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Canadian rockers Arcade Fire maintain DIY mystique


Canadian band Arcade Fire perform on stage during a concert in Oslo November 4, 2007. REUTERS/Kyrre Lien/Scanpix Norway
Canadian band Arcade Fire perform on stage during a concert in Oslo November 4, 2007. REUTERS/Kyrre Lien/Scanpix Norway

By David J. Prince

NEW YORK (Billboard) - The seven members of Arcade Fire, the Montreal band renowned for its fierce DIY commitment and aversion to the record-industry grind, are gearing up to release their first album in four years next month.

"The Suburbs" comes out on August 2 in the United Kingdom and a day later in Canada and the United States. It marks the follow-up to 2006's "Neon Bible" and their 2004 debut "Funeral," which each sold about half a million copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan. "Neon Bible" debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200.

The band retains a tight grip on its destiny: it owns its own recording studio, master recordings and publishing rights; licenses those rights to different labels across the globe, territory by territory; refuses corporate sponsorships, private-party gigs and most commercial placements; and calls the shots for every major decision.

It's an approach that serves Arcade Fire extremely well, giving it the ability to manage its affairs in a way that embodies the DIY ethos born in the hardcore punk scene of the early '80s while writing anthemic, cathartic songs and performing them to arena audiences.

Now, with "The Suburbs" about to land in cities and suburbs alike, the band's "new DIY" tactics can serve as a road map for artists of all sizes and styles navigating the 21st-century music business.

"They march to the beat of their own drum, and people really respond to that," says C3 Presents promoter/talent buyer Huston Powell, who booked the band for the first Lollapalooza festival in Chicago in 2005 and will see it return as a headliner this summer. "I wish for the whole music industry there were 10 more Arcade Fires out there."

EIGHT DIFFERENT COVERS

The album will once again come out in North America through North Carolina-based indie label Merge Records, which has a profit-sharing deal with the band. It will be released with eight different covers (which will be distributed randomly and not to specific retailers; none will have bonus tracks), with a deluxe version for sale only through the band's website.

Two songs from "The Suburbs" were unveiled on NPR's "All Songs Considered" while brothers and bandmates Win and Will Butler sat for a live chat, fielding questions submitted by fans through Twitter. Another track, "Ready to Start," had its debut on alternative KNDD Seattle, while U.K. DJ Zane Lowe premiered "We Used to Wait."

Before they got married, Win Butler and Regine Chassagne formed Arcade Fire in 2003 in Montreal.

"We were very much a live band," Butler recalls. "It's in our DNA to be a live band -- so when we had a certain amount of local success from being a live band we were able to very slowly fund ('Funeral')."

By March 2005, however, the volume of requests -- for interviews, licensing, show offers and the general day-to-day business of being in a band -- had begun to take more time than rehearsing, touring and actually being in the band. They brought on manager Scott Rodger, Bjork's longtime handler and a member of Paul McCartney's inner circle of advisers.

"What immediately put them into a different league was the fact that they controlled their own rights from day one," Rodger says. "They very cost-effectively made their first album, and then made some strategic deals that would bring in some money for them to buy their own recording studio and be able to be self-sufficient and make their own recordings."

The band also hired booking agent David "Boche" Viecelli, whose Chicago-based company, Billions, had earned a reputation for shrewd bookings and personal artist relationships with bands like Pavement.

After the success of "Funeral," the volume of offers to sign a major-label deal reached a deafening level. Label talent scouts people were dispatched to Montreal with unlimited expense accounts and free rein to offer the band whatever it would take to sign.

"We didn't have any money, so we were like, 'We're not going to sign with you, but if you want to buy us hotel rooms, go for it, we're not going to stop you.' But we were very upfront with their prospects," Butler says. "When anyone said, 'Leave Merge and we'll give you lots of money,' that was never tempting. It got pretty silly at the very end."

MYSTERY MUSICIANS

One result of the close-knit approach is the members' ability to maintain an air of mystique and secrecy about their personal lives. You're not going to find any of them discussing their daily routines on Twitter. Yet even though they've maintained a wall of privacy, the connection fans feel with them is personal and intense.

"I don't know if I'm old-fashioned, but I feel like the fan relationship involves putting out records," Butler says. "We've always really tried to connect with our audience when we play live -- we don't take it lightly to go onstage and play--it's the DNA of what this band does and we couldn't exist in the same way without that."

This summer, Arcade Fire picks up in the live arena exactly where it left off after taking a two-year hiatus. The world tour for "Neon Bible" began in early 2007 with multinight runs at tiny churches in Montreal, London and New York and ended a year later having notched 122 shows (including 33 festivals) in 75 cities in 15 countries.

Until the three, small June warm-up gigs in Toronto and Montreal, the band's only live appearances since the "Neon Bible" tour ended were four get-out-the-vote gigs for then-candidate Barack Obama's campaign in Ohio and North Carolina, and on inauguration night Arcade Fire shared the stage with Jay-Z at the Obama for America Staff Ball at the Armory in Washington, D.C.

The "Suburbs" tour will find the band playing less frequently and in larger venues. "They know that an Arcade Fire show is a cathartic experience for the band and for the audience," Viecelli says. "The band really is laying it out there emotionally onstage, investing a ton of energy and heart, and they realized that if they do that for too long or too much, they can't maintain that genuine performance level."

Amphitheater shows in Boston, Philadelphia, Nashville, Atlanta and Columbia, Va., comprise most of the U.S. gigs on the books for 2010. In New York, an August 4 show at Madison Square Garden sold out so quickly that a second show was added the next night. More North American shows are in the works for later this year, and in 2011 the band will do some more overseas touring, including Australia, New Zealand and Japan. But Viecelli expects there will be plenty of leftover demand for more Arcade Fire shows.

(please visit our entertainment blog via www.reuters.com or on http://blogs.reuters.com/fanfare/)

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