Belle Orchestre burns while Arcade Fire is dampened
Instrumental pop isn’t for everyone, but listeners who appreciate soundscapes upon which to scribble their own narrative have fallen head over heels for Bell Orchestre. The Montreal-based sextet released their 2005 debut, Recording a Tape the Colour of the Light, while two of its members, Richard Reed Parry and Sarah Neufeld, were on hiatus from their other full-time gig with a little band called Arcade Fire.
Now, four years later — again while Arcade Fire is taking some downtime — Bell Orchestre is hitting the road in support of its second album, As Seen Through the Windows (due out in March). The band has upped the quirk quotient this time around, borrowing from plenty of styles to create an album that delivers a different experience on every track, from the Far East influences of “Elephant” to the spare, cold moan of Neufeld’s violin throughout “Icicles_Bicycles.”
Due back in Vancouver next week, WE talked with Neufeld, a former Vancouver resident.
You’re from Vancouver Island, but you lived in Vancouver before heading to Montreal, right?
Neufeld: I lived in Vancouver for a year, and I think I moved three times during that year. I was in the West End, the East Side, and Chinatown. It was one of those formative years. I used to work at Uprising Breads on Commercial, and I have such fond memories of that place. The former owner always wanted to hire musicians or artists or dancers — people he could just have a chat with, maybe not so efficient at mopping floors. [laughs] I was terrified on the first closing shift I had. This is a stupid story, but we would sweep and sometimes wax our floors, but I grew up in a country house — we didn’t have a mop. So, the first time I closed, they were like, “Okay, there’s the mop,” and I was like, “How do I do this?” All of a sudden, I was totally humbled.
What made you decide to pack up and go to Montreal?
Both of my parents had done that at that age. It seemed like a natural thing to do, to see a bit more of the world. I never backpacked around Europe or anything, but I felt like I should go to school, and I’d only applied to Concordia [in Montreal] and Capilano [in North Vancouver]. At that time, I wanted to stick mostly to violin performance, and I wasn’t interested in a hardline classical program; I wanted to choose faculty that would support improvisation on my instrument. It just felt more exciting and like I was moving forward [by going to Concordia rather than Capilano]. And my best friend lived out there and I knew a bunch of people who played in bands on Constellation Records.
In the chicken-or-the-egg way, did Bell Orchestre exist before Arcade Fire?
Yeah, but one of our first real shows, as Bell Orchestre, was with Arcade Fire, before Richie [Parry] was even playing with them. It was just this crazy party, and it was the first time we’d even seen them perform. Arcade Fire developed much quicker than we did, and it took us a long time to figure out we [Bell Orchestre] were even a band.
While you’re touring with Bell Orchestre, is Arcade Fire talking about recording a new album? Will you be caught in between both?
Yeah, I’m imagining it will be something like that... my gut tells me before 2010. I don’t drive the other ship, so I can’t really say.
Did you have any idea when you were younger that this could be the life of a classically trained musician?
My musical upbringing was so varied and confusing, I never felt like I fit into the classical world — I had just as much folk, and I did a lot of Irish stuff as a kid. The only way that my mom could make me practice was by playing this game where we would improvise and copy each other, so that was really what I wanted to be doing... I wanted to be in a band, and I quit everything at one point and was playing guitar and everybody was like, “You’re making the worst mistake of your life! Anybody can play guitar,” and the violin at that point was already an extension of my body. I’d been playing since I was two years old.
Violinists seem like good, proper people. Do you have a bad-ass side?
You’re quite right about the stereotypes of properness. To be a real classical violinist — which is why I couldn’t do it — you need to be completely devoted to it. Those people practice for five hours a day minimum, and maybe there’s a life outside of that, but I couldn’t do it. Am I a bad-ass because I have to have a life outside my practice room? [laughs] I don’t know. Sure. I’m a dropout violinist. I always want my teachers to see me with Bell Orchestre, but then I don’t want them to because my technique is all off. Like, my bow arm is totally lazy or whatever.