This month, Arcade Fire celebrates the 10th anniversary of their landmark debut album, Funeral. To mark the occasion, French music publication DumDum has penned an extensive 9,000 word oral history on the album, which includes exclusive photos and interviews with AF members Win Butler, Richard Reed Perry, and Owen Pallett, along with Superchunk member and Merge Records founder Mac McCaughan, Wolf Parade’s Dan Boecker, and many others.
DumDum plans to publish an English version of the oral history in the near future. In the interim, they’ve provided us with 13 tidbits about the band and the album that you probably didn’t know.
1. Arcade Fire almost renamed itself The Visions
Brendan Reed (former band member): I remember Win, Richard and Régine went to this somewhat religious retreat that Josh Deu’s family ran in New Hampshire. It was after the recording of our EP in Maine. When they got back, they seemed to have sharpened their vision of the future, or have some new toolset to achieve the vision. They actually talked about changing the band name to The Visions, we talked about many names, wolf names, scary names…
2. Arcade Fire considered relocating to Belgium
Brendan Reed: I remember overhearing Win having a conversation with Tim [Kingsbury], I don’t think they knew I was home, about me not moving to Belgium with the band. We had been talking about moving to Belgium.
3. Arcade Fire recorded their debut EP one instrument at a time
Dane Mills (former band member): Most of the songs were recorded piece by piece instead of as a full band. This was because we forgot to bring a mixer that would have enabled us to record live off the floor. So the record didn’t end up having the energy that the live show did. I remember we spent quite a few days just recording the drums for “Submarine”. Making sure each beat was exactly on time and using a click track. “No Cars Go” started with Win and I on bass and drums, then everything else was added after that. “In The Backseat” was originally supposed to be on the EP, but the version we recorded wasn’t up to par.
4.The reason why Howard Bilerman left the band
Michael Barclay (journalist, friend of the band): Howard didn’t want to leave his family and his studio behind, which he realized would probably happen as Arcade Fire blew up. He is also, like many artists associated with Constellation Records, incredibly DIY and suspicious of the compromises – however tiny – involved in being a massively popular band.
5. You can hear Régine press “stop” on a recorder in the middle of “Haiti”
Win Butler: The vocals for “Haiti” were recorded in the bathroom of our loft, because for Régine, it was such a personal song that she didn’t wanna do it in the studio. She did it lights out, in the dark, in the bathroom with a dictaphone. Around the 50th second, you can hear a click sound … you can hear her push the “stop” button on this tape machine.
6. The muted guitar part on “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)” isn’t how it was originally intended
Win Butler: For “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)”, I went to record the guitar part alone, put my headphones on, and it sounded amazing. I said to myself, “I did it.” And then it turns out Howard forgot to put the guitar mic on. He only had the vocal mic on and it was on the other side of the room, and accidentally no one turned it off. That’s the track that’s on the record. If you really listen to it, it sounds insane, it almost sounds like a broken record.
7. Richard Reed Parry brought the “oooh oooh” chorus to “Wake Up”
Richard Reed Parry: I recall I brought the idea for the last section of “Wake Up”, the one with the “ooooh ooooh ooooh”, and that litlte Motown sound. The day we played it together, I came up with this melody on the organ and sang above it and we thought ourselves “oh ok,” this melody can be voices, we just have to find the right voice for this part. So we tried something choral, and it worked.
8. Win considered releasing “Rebellion (Lies)” without snare drum
Win Butler: When we were recording “Rebellion (Lies)”, Howard was recording the drums he would have us deal with the tape machine and push the “record” button. At some point he did the best take, it’s the version that’s on the record. The problem is that we’d plugged something wrong, and there was no snare at all when we listened to it afterwards. I said “no that’s the take,” and he said “no, absolutely not, we can’t have a song without a snare.” I was insisting it had the spirit, that it was the right take, so we overdubbed it with Régine playing the snare only. The weird sound of that song comes from the snare coming through the hi-hat and this snare overdub.
9. Owen Pallett didn’t want to include “Rebellion (Lies)” on Funeral
Owen Pallett: They asked which songs I liked and which songs I didn’t. I loved all of the songs except for two of them, for which I said they should consider not putting on the record or putting towards the end of the record. Those were “Lenin”, which ended up being left off the record and not released with vocals, and “Rebellion (Lies)”, which ended up being a hit. At the time of that first record, the band didn’t have an established identity as its does now, and I saw in “Rebellion” a future of more traditional rock songs and I was favoring more dance-oriented songs and ones that had more complicated chord ideas like “No Cars Go”, “Submarine”, “In The Backseat”, and “Crown Of Love”. “Rebellion” is the mold from which songs like “Intervention” and “Antichrist Television Blues” were created.
10. Arcade Fire almost signed with a label in Montreal
Mac McCaughan (Merge founder, Superchunk singer/guitarist): It may sound like we decided quickly but it actually took us a while ! To the point where they almost signed to another label in Montreal.
11. Merge Records’ Laura Ballance questioned the band’s immediate decision to sign with the label
Martin Hall (former Merge PR): Win, Régine, and Richard drove down from Montreal to meet with everyone at Merge. It was March or April 2004. They had planned to drive back to Montreal the next day, and conversations would continue over the next days or weeks as to whether they would decide to sign on with Merge. But the next morning they stopped by the Merge office on the way out of town and told us that they had made their decision and wanted to sign on with us. We were all very happy and excited. I can remember Laura saying something like “Are you sure? Don’t you want to think about it for a few days?” I had to resist the urge to kick her under the table (laughs).