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My Firsts: Richard Reed Parry of Arcade Fire

The Golden Boy

Nov 14, 2018 Web Exclusive
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My Firsts is our email interview series where we ask musicians to tell us about their first life experiences, be it early childhood ones (first word, first concert, etc.) or their first tastes of being a musician (first band, first tour, etc.). For this My Firsts we talk to Arcade Fire multi-instrumentalist Richard Reed Parry, who released a new solo album, Quiet River of Dust Vol. 1, back in September via ANTI-, his first for the label.

As the title suggests, Quiet River of Dust Vol. 1 is the first part of a two volume series, with part two due out next spring. The seeds of the album were first planted a decade ago during Arcade Fire’s first tour of Japan. Parry hung around Japan for several weeks after the tour ended, finding himself in a monastery, an experience he describes in a press release as “the biggest silence you’ve ever heard.”

Parry elaborated in the press release announcing the album: “The song ‘On the Ground’ was inspired by an encounter with ghost voices in a Japanese forest near a temple on the mountain Koya-Sān. I told director Caleb Wood the story-of being alone in this magical environment of giant cedar trees and hearing a loud chorus of powerful harmony singing that sounded inexplicably identical to my late father’s folk band the Friends of Fiddler’s Green, who were the soundtrack to my entire childhood and upbringing.”

Parry added: “I’m lousy at sitting still and being nothing. But being out in the natural world or being immersed in music is the meditation for me. That’s the heart of this record: the experience of transcending the place that you’re in, getting lost in the feeling of where you end and where the world begins, in a dreamlike world of music and thought.”

Read on as Parry talks about his first favorite TV shows, albums, and songs; the first time he got drunk; and moving to a new country when he was only five years old.

First best friend?

Ikenda Agbaru. My next-door neighbor in Toronto where I was born. He was a wonderful guy-a Nigerian immigrant whose dad Samson was the Chief of his village back home, a fact that boggled my mind as a child. We made friends when I was maybe two-and-a-half years old and stayed friends until I moved to another city as a teenager. He taught me how to beat-box and break-dance and play drums on cookie tins and introduced me to hip-hop and I remember his parents slaughtering chickens in their basement a couple of times, then cooking them in the most delicious fashion I’d ever experienced.

First time your heart was broken?

I feel like a suffered from a lot of perpetual unrequited romantic love for my entire life until I was like 13??!! But the only acute heartbreak I ever suffered was when I was 17 and my father died suddenly.

First TV show you were obsessed with?

I grew up without a TV until I was maybe 14 or 15. I was instantly obsessed with The Larry Sanders Show the first time I saw it. I’m pretty choosy with what I watch. That show set the bar unfairly high. Although I also watched Golden Girls a lot when I was in high school so maybe I’m not that choosy actually?

First album you bought?

The Twin Peaks soundtrack on cassette which looking back on it now is a really strange first album purchase for a young teenager. In fact I hadn’t even watched the show at that point, but I remember hearing the theme song and the Julee Cruise version on the radio that year and was so completely taken with it.

First favorite song?

Hmm. Tough one. Could be any number of obscure traditional folk songs my parents sang when I was really little. The first song that I can remember that anyone else would know is probably the Beverly Hills Cop theme, “Axel F.” It was just so exciting and mysterious to me at a young age. I remember being quite taken by “Shout” by Tears for Fears as well.

First musician you had a crush on?

Like a romantic crush or a musical crush? I had musical crushes on two people at my high school in Ottawa (Canterbury), Jordy Walker and Corwin Fox, both of whom I later befriended and eventually joined their band (Big Fish Eat Little Fish) and toured Canada with them! We’ve stayed best of friends ever since and they both worked on the Quiet River records with me, and are playing in the live band! Sometimes my life feels like the best dream humanly dream-able.

First time you got drunk?

I was maybe 15 or 14? Some “bad kids” from my neighborhood stole a car and then picked me and a friend up and we drove it around doing fun things all day, which included going to a football game and stopping at a restaurant where some other bad kid friends worked, who snuck us out a lot of beer from the back of the kitchen. Which we proceeded to drink. I remember one beer in laughing really hard and feeling super happy and sort of relieved that getting drunk was fun and happy-making and not scary or something? I think I was scared of a lot of things like that when I was young-scared of things older people did.

First country you visited outside of your own?

My family moved to Cambridge, England when I was five-my father was a professor of medieval drama and he got a visiting professorship at Cambridge University so we all moved there for a while. Mossy old British towns still smell like home to me. It’s that lovely smell of rain on creosote, which is what they used to paint all the wooden fences with to keep them from rotting in the perpetual rain.

First band you were in?In grade four I had a band called “Boys 1” with a bunch of other fellows in my grade. We had a singer, two toy guitars, and a drum set made of boxes, myself on keyboard, and a guy who played the wooden spoons. I was the only one in the whole band who could actually play their instrument somewhat-neither of the guitars even had actual strings on them! Ha. We were kind of a boy band I suppose. We had a theme song, which was called “Boys 1,” and we played “La Bamba” and “Axel F.” I deeply wish I had recordings of it.

First time you performed in public? I grew up in a folk community where everyone was always jumping on stage and singing with each other, including the kids-the line between performer and audience is a lot blurrier in folk music. The venue was probably the Tranzac club in Toronto which was the hub of the folk scene then, and which is still open and active.

Read our review of Quiet River of Dust Vol. 1.

Read our 2014 Versus interview where Richard Reed Parry and Peter Gabriel interviewed each other.

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telemedical web
November 15th 2018

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April 15th 2019

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