Arcade Fire - Biography

Arcade Fire is a young Canadian band that has gone far in its short existence. The group’s brand of emotion-charged orchestral rock has proven to not only be influential among their peers, but also has garnered them a loyal following and the adulation of critics.

Arcade Fire was originally formed by Texas native Win Butler around 2000, while he was attending the private boarding school, Philips Exeter Academy in Exeter, New Hampshire. Butler was concentrating on music studies and formed an early version of the band with fellow students Josh Deu and Tim Kyle. The origin of the band's name reportedly comes from a story a fellow student told Butler about starting a fire at the Exeter arcade and bandstand. The story turned out to be untrue, but at the time of forming the band, Butler believed the student's tall tale. After leaving school, Butler decided to move to Montreal with the intent of forming a band in the new hotbed of eclectic Canadian bands. The Montreal scene had already produced such varied bands as Broken Social Scene, Stars, and Godspeed You Black Emperor, and Butler was hoping some of the magic would rub off on him.

After searching for other musicians with common ground to form his band, Butler found multi-instrumentalist Regine Chassagne, who had learned to play piano, guitar, accordion, mandolin, flute, harmonica and drums. Chassagne's family were immigrants originally from Haiti, and had first moved to Chicago, then New York, and then finally Montreal, where Regine grew up. Regine reportedly learned many of the instruments she was proficient on in secret, away from her family. An instant connection was established between the pair, and they set to work writing songs. During the course of creation, they fell in love and became a couple. The two recorded and performed their songs, and very soon attracted the attention of another multi-instrumentalist, Richard Parry. In 2002, an early version of Arcade Fire performed at a Christmas party at Butler and Chassagne's apartment and the results were recorded and later distributed to friends and family of the band. The collection of holiday standards and early versions of songs that would appear on the band's first EP came to be called the Christmas Album, and some digital copies are still circulating on file-sharing websites to this day. By March 2003, Butler knew he had a good thing going and asked if his brother Will would like to come up from Chicago to play keyboards for the new band. By 2003, the band (consisting of the Butler brothers, Chassagne and Parry) recruited multi-instrumentalists Dane Mills, Brendan Reed and Myles Broscoe to join them and set out for a barn on Mount Desert Island in Maine to record their debut EP, Arcade Fire. The EP was self-released and is sometimes called Us Kids Know after a lyric in the song “No Cars Go.” (The EP was later remastered and re-released by the bands label Merge in 2005.) This first offering from the band already showed their unique, emotionally-charged baroque pop style, and this along with the band's shows, featuring members of the band switching off on various instruments, garnered them fans and praise.

Later in 2003, Mills, Broscoe and Reed left the band, and a former bandmate of Parry's, Timothy Kingsbury, was asked to join. The band prepared to record their debut album without a permanent drummer at the studio run by Godspeed You Black Emperor in Montreal, Hotel 2 Tango, with engineer Howard Bilerman. As it turned out, Bilerman was a drummer and multi-instrumentalist, and joined the band during the recording of what would be their first album, Funeral (2004 Merge). Many things had happened during the recording of the album, the happiest being that Win Butler and Regine Chassagne got married, but the atmosphere of the sessions was made more somber by a series of deaths around the band, including Chassagne's grandmother in June of 2003, the Butler brother's grandfather (famed swing musician Alvino Rey) in February of 2004, and Parry's aunt in April 2004. The album was called Funeral in tribute to the band's losses. Preliminary recordings for the album were done during a week in August of 2003 and were completed later on that year. The core members of Arcade Fire were joined by other members of the Montreal music scene, including members of Godspeed You Black Emperor, Thee Silver Mt. Zion, Bell Orchestre and Final Fantasy. Bell Orchestre member violinist, Sara Neufeld, became a permanent member of Arcade Fire after the recordings. Once the album was released in late 2004, it received rave reviews and much word of mouth recommendation, especially through the internet. Merge quickly sold out their inventory of the album and the release became Merge's first album to chart on the Billboard Top 200.

The group, who now included touring members, horn player Pietro Amato and violinist Owen Pallett, set out to tour small clubs, but continually growing interest forced the band to change venues in some cities to bigger theatres. The band continued touring internationally through mid-2005 throughout Canada, the US, Europe and Japan. Arcade Fire also played several large key festivals in the summer of 2005, including Coachella, Lollapalooza, The Reading Festival, The Sasquatch! Music Festival, Electric Picnic and the Lowlands Festival. By the end of 2005, Funeral had gone gold in both the United Kingdom and Canada and had sold more than half a million copies worldwide, making it the bestselling album in the Merge catalog. The group appeared on the cover of Time's Canadian edition, and had a song featured on the popular HBO series, Six Feet Under.  Arcade Fire even appeared on a TV special aired in the US and the UK, called Fashion Rocks with David Bowie, where he joined them to perform their song “Wake Up,” and they joined him to perform his songs “Life On Mars” and “Five Years.” Bowie also joined the band in a surprise appearance during a concert the band gave in New York's Central Park in late 2005. Arcade Fire opened three shows for U2's Vertigo Tour, joining the Irish band on stage during their encore to perform a cover of Joy Division's “Love Will Tear Us Apart.” The accolades for Funeral kept pouring in, eventually garnering nominations for Grammys in the US, BRIT awards in the UK, and winning the Juno Award in Canada for Songwriters Of The Year.

After the whirlwind of activity that thrust Arcade Fire from a modest indie band to a major force in music, the band retreated back to Canada and used money earned from the sales of Funeral to purchase a defunct church in the Quebec town of Farnham, about 45 miles outside of Montreal. The group spent the early part of 2006 converting the church into living quarters and a recording studio. Once the studio was up and running, the band commenced work on a follow-up album to Funeral,. Also, in the time after Funeral and before recording of their next album, the band had lost Howard Bilerman as their drummer and replaced him with Jeremy Gara. The group used their new studio and unrestrained recording time to their advantage, and incorporated even more varied instruments to the sessions for the new album, including a pipe organ that was from the church that had occupied the building. The band also traveled to Budapest, London and New York to record orchestras and choirs to further flesh out their ideas. The first track from the sessions, “Intervention,” was released to iTunes in December of 2006, and the full album Neon Bible (Merge) was released in March of 2007.       

Immediately upon release, the album debuted at #1 in Canada and Ireland, and #2 in the US and UK. The record was again highly praised by critics and fans, and the band made plans to tour heavily in support of their new release. The sound of the album was even fuller and more grandiose than their debut album, and the band expanded to a 10-piece line-up for touring to accommodate the larger sound. New touring members of Arcade Fire included violinist Marika Anthony-Shaw and horn players Colin Stetson and Kelly Pratt. The band commenced another grueling period of touring, which included an appearance on Saturday Night Live as well as dates all through North America, Europe, and, for the first time, stops in New Zealand and Australia, as part of the touring Big Day Out Festival. Win Butler and Regine Chassagne also made a surprise appearance at a Bruce Springsteen concert in Ottawa in late 2007, performing “State Trooper” and “Keep The Car Running.” Arcade Fire continued touring through the remainder of 2007, and into the first couple of months of 2008, finally stopping in February. The band remained relatively quiet throughout 2008, only appearing live for a couple of benefit shows for Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. Their lastest album, The Suburbs, was released on Merge Records in August of 2010.

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