Arcade Fire violinist takes the spotlight


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Sarah Neufeld, member of Grammy Award–winning, Montreal-based band Arcade Fire, released her first album as a solo artist this week. A tireless collaborator, Neufeld says it was time she pushed herself and her instrument to see what could be done. Plenty, as it turns out.

Toronto will get an opportunity to hear Neufeld live at The Drake Hotel tomorrow night.

“It was great to have this experience I’d never had before,” says Neufeld, on the phone from New York City where she co-owns a Moksha Yoga studio.

“We did the recording and mixing in 10 days, and I’d always wanted to do that. Just be really prepared, have a really clear vision of what you want to do and go in and do it. It happened that way and it was pretty organic. It worked out really well.”

Hero Brother, released Aug. 20 on Constellation Records, is an exercise into just how much can be done with a single stringed instrument.
Some songs are meditative, some layered and crying out for interpretation. It is a record that demands attention.

“I don’t have one approach to the instrument, one genre where I’m coming from more than others,” says Neufeld.

“Some pieces are verging on the more aggressive rhythmic, fiddling ones, melodic. It is not easy to define, and that’s what might be cool for people. It calls out for interpretation. It challenges ears and invites you to get involved.”

Neufeld has been in love with the violin since she was two years old, waiting an entire year of her young life, enduring having to sit through her older brother’s lessons, before she got her turn when she  turned three.

“I remember feeling like I’d been waiting forever,” she says. “I was really connected to the instrument even before I had my own ridiculously tiny violin.”

Growing up in a rural community on Vancouver Island within a musical community exposed the young Neufeld to a wide range of music.

The whole Royal Conservatory thing didn’t really stick. But she learned to improvise, play folk music, rock, jazz and classic fiddle tunes.

It was her passion for musical exploration that brought her to Montreal’s Concordia University as a teenager.

It was the only school she could find that allowed string instruments into the jazz program. She ended up majoring in electronic music, meeting collaborators she continues to work with today.

Shortly after her arrival, Neufeld joined up with Win Butler and the gang from Arcade Fire as well as the instrumental band Bell Orchestre. In 2009, she also joined the Luyas.

Her solo experimentation began two years ago when she posted a video online for a song called “Scalpel/Stradivarius.”

“I’ve been chipping away at the idea a little bit for the past few years,” Neufeld explains. “Then I did the piece with Jason Last for Vogue Italia. It was a nice experience. It turned out I was very happy with it.… It was a really nice starting point. I felt like I’d tapped into a well of this type of idea that I could draw out and see how much more I could learn and express in that direction.”

Sarah Neufeld, The Drake Hotel, Aug. 22

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