Monday, July 20, 2009

Win om Merge

Merge, Arcade Fires skivbolag, fyller 20 år och därför har Pitchfork intervjuat några av deras favoritband som ligger på just Merge. Arcade Fire var givetvis ett av dem.

Pitchfork: When did you first hear of Merge Records?

Win Butler: I grew up in the suburbs of Houston, and there's not a lot of independent music. [Laughs.] I went to boarding school in New England, and I definitely remember hearing Superchunk in high school. I was living in Boston, and it was the first time I had been living in a city or whatever where there was an actual college radio station that played music. Around the same time, I remember hearing Neutral Milk Hotel and the Magnetic Fields. It was one of my first experiences where it didn't seem to me that the independent thing was a production choice or, like, "We don't have money so this is how we sound" sort of thing. These songs were as good as any songs you'd ever heard. It was musically as good as anything. When we were looking for a label years later, it was really the only label I was super-interested in, so it was a dream come true.

Our drummer at the time, Howard [Bilerman], had known Mac and Laura. He used to let them crash at his place in the Superchunk days. I get the impression that he would document shows back in the day. [Ed.: Bilerman recorded Clambakes Vol. 4: Sur La Bouche: Live in Montreal 1993.]

Pitchfork: How many labels did Arcade Fire send their demo to?

WB: I don't think really anything came out of us mailing our demo to people. I remember a guy from Saddle Creek hearing the demo a year after Funeral came out. They found it in the stack, and he thought, "Oh, no, what have I done?" We played this weird show in Boston with Devendra Banhart and Xiu Xiu; this acoustic show where we happened into this opening slot. Through that, there was this label called Absolutely Kosher that we were talking to a lot. There's a local label that put out the Unicorns record, alien8, that we were talking to. We were pretty close to going with them before everything happened with Merge.

Pitchfork: How did the Merge deal finally happen?

WB: We just drove down to North Carolina. It's kind of a big decision, and we had been really close to signing to alien8, so we wanted to make sure we were doing the right thing. We drove down and met everyone, and it was this kind of instant… For everyone in the band, I think, it was obvious what the right thing to do was. My understanding of how they decided to sign us was that we sent them some rough mixes of songs on Funeral while we were working on them. It didn't have anything to do with the EP. It was more like, "These are the songs we're working on now." They were playing them around the office and there were a lot of people who were really into it and pushing Mac and Laura, like, "Oh, you gotta sign these guys." It had nothing to do with any kind of hype or anything like that. It was way before any of that, and it was just a bunch of people connecting to our music. We could really tell that was the case. It was very comforting.

Pitchfork: You mentioned the groundswell of support for Funeral in the office. That must have been an encouraging sign that these people were going to work for you?

WB: It was really cool, and the other really striking about the office at Merge was that so many people we talked to that worked there had moved to Chapel Hill just hoping that they could work at Merge. They made the leap and moved there, not knowing if they would have a job or anything. [Laughs] "You know, what? I'd really like to work for Merge, so I'll move to this town and see what happens. That's part of what's really special about what Mac and Laura have created. They have made this outpost, and people from all over say, "I wonder what's happening there."

Pitchfork: Why is that? What do they have or encourage?

WB: The best analogy I can make is that Régine [Chassagne] and I were just on a trip in rural Louisiana, and we were driving between Houston and New Orleans. Down there, there are a lot of radio stations that play a lot of French-Acadian music. It would be some beautiful oldies song I'd never heard, and then slick modern country song. Then you'd listen to the lyrics, and the lyrics would actually be pretty good. Then there would be French-Acadian song, but it was still really interesting to listen to because it's an expression of someone's musical taste and their personality. You're driving through the countryside, and more radio used to be that way. It was this positive experience of the radio for the first time in a long time. That's how I see Merge: It's really just an expression of their tastes and things that they like. It permeates the company in a way.

Pitchfork: You played the Cave, the tiny underground music venue in Chapel Hill, just after Merge signed you. Do you remember that show?

WB: Of course. It was before the record had come out. That was our first real tour in the States opening for the Unicorns, which was really a great time. We wanted to play in Chapel Hill, and the Unicorns had a show in South Carolina. We booked that show at the Cave, and the Unicorns went on to South Carolina. We met up again in Atlanta or something like that.

I remember nearly hitting my head on the ceiling several times. So many times in Arcade Fire, I remember playing in Providence, R.I., and my friend Hilary and my parents showed up, and there was some old hippie couple. And we played our whole set, just like, "Oh, whatever." We'd still really bring it even if we were playing for four people. [Laughs] We were still in that mentality. We were excited to just be playing for the Merge people even though there were only probably 15-20 people there. We wanted them to see us and get what we did.

Pitchfork: And do you feel like that night accomplished that connection?

WB: Definitely. It was pretty great. And we all stayed at all people in the label's houses. There were a lot of us. I think we really connected with everyone that was working there.

Pitchfork: Two shows later in Chapel Hill (and I suppose your last show here that wasn't for Barack Obama), you thanked Christina Rentz, Merge's publicist, from the stage. Why?

WB: The whole deal really took us by surprise. In a lot of ways, it was a learning situation for all of us. On that tour, the first headlining tour, Martin and Christina-- who were setting up our interviews at that point-- it was non-stop. A cell phone would ring in the van, and we'd be driving from show to show in the van and passing the phone around the van. It was basically like one foot in front of the other. For them, it was kind of the same thing: "Holy crap, what do we do here? Let's try and figure it out." In a way, we all kind of learned and grew together and figured out what worked and what didn't work.

Pitchfork: Correct me if I'm wrong, but I imagine people with a lot of money approached you about releasing the record after Funeral. Why stay with Merge?

WB: We were definitely approached by pretty much everyone. There was nothing that came even close. We were never that interested in leaving in the first place, but there aren't that many real labels out there. It's the same as the radio stations. There's only a handful of them still working and kicking in the spirit of how it's supposed to be. We were never tempted to leave Merge. It already worked, and we already were happy. There's a perception in a way that it's all about pushing something, but 95% of the whole process was saying, "No. No. No. No. Yes. No. No." A lot of it was trying to filter through the noise and all the chaos, and it really felt like partners in a way that we weren't going to get with another label. We were both in the same storm. When I think of a major-label situation, they're taking you out and trying to push you in all these avenues where your music wouldn't actually go. With Merge, it's very much been like we're following how people respond to the music, instead of vice versa.

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