Arcade Fire still burns in the here and ‘Now’

Arcade Fire multi-instrumentalist Will Butler
Theo Wargo/Getty Images/file
Arcade Fire multi-instrumentalist Will Butler

Arcade Fire has a long history of accompanying its music with some degree of conceptual trapping, from concept albums to toll-free phone numbers to playing occasional shows and television appearances with no fanfare under the moniker “the Reflektors.” For the new “Everything Now,” the band leans on a promotional push presenting itself as a product of a corporation (or possibly a cult) (or both) that might not have benevolent intentions. To multi-instrumentalist Will Butler, that’s just the way the band has always worked.

“I think we’ve done it with every record, and even before we had records,” says Butler. “We’ve always tried to build a whole world for each record, because I think the songs live better with some context around them. I mean, ultimately, they have to stand on their own. In a hundred years, no one will remember their promo campaigns.”

As for the band’s habit of revisiting song titles to explore a topic from multiple dimensions (as they’ve done with “Infinite Content,” “Sprawl,” “Neighborhood” and others), Butler — who hosts the dance/activism party Disco Town Hall at Great Scott following Arcade Fire’s TD Garden show Friday night — compares that to the naming conventions of classical music. “You have Symphony No. 1, Symphony No. 2, Symphony No. 4 in C, Symphony No. 5 in G minor,” he says. “If you renamed all those songs, the music would be the same but I think people’s interpretation of it changes. I actually think the shell you put things in matters.”


Q. You’ve won a Grammy for album of the year [for “The Suburbs”] and have had three No. 1 albums. Do you feel like Arcade Fire is a mainstream rock band now?

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A. We’re not mainstream. And “alternative” doesn’t really exist. Though alternative radio does, but alternative music isn’t what it used to be. I don’t really know where we fit, to be honest. Because we’re not popular enough. . . . I mean, we’re popular, don’t get me wrong, we’re doing fine, but we’re not popular enough to be pop music, if that’s your definition. And we’re not on the radio enough to have hits.

Q. There are six or seven core members of the band at the moment and then however many touring members. It’s hard enough for some three-person bands to all agree on a unified direction. How difficult is it to get that many people to hold hands and march forward together?

A. It’s very difficult. It takes a lot of work. But I think . . . I don’t know, we’ve lasted a very long time as a band. Like I’ve said, we’ve almost been around twice as long as the Beatles at this point. I think there is a strength in having people you can turn to and having people that you can take a break from and still be in the band and still be engaged. And I think it helps that there’s a lot of women both in the band and in our organization as a whole. It feels just like a normal human society, in a way. It doesn’t feel like a gang of pirates who are just trying to murder each other for money. It actually feels like we’re a coherent social group. And there’s a family aspect. I mean, it’s my brother [Win Butler] and his wife [Régine Chassagne], which doesn’t always make things easier, but it does mean that you’re invested in it. There’s many reasons to figure out why the person is saying what they’re saying and where they’re coming from, artistically and morally and spiritually and intellectually. So it’s so far, so good. It’s always a mystery. It’s very, very hard to collaborate with six other people, but for some reason, I think it has been a strength.

Q. When the album starts, you think that “Everything Now” is going to be something along the lines of Radiohead, and then the first full song, the title track, blossoms into this huge, sweeping, ABBA-style pop number. Was that a deliberate curveball?


A. There is a brain of the band that thinks symphonically, and I think that there’s something to a proper overture. I guess that’s more musical theater. But we’ve always kind of thought in terms of overtures. I think we like an element of surprise, an element of frisson between tracks, because I think in that moment of break, you open people’s hearts and minds a little bit when something surprises you.

Q. You weren’t present when Arcade Fire backed Mick Jagger on “The Last Time” when he hosted “Saturday Night Live” in 2012. But you are also the only full member of the band who’s been nominated for an Oscar, for your score for “Her.” Do you rub that in everybody’s faces when they rub the Mick Jagger thing in yours?

A. (Laughs) I missed the Mick Jagger stuff because I was a groomsman at my college roommate’s wedding. And actually the score was done by everybody [but] Academy rules say you can only nominate two people at most for an award. Together, me and [co-nominee] Owen [Pallett] did do more than 51 percent of the work, so it wasn’t false advertising. But it was definitely a band effort. No animosity there.

Q. Were you miserable watching it and thinking: My band is basically the Rolling Stones right now and I’m missing it?

A. But I think we’re probably better than the Rolling Stones right now, just as Arcade Fire. (Laughs) I’m just trying to start a feud.



At TD Garden, Friday, 7:30 p.m. Tickets start at $15,

Interview was edited and condensed. Marc Hirsh can be reached at officialmarc@gmail.comor on Twitter @spacecitymarc