I nod fervently whenever the words Arcade Fire are mentioned. It's almost always then met with an uncontrollable clatter of opinions that burst from my mind - one of 'those' isn't it? That band - in that time - that made you feel, repeatedly. The clarity of connection to their music is exponentially sound, with fans sprawled across decades and geographical boundaries and the loyalty that listeners have for them is directly proportionate to the unique instrumentation of this septet. Their music is accessible and emotive, it metronomes gracefully from melancholic to uplifting ideals. Lyrically dense and written with ambition, their songs have urgency yet sit right next to their ability rather comfortably.

I chatted to Arcade Fire's wondrously talented Violinist Sarah Neufeld over the phone ahead of the bands imminent fourth album release in October - as she will be releasing her own debut solo record worldwide on August 20th via Constellation. After having spent years firmly rooted in Montreal's musical birthing ground and playing with the Bell Orchestre ensemble too, Hero Brother creates enough vibrating momentum to inhabit a well rounded pursuit of a decidedly fresh and raw musical vision. Although wordless it leaps far away from being overtly 'beige', with a heroically strong track list that explores a different territory to her previous work in rock and indie-rock collaborations.

The records title track is soaked with a rugged yet minimalistic temperament that lures you in with warm reverbs and multi-faceted production and composition. It's an utterly bold, frantic and graceful experience that stitches textural sounds excitingly together. As expected, Sarah lathers each answer with passion and conviction. I prod and pry further about her thundering dive into solo waters, the recording process in Berlin and uncover how one woman having worked so hard still refers to her achievement as "luck".

After a brief pre-giggle about how I was calling her from Cape Town, South Africa (and how it's just such a 'far away' place) I urge her to one day get them to sink their fiery toes into African soil. Let's meet Sarah, shall we?


What a big time this is for you right now! I'm going to turn my attention toward your debut solo album 'Hero Brother', what sort of process did you go through recording it?

Well I went to Berlin to work with a friend by the name of Nils Frahm who in my opinion makes beautiful records. It was really the intimacy of his sound that I wanted to capture and connect with the intimate qualities that you find in an instrument. Nils was really excited to explore different instances by just using a portable tape recorder that journalists used from the 60's - he then took me into a few different places with very extreme properties that offered a natural reverb. We recorded in cavernous concrete spaces such as the Geodome. This was a pretty crazy little experience because you're really not supposed to be going in there as the CIA built it in the Cold War.

(Wooohw!)

Yeah! People obviously go in there because there is a ton of graffiti all over the walls. To think that something as small as there being a hole in the wall and incorporating that into the most incredible uniquely natural sound - was really like you're in the ocean

Like you're putting a Conch to your ear where you can hear all the ambient sounds?

Yeah it does sound like that! Maybe more so because it was during winter and you can hear the sounds of dripping water which makes it sound like both a Cave and Outer Space. I had to actually play everything five times slower than usual which is why on the album you have the definite Intro and Outro pieces that sound like they're from someone/somewhere else because they're actually happening in the Geodome and then the body of the piece would be recorded in a different setting to get the intimate qualities of the instrument, because let's be honest - you can't have it all sounding like it's from outer space..

Well, actually...

(laughs) but with the track Breathing Black Ground, the sounds really feels alive and breathing

That's actually because there is so much of that wind I was speaking about in there and so much of the dome. The main Violin and Body of the song is recorded in the studio but the vocals however, are in the dome - so you have both of the 'worlds' weaving together.

You're mentioning the inter-weaving of two worlds. Do you play with the concept of duality in your music particularly referring to your transition from traditional to contemporary violin style?

It's a natural habit of mine to explore duality in everything. I think that it's a fairly obvious way to approach things but I do it constantly and I never tire of it. There really is a dualistic approach going on in this album, there are pieces that are so up-close and fierce and raw, then, more stark and serene and ambient pieces that stand for two sides of the music and two different very contrasting approaches. They are still naturally coexisting elements.

How have your influences informed and moulded your music? What sort of influences did you conjure up for this album?

I wasn't specifically trying to conjure up any influences although when I compose and write for just one violin it definitely feels like it's minimalism. I spent a lot of the time with the music from people like Steve Reich and Bela Bartok. I was just honestly trying to conjure up more of a real body of work that was authentically coming from this one voice of instrumental Solo Violin music and I was sensitive to the fact that you need to have some diversity - the ears really can get tired! It was more instinctively than conceptually for me. I like how raw and perfect this record is and I'm really happy I didn't get too flossy with it too.

How did your Producer Nils Frahm help you with the recording process?

He helped me in many different ways as the pieces were definitely through-composed before I got to Berlin. He is awesomely opinionated, sometimes I would fight back and be really sure about what I was doing and sometimes I would just listen to his suggestions. He urged me to play 'less confidently' and so I ended up translating his Directive. Beyond that, it was really interesting to actually take a directive - like having an editor. Without it then you're the Writer, Actor and Director in your own film. It was good to have another set of ears saying "try this one like you're wasted!" - Which are my words, as his English is much more proper!

This is a rather big transition in your musical career, how has it been flying solo?

