Sarah Neufeld of Arcade Fire on Her New Solo Album “Detritus” | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Sarah Neufeld of Arcade Fire on Her New Solo Album “Detritus”

All Things New

May 12, 2021 Web Exclusive
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This is a new season for Sarah Neufeld in every imaginable way. As the hold of a global pandemic slowly loosens its grip, life for the talented artist and composer is slower and perhaps more substantive. And the music is only partly to blame.

As spring is here and the summer approaches for an ever-opening world, the Arcade Fire violinist has two new projects on offer. Detritus is the beautiful new solo release, five years after her last solo album, The Ridge, and comes to us around the same time as House Music, her work alongside five others (including fellow Arcade Fire member Richard Reed Parry) in Bell Orchestre. These albums provide release in a time when new life is already emerging for Neufeld as a first-time mother—a life stage she says she never pictured given her hurried past.

These days, however, Neufeld says life is at a more manageable pace. Vulnerable is the oft-used descriptor to describe these post-pandemic days (if we’re there yet), and Neufeld says it makes sense that as she gets older, some of the constant activity of her earlier years as a musician have given way to a slower and more tender side of her work.

We recently asked Neufeld to tell us about this season that she’s in and what Detritus means for her.

Matt Conner (Under the Radar): You mentioned having a new baby and coming out of the year we’ve had with spring on the way, I wondered if all of this felt like it was synthesizing for you as a time of newness?

Sarah Neufeld: They are in this nice way that’s coincidental. This pandemic year that we’ve all had is so weird. It’s felt very locked down and shut in and everything is stuck. It’s that kind of energy, and it’s been tough for everybody. At the same time, we all knew the winter would be really dark. I was also pregnant the whole time, so I didn’t get to see my family for the entire pregnancy. My family will never be part of that. Everyone lived quite far away and I hadn’t seen them since last Christmas.

So there was all this isolation, but I knew coming around the corner in the spring of 2021that I had these albums coming out. I was also going to have a baby. And maybe just maybe, the vaccination schedule will be accelerated enough that people can start to live a little bit freer and that the sickness will be less devastating. I’ve just been waiting for that light at the end of the tunnel and we’re here.

I know there’s a long way to go before collectively we can all breathe again, but on a personal level, it’s like a release valve has been let go and I’ve gotten to put out music at this time. I also have this tiny little human, which is a whole other can of worms. [Laughs] But it is exciting and also full of questions of “What does it even mean to put out an album right now?” And “Will there be live shows?” And “Will my family meet this baby?”

All of those questions remain, but it does feel exciting to have new music and life coming into my world for sure.

So just to be clear, the album has been finished for a bit?

Yeah, both my album Detritus and Bell Orchestre’s House Music have been done for a while. I finished mastering in February 2020, so my release plan wasn’t crystal clear at that point anyway. I thought, “Well, I’ll iron those details out in the spring and so it’ll probably come out in the fall.” So for me, it’s only been a six-month delay, a year tops, if I’d been really on it.

As for Bell Orchestre, that was supposed to come out last winter, so we delayed for quite a while. We had a clear release plan, but we couldn’t release given the circumstances.

So yeah, we’ve been sitting on these for a little bit, but I’m glad to be releasing stuff now when there is a light at the end of the tunnel for people. It does feel like a better time. Not to be cheesy, but it is spring and things are blooming. There’s movement, so it’s a nice time to be releasing music for sure.

Does the delay change your relationship with either project at all?

There’s always a bit of a lag, especially with Bell Orchestre. That project has always taken a lot of years in the making of something. There’s just a lot of pausing given the nature of a group of people all being really committed to other projects. So we’ll get together for a week a year and do really good work in that week, but it’s a spread out timeline. [Laughs]

As far as Detritus, the album version was slightly different. I reworked a live soundtrack that I’d created for a dance corporation. I’d already toured that version of this music, which included more soundtrack stuff. So we’d toured a lot in 2019, right after the Arcade Fire tour finished. We launched into this other world tour on a different scale, on a dance scale.

I started writing Detritus in its nucleus form in 2018, so here we are quite a few years later and it’s gone through this evolution. So to answer your question, it feels like it couldn’t have happened any quicker given the nature of the work involved.

As far as my relationship to it, I got to take a break from it. I mastered it and then it was done but then the pandemic hit and I wondered if I’d ever put it out. I was focused more on the admin level. We all have that in our lives, which is less joyful and less interesting, but I got caught up in it. Then sometime in the fall I listened to the thing again and realized, “Wait a minute, I actually love this!” I noticed a lot about it that I didn’t before because I’d been living with the music on the road and in rehearsals and practicing it so much.

There’s so much about it that’s quite challenging and I was doing solo shows where I played an even different version of it where I played synth bass with my feet and violin with my arm and body and then I’m singing. So I was this marionette person, just so focused on the technicalities and logistics of it that I forgot it was music for a little while. To plug back in, I feel more connected to the work than I have in a long time.

I read a quote from you about being in a period of dismantling your life and obviously the title Detritus seems to speak to that. Is it about that?

Kind of. It’s the period I was living personally, but the title itself is a bit more of a theoretical, macro version imagining what you have left as a world or person or entity after a major event that could be on the tragic side or the destructive side. It’s the ashes after a fire, the wreckage left after something. It’s the idea of what we can find that’s left over. It might seem like waste or wreckage, but it’s also the beginning. So that was the symbolism that I felt I was writing from with these pieces.

Can you take us through what was happening there without making things unnecessarily personal or uncomfortable?

Without getting into details, I’ve always been a person very focused on my music, on my career, on a lot of outward things. It’s being prolific and doing a lot all the time, like being in many, many projects and building home studios and really not focused on anything else. I mean, I never, ever thought I would have a family. I was never in a place for more than four days.

I just got to the point where I kind of hit a wall on a number of levels with the amount I was doing and found myself acting out in ways that caused me a lot of harm and destruction. I ended up separating from my life partner and all new things happened that I never thought would happen. I ended up in a different city with a different person with a child.

Then the pandemic hit and took away all of my doing. I know that’s after the fact of the album, but it was this big moment going from everything being on 11 to just flatlining. Then it’s just one foot in front of the other rebuilding life asking, “How do I want to do that?”

What do you learn about yourself as an artist on the other side of all of this, then?

I’m really inspired to write more music in the vein of some of the stuff on Detritus. My work became a lot more patient and tender. With that vulnerability, it opened my creative brain in a new way where I was able to write differently. I mentioned earlier that I was always doing with lots of movement and I think you could draw parallels to my music with that as well. There was a lot of intensity and vigor in my previous work. On this album, there are pieces with intensity and vigor, for sure, and the process is intense and vigorous, but I think I wrote in some new ways, too. That’s how I evolve as an artist because of my personal life and path, and I will continue to evolve in that direction.

Detritus is due out this Friday via Paper Bag (and One Little Independent in the UK).

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