The Unstoppable Ambition of Arcade Fire

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Still, Chassagne laughs brightly as she describes her early self-education in music. With little money for luxuries like records or a stereo, "I listened to my neighbor's music, the sounds coming through the walls," she says, "and tried to play them on the piano. I trained my brain to remember — 'because you're not going to hear it again.' "

Chassagne is blunt about what attracted her to Butler, after they met in 2001 at a Montreal art gallery where she was singing: "It was the focus. He seemed very focused on music, instead of trying to seduce me." Even now, on a normal day at their home in Montreal, "we hear each other's musical thoughts all day long. Win plays piano while I'm in the kitchen. Or I'm singing something, and he picks it up later."

"It's jumbled," Butler says, trying to explain the couple's work together. "I write a lot of the things she sings. She's written chords to a lot of things I sing." He cites "Wake Up," an elegiac thing she did on piano that got Arcade Fire-ized. One of us is always in the other room when the other is working on something, so we're always the first to hear anything and make suggestions. We write as it's happening."

In a backstage dressing trailer before the Quebec City show, Will suggests his brother's focus is closer to "tunnel vision. If 'a' is in front of him and he is passionate about it, 'x, y and z' do not exist to him. In high school, he was always bad at history. But he took one class on Communist China that triggered him. He got an A, because it was within the circle of light."

"You want to get basic?" Gara says, laughing and turning to Will. "If you're focused on something, you still remember to take the garbage out. Win will not. You play ping-pong more defensively. Win plays aggressively, just slamming the ball at you."

Parry and Kingsbury tell a story about Win attending a show they played with a band before they were in Arcade Fire. "He came up after the show and said, 'Oh, that was great,' " Kingsbury says, adding that Win also told them one song was too long and the group vocals didn't work.

"He was just trying to help," Parry adds with a shot of wry in his laugh. But Parry is quick to refute "that clichéd thing: 'The singer is the band.' The singer is not the band. He has a lot to say, but that's not how it works." "If it did turn into the Win and Ré
gine Show, I'm pretty sure the band would fall apart," Kingsbury adds.

At the same time, Win's unique relationship with Chassagne is Arcade Fire's precious engine. "When our inner relationship starts to go, everything will start to go," Win admits. "It's an important part of everything." For now, he looks at his band's trajectory, since that 2003 show in Montreal, with realistic calm. "It's not like we're at the level where it actually gets scary, where it's crazy la-la land," Win says.

Besides, he notes, "one of the great things about having a big band is you can hang out with different people at different times." When the pressure is too great, "you can lose yourself in the crowd."

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