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Arcade Fire on Recording 'The Suburbs'

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According to Win Butler, the singer-songwriter and leader of Arcade Fire, his band's new hour-long album, The Suburbs , could have been longer. "It was a much larger set of songs," he said during a two-hour interview in Quebec City, Canada, for the feature story in the latest issue of Rolling Stone . "We kept refining and editing back." He estimated the number of songs he and his wife, singer and co-writer Régine Chassagne, brought to the band, in some form, at "30 or something. There were a couple that were not related" – a reference to the record's themes of teenage angst, abandonment and escape. "There's a chunk of them that just sound like they were from a different planet."

Butler also revealed that after the album's 16 songs were recorded and mixed, "We actually cut each song to a 12-inch [vinyl disk], then used that for the final digital master. For every song on the record, there is a 12-inch disk that we played back into the computer. It's like a photograph of the vinyl."
 
"Yeah, it was a little perverse," keyboard player Will Butler, Win's younger brother, confirmed backstage in Quebec City, before Arcade Fire played for 45,000 people at Plaines d'Abraham, a sprawling park and former colonial battlefield. "On some songs, we had like 150 separate tracks bounced down to 24, then to eight, then onto vinyl – then re-digitized. There's 32 tracks of drums – 16 for each kit – just on 'Ready to Start.'"
 
Win's vinyl solution was inspired, in part, by a digitization project at the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles. "They are digitizing their rare-books collection," he explained. "They have these Russian avant-garde books, for example, from the Twenties that you can't handle, because the pages aren't in great shape. But on their website, you can see a scan of a book, every original page. You have an experience with a book that you would otherwise never see.
 
"Once I started to relate to the digital medium as an archival tool," he went on, "it was a way for me to relate to making a record. That's why we experimented with the vinyl. And it actually makes a difference. I'm not down on MP3's. A great Motown song still sounds great on MP3. But if you listen to this album on vinyl, then the [compact] disk, it's the same EQ and everything.
 
"Most people – it won't make a difference for them," Win admitted, laiughing. "But I think it sounds great."

 

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ABOUT THIS BLOG

David Fricke

Rolling Stone senior writer David Fricke has more than 10,000 albums in his New York apartment. His first record review for the magazine was Frank Zappa's 'Sheik Yerbouti' (RS 290).

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