Win Butler had no idea how much the last couple of years would change his life. For him, the 2000's have been microcosmic of a lifetime's worth of ups and downs. Death, love, fame -- he has seen them all with striking proximity.
Last summer, Butler married Regine Chassagne, his co-vocalist in their band, the Arcade Fire, which released its debut album, Funeral, on Merge Records in September. The group, which includes Butler's younger brother William, is the latest Canadian target of the indie rock hype machine. Following the path of fellow Montreal up-and-comers the Unicorns and the Stills, among others, the Arcade Fire has catapulted into indie rock's A-list with just one album. That's not to say it isn't well-deserved, however. Funeral is a stunningly cohesive blend of electric and acoustic guitars, organs, varied percussion and kettle whistles tied together by emotionally-resonating webs of retrospection. Indeed, it appears as though the world cannot get any better for Butler, Chassagne and the rest of the group.
It wasn't always this way, however.
In the summer of 2003, Chassagne's grandmother passed away. Flash ahead to spring, 2004: While recording Funeral, Butler's grandfather and Richard Parry's (a multi-instrumentalist for the Arcade Fire) aunt passed away within a month of each other.
"Unfortunately, people are dying all the time, but many of them were in their 80s and 90s so it wasn't really unexpected," says Butler, squeezing in an interview from Maine where the Fire are rehearsing for their tour. He continues by noting how "it's reflected in the record. It didn't have to be a somber, dark thing, but more of a retrospective look at how important these people were to our lives."
Whether much of the emotional resonance with Funeral is attributable to the band's personal stories of loss is unknown, Butler explains. "I mean, the album wasn't necessarily meant to be biographical," he says, "but when we looked at the lyrics and what was going on in the record, it just [gave] people something to gather around."
The album has given critics something to gather around as well. Garnering rave reviews from nearly every publication, Funeral even convinced the miserly Pitchforkmedia.com to hand it a 9.7 rating, the highest the influential website has given any album in two years. And while the glowing ratings are flattering, Butler suggests, they are taken with a grain of salt. "To me, reviews are such an abstract thing," he says. "The way people respond to your record," he continues, "is completely arbitrary. I think people start to go crazy when they think they can control that or direct what they do to please people."
Considering the catharsis the band went through during the creation of Funeral, it's no surprise that they could care less about reviews. "The record means a lot to us," he says, "if it came out and got a lot of bad reviews, it wouldn't really affect what we're doing." That Funeral didn't come out to bad reviews is a testament to both Butler and the band's rare talent. In times where artists are experimenting with an absurd range of sounds in order to discover the next new thing, the Arcade Fire manages to create both a profoundly moving and unique album with "basic" instruments -- guitars, bass, drums, and vocals. And while these last few years have appeared gloomy at times for the band, their future seems limitless.
So how would Butler like to be remembered in 20 years? "I'm not even sure there will be music in 20 years," he says. Well, at least he's honest.
Catch the Arcade Fire at the First Unitarian Church (2125 Chestnut St.) on Sunday, Nov. 14. 7:30 p.m. $8.