas carols, decorating trees? Anything like that?

Will: Actually, our mum plays the harp and she really does it up at Christmas, which is really nice.

Win: Our family does a yearly Christmas party, which involves a lot of carols. And a guy in our grandfather's big band, who was called Alfred Burt, who wrote a number of carols, which are really beautiful. We don't sing them that much, but we have them on all the time.

Will: I think the most famous one is Silver Bells, but he would, for a Christmas present every year, send all his friends a Christmas carol that he wrote. So we have all these recordings of our grandma and our family singing these really beautiful, vocal Christmas songs. That's really something.

The Suburbs is out now on Mercury Records.

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