Oh it's really fun! The learning curve of doing something on your own is steep so I was really busy at first in just trying to do it right and now I get to experience it more without thinking about it so much.

I just played in a Chapel at a festival in the Maritimes in Canada and it reminded me of how incredible it is playing in a Church, as this music is so right for that kind of acoustic. I had this really lovely experience of feeling even more engaged allowing the performance to be more like a piece of art. In this setting, everybody is involved and it took on a life of its own and that's what I really love about it. The challenge is now greater and the reward is so much more personal. It's a more intense experience and I love intensity.

There is a collaborative improvisation attached to your other projects, and now how does it speak to you in comparison to writing as part of a collective like Arcade Fire to writing Hero Brother alone?

I'm getting more comfortable performing the pieces so I found that I'm taking more improvisational liberties in certain passages. A lot of them are technically challenging for me to play and I have them in my muscle memory now so I'm able to find more of an improv journey in those moments. Nothing ever comes from me deciding something in my mind and writing it down. It's free in its inception; they all come from the moment of me tapping into that boundary-less zone. It's quicker writing from improvisation when you're alone as opposed to with five or six people like the way Bell Orchestre writes music. Writing alone I found I needed to stop myself from doing it too quickly - I would need to enrich myself so I would try to allow my mind to take on different qualities (giggles) and try not to lock myself into my own mind.

But how do you feel about people classifying this part of your career?

I don't mind! For me it is just the way I have always played alone. It's now coming out into the world for the first time for other people's ears so of course they're going to think it is different than say, the last Arcade Fire record. I don't find that to be a problematic discourse, it demands people to let go of the urge to classify it because it is hard to classify. So yes, the starting point is "here is something different from the other projects" and then it becomes more about the music , which is a much more fun conversation to have.

So tell me more about the name Hero Brother

The spirit of the record lies in the more dramatic archetype characters within, and Hero Brother was the strongest one of those. Hero Brother is an androgynous protector going to battle for the beliefs for the one he/she loves. Even with Right Thought and Wrong Thought you get these glimmers in your mind that send specific feelings through your nervous system of "oh this is the kind of pattern in my mind that affects me with negativity" so I explore this pattern in my consciousness that affects me in a much calmer more open and less reactive way. I developed a narrative world and felt most pulled by the energy of Hero Brother. When I wrote it last summer I had one of those moments where I thought "now I've got a record".

Who did the artwork for your album?

My friend Tracy Maurice who is an artist and a dear friend of mine whom I met when she did the artwork for Funeral, Neon Bible and the first Bell Orchestre album. She also did Collin's last two records. I really wanted to do something with her that was a collaborative with just the two of us. One day she said "I found a cave, and we have to go there, oh and we're gonna do it on 60mm movie film". She had a clear image of what she wanted to do and found textures and dark 'feelings'. The cover shows me as a tiny little figure dressed in a medieval outfit in a big cavernous textured cave - in a way I'm Hero Brother, so she really understood some of it more than I did.

Despite the veneer of a communal democracy that you've been a part of and how bands become possessed with something greater than themselves, you make music that has lasting value so what was the imagery that you want the listener to create when they listen to your solo work?

It is something that allows people to free associate. I am hearing that they are seeing really personal unique films in their imagination. I want people to have their own experiences with it as I have mine.

How are you feeling about touring for the new Arcade Fire album and also for your solo debut?

That's gonna be a shift of gears! We haven't been on tour for almost two years. I can't make a lot of individual plans you know, none of us can when you're in a band. My original hope was to get the record out months earlier so I'd be able to tour it properly when it was released, but instead I toured it before It was released! The only thing I'm sure of are my three release shows in New York, Toronto and Montreal.

I'm a hard worker and if I do have any spare time I will continue to do this because it feeds a different side of myself that I've learned is now important to cultivate.

What with two new albums, all these influences and so many other things happening around you - how do you bring it all together and keep relatively sane?

You can't always have everything in perfect balance. The act of balancing is constantly being okay with the flux and the chaos of everything and keeping your wits about you and enjoying it. I feel like I'm a lot of the times in a storm of chaos; If I don't sleep as much, drink too much coffee, keep getting a colds from travelling, but I'm so lucky to have a passion in life that keeps me going. I'm excited about being alive and I want to make all this music - I feel it's my duty to be able to do them all. I'm also in my 30s and hope that in my 50s I can maybe take a holiday for longer than 3 days!

What are the reactions from the other members of Arcade Fire on your solo work?

Well they are all so busy I don't know how much they know about it! I'm sure they will hear it when it comes out! Any family of close friends and collaborators are going to support one another and when I see Richies new music that he's been working on; Quiet Rivers Of Dust - I feel so proud of him. Seeing people coming into themselves and doing these more Individual Expression Projects, is just so cool.



How fitting it was to hear that just like her solo work, Sarah pirouetted like a light breeze through the notions of her upcoming album so passionately. She authentically navigates current culture by expressing an alarming sense of vulnerability, an inspiring work ethos and a raw sense of wanting to just have fun. Although wordless, Hero Brother becomes the natural extension of her voice, rhythmically and emotionally existing in a single instrument.

Her debut solo record is out today via Constellation Records.