With festival season in full swing and this weekend shaping up to be one of the busiest of the year – Supersonic in Birmingham is up against Latitude in Suffolk, and DiS is also attending Summercase in Spain and Dour in Belgium – we caught up with one of the acts on this summer’s festival circuit, Arcade Fire, to talk about the rigours of touring in such a manner.
The Canadians released their second album, Neon Bible, to great acclaim earlier this year (read the DiS review here). We’ve seen them at both Glastonbury and Hove (reviews here and here), and the band will be back in the UK at the end of August for the Reading and Leeds festivals. Click to their MySpace for full details of forthcoming festival dates, here.
DiS spoke to the band’s Richard Reed Parry while he was waiting to collect his luggage in a Danish airport ahead of the incredibly soggy Roskilde Festival (the annual event ‘enjoyed’ its highest rainfall on record).
Hi Richard… so, you’re actually at the carousel? Who’s keeping an eye on your bags?
Oh, I have someone looking after that for me. We just arrived here from Portugal – we played at a festival in Lisbon. We’re basically on a festival tour right now.
And these festival slots must be the highest-profile ones you’ve ever had?
Yeah, definitely. It’s kinda crazy – it’s, for me, the final straw in driving the point home that this band is actually quite well known! Which I’m admitting only one hair at a time, but last night in Portugal it was sooo… the crowd was so great, and the crowd was so big… I just had this moment: Ooooh, I’m in a famous rock band!
Hopefully you didn’t experience this moment mid-song…
Oh, I did! I was like, What the hell… this is crazy! It was liking I was watching something on TV, or in a dream. It’s crazy to play these huge events.
Well Roskilde is pretty huge. It’s almost as huge as Glastonbury, actually…
Oh, is it? I don’t know. I know it’s a big deal, but I didn’t know how big a deal.
How did you guys find playing Glastonbury, what with its ‘mythical’ status amid festivals and all?
Um, well we were sort of just in and out, because we’re so busy. We had so much scheduled already, and the site was so rainy and horrible, and muddy while we were there. For me, I don’t really relate to the ‘magic’ part of the festival, which some people are really attached to. I’m just like: Okay, people love this.
Is it ever annoying that you can’t hang around and enjoy the festival you’re at?
When we’re lucky we get to see what we want to see, which is cool. But when you’re playing at a different rock festival every day, you really don’t want to hang out at them at all, ‘cause it’s sort of hell. It’s never quiet, and you can never escape. You’re in some goddamned tent, and there’s loads of waiting around, which when you’re there to do a job is frustrating. It’s a very different experience from just showing up to see a load of bands.
You’re back here for Reading and Leeds, which are obviously quite highly branded affairs, completely in contrast to the Hove Festival we saw you at in Norway (where Pepsi provided the cola but they had to paint their own logo rather than simply bring posters, etc). Are there events you won’t play because of particular branding, at all?
You know, the Hove Festival was like, oh yeah... that’s why people should hold festivals: it was on this pretty island, and it was loads of fun. It was such a beautiful place, and although it did rain it didn’t descend into disgustingness. It was especially nice after playing a few ‘beer’ festivals in Germany. As for branding and stuff, we’re aware of it to a point, but festivals are festivals, and often they can’t exist without some sort of corporate sponsorship. So you sort of just take the good with the bad: one day you’ll be at a fun festival in a beautiful place with great people, and the next you’ll have to do something less fun. We take that perspective, but we definitely are aware of where we’re playing, and what brand names are on the festival.
I suppose when an event’s heavily branded – like the O2 Wireless in England, for example – you can sort of become blind to all the advertising plastered everywhere…
Kinda… You do put up the blinkers somewhat when you’re at another bloody beer festival, or whatever. But, um, I dunno… we’re totally aware of things like that, but I feel that the bulk of the festivals we’ve played at have been for the fun of it. I think that organisers do things so that everyone can have fun, and so that bands can get paid properly. You know what I mean? I think that 90 per cent of festivals are still arranged for the right reasons, and they’re not just some corporate exercise in product placement. There are exceptions, obviously: we’ve played some piece-of-shit festivals that we’ll never play again.
I suppose that this is your job now, though, so you do need to make money to cover the important things, and sometimes compromises need to be made. Rent doesn’t pay itself, after all…
Well, we don’t actually subscribe to that view, because we’re lucky enough to be in a position where we can be choosy about things. But we will try anything if it seems like a fine idea, and if it turns out that we don’t like it, we just won’t do it again. Obviously you have to be able to cover yourself, money-wise, but we try to not make decisions based purely on money, unless there are real specific reasons to do so. Rent doesn’t pay itself, like you say.
Earlier this year you played a number of shows, here and in Canada, in churches. These special, one-off-style events are quite a contrast to a lot of festival shows: are these unique shows something you’ll be arranging again?
We’ll always do shows like that. They’re not necessarily the most comfortable shows to play, as they’re shows that not a lot of people can come to, so we have to do lots of ‘normal’ shows around them. We’re not aiming to be a stadium rock band, y’know! So although we are getting to a level, we’re trying to figure out how to play big shows gracefully and still enjoy what we’re doing and present shows in a way that we like. We don’t want to be: Oh, great, we can sell-out this 100,000-seater aircraft hanger! We’re trying to figure out how to do big shows without compromising too much control.
Just how much control over the band’s schedule and fortunes do you have control over? After all, you’re on a major label now, certainly in the UK anyway…
I’d say we were about 99.9 per cent in control of things. There’s a certain amount of the nuts and bolts of arranging a tour that I, personally, actually want nothing to do with. I’m glad that we have someone working for us, who does that. I don’t want to deal with club owners, and settling up, and so on. Once you’re playing a certain number of shows that’s all you want to do – you don’t want to be booking hotels, or flights, or organise the troops. We’ve totally been there and done that, and it is what you do when you need to do it. But if you’ve the resources not to, brilliant. It’s a real treat for us to have people controlling those things. We’re very active and involved in the planning and execution of everything that happens to the band.
After this festival campaign, then, are you taking any time off?
Well, not really. We’re taking little chunks of time off here and there, but we’re basically touring until the winter. There’s not much time or energy available to do anything else. This really isn’t the most hectic we’ve ever been, though – to be honest, it’s been this way ever since (debut album) Funeral. Well, since before that, really… obviously we’ve had downtime to work on records, but there’s always a tonne of shit going on.
But I guess it’s all still fun, right?
Oh yes, it surely is!
Arcade Fire release a new single, ‘No Cars Go’, on July 23. Their albums to date, Funeral and Neon Bible, are out now.
Photograph by Davida Nemeroff