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.”