After graduation, Butler enrolled at Sarah Lawrence College to study photography but barely made it through a year. "I was just writing songs all day," he says. His high school friend Josh Deu went to Montreal to attend college, and Butler followed in early 2001. "I moved there in the fucking winter," he says. "It was like, 'Welcome to the coldest place of your life.'" Butler enrolled at McGill University, where he became a religion-studies major. At an art opening one day, he spied Chassagne singing jazz standards. The daughter of Haitian immigrants who fled François Duvalier's oppressive regime in the Sixties, Chassagne grew up in a poor French-speaking home in Montreal's suburbs. Her mother died in the late Nineties, and Chassagne had to help support her family, working with children and playing and singing in jazz bands while studying music at McGill.
Butler approached Chassagne about starting a band. Initially, she wasn't interested in more than a musical partnership. "I put on my ugliest jeans and white socks, and put my hair up so it looked like shit," she says. "I went to his apartment, and he played me songs. I had never seen someone play so maturely. He wasn't pretending to be who he wanted to be."
Their first date was a showing of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. They had agreed to meet in a large group, but both mysteriously forgot to invite their friends. Chassagne had also forgotten to mention that the movie was being shown with French subtitles, and the two of them ended up huddling in a corner of the theater, with Chassagne whispering translations in Butler's ear.
The pair soon discovered they were natural songwriting partners. Deprived of a CD player till she was eighteen, Chassagne had undergone an unconventional musical education. "We had all these weird, random records," she says. "Bach, Beethoven, opera, Jacques Brel, Edith Piaf – grandmother music." Chassagne is a self-taught pianist and accordion player, and the influence of all that grandmother music is part of what makes the Arcade Fire's sound unique.
When Chassagne first joined the Arcade Fire, the band practiced in Butler's giant loft, above a bar in downtown Montreal. They played basements, art openings and club gigs. In the summer of 2002 they recorded their first EP in Maine, where Butler's parents had recently moved when his dad took a job at a land conservatory. A year and a half later, at a New Year's party, Butler pulled Chassagne aside and asked her to marry him. Not long after the group finished recording Funeral, the two were married at a maple-sugar farm an hour east of Montreal.
When the band's tour wraps up in Boston, Butler and Chassagne stay behind in the city for a few days before a press trip to Europe. They're surprisingly domestic for a couple of twentysomethings in a rock band, and they say they almost always prefer to cook dinner at home or play music with friends than go out. They'd like to return to Montreal for a long rest, but for now they remain homeless, having sublet Butler's loft. "I know there are some annoying things on the horizon," Butler says. "People are gonna try and tear us down. I'm totally prepared for that."
After downing oysters at a restaurant in Boston's financial district, Butler and Chassagne return to their hotel for a night of playing cards with one of Butler's Boston friends. Not long before turning in around midnight, Chassagne thinks back to the days when she and Butler first met. They were making music and contemplating marriage, but they were also worrying about how they'd survive as a family: She was working odd jobs and performing random gigs, and he worked part-time at a deli until he chopped off a piece of a finger. "Back then we were dreaming," she says. "'Wouldn't it be nice if we could actually live, pay our rent and play music?' It was a dream."
This story is from the March 10th, 2005 issue of Rolling Stone.
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