Arcade Fire’s Richard Reed Parry: “It’s gotta find a way out.”

Arcade Fire’s Richard Reed Parry: “It’s gotta find a way out.”


Richard Reed Parry talks to PMA Magazine’s Mark Lepage about family, punk, and Arcade Fire.

“I realized early on ‘I’m not like these other kids’,” Richard Reed Parry says.

No.

“They were not getting up at 5 a.m. on May Day morning to dance around the maypole and sing as the sun rises.”

Yep, that’s a fair bet. But there is no musical training like DNA, and Parry—the son of very serious folk musicians—is following in an ancient tradition, no matter what band or solo project he plays in. The multi-instrumentalist, primarily known as a member of Arcade Fire, operates a medium-sized industry of projects. Which makes sense when you hear his bio.

Knowing (as you do) the remarkable fusion of intimate and anthemic that took Arcade Fire from the loft parties of Montréal to Olympus, it isn’t all that surprising to learn how deeply Parry’s artistic identity is rooted in family. Take “Wake Up” from the 2004 debut Funeral (although I actually own a cassette release that predated it…). Or, take “Song of Wood”, from Parry’s 2018 solo release Quiet River of Dust Vol. 1. “It kind of draws on a deep wellspring of music that I grew up on. I was absolutely embedded in a very traditional folk music scene.” 

His father, David, was “a folksinger and archivist with hundreds and hundreds of songs in an infamous band called Friends of Fiddler’s Green.”  His mother, Caroline Balderston, is also a poet and musician. His sister Evalyn is a singer, songwriter, and spoken word performer. David and Caroline were influenced by, and involved in, the first wave of major British folk: Steeleye Span, the Watersons. “They were cutting their teeth on that,” Parry says. “They were carriers of songs, in a proper vocal folk tradition. All the parties I went to—it wasn’t music playing on stereos, it was songs being sung. Everyone harmonizes and knows all the words to all the songs. That was my environment.”

It may not have been a huge leap from there to Arcade Fire in musical terms, but there was a passage to negotiate. Parry’s dad passed away when he was 17, and “there was a long period in the aftermath of that where I was trying to figure things out. To place myself in relation to that heritage. Not to be a capital F folk musician, but you carry it, embody a musical memory, kind of a way of being in the world.”

That may be the finest description of ‘musician’ that this writer has ever encountered. “To me it was normal to have no TV. I never ‘aspired’ to being a type of musician, it just lives in you. It’s gotta find a way out, it is the fibre of you. And for me it’s all in Arcade Fire—us trying to out-sing each other.”

Of course, he was also, like, a teenager once. It can’t all be bouzoukis, banjos, and tin whistles. He went through a punk and post-punk/hardcore phase (whose indomitable spirit you can hear yowling in the less raucous passion of Arcade Fire), but has an insightful view of the genre(s). “Punk was supposedly this great break from tradition and rethinking of everything,” he says. “But they only rethought things so much—and then it really became a codified thing. Everyone sort of had the same aesthetic and even look, so they weren’t really ‘rethinking the future’. The attitude can only get you so far without delving into the depth of music.” 

He notes that the great bands, like The Clash or Fugazi, live on precisely because they bucked trends rather than obeying them. “And that’s what folk musicians and jazz musicians were always doing. Folk was also doing things on no budget with no musical training, but maybe more respect for lineage. I mean, not many punk bands really invented fuck-all.”

photo by Zachary Hertzman

“Real music culture is a beautiful thing,” he says. It’s instinctive, and while “Breaking rules is great, figuring out why rules exist is also great.” The immortal Kind of Blue by Miles Davis “broke rules but knew what the rules were. It was forward-thinking but embraced and respected what’s gone before.”

So the big band: Arcade Fire. They’ve been recording material for what would be a 7th album, although they probably have more than one coming. His career as a solo composer and experimental musician “is not nearly as scrutinized as Arcade Fire”. But it is voluminous. He has recorded with Little Scream, The National, the Barr Brothers, Islands, The Unicorns, and Bell Orchestre, who will perform with the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal in November. He has 8 (!) solo releases, including the 2020 soundtrack The Nest and the two Quiet River of Dust albums. “I feel fortunate to straddle all these worlds. But really, I’m just going where I’m pulled. Exploring all these other facets of my musical interests—and heritage.”

He has been granted that licence by the success of the rock band, “but why would I retread the same ground the rock band does?”

“It’s not necessarily strategic, career-wise,” he says. Which is never the point anyway. “For me, there are so many angles to this labyrinthine, prismatic experience. I don’t necessarily think that scale is better nor do I prefer it. I love the local-music-level way of doing things. I’m just trying to make beautiful stuff.

“My head spins sometimes but I seem to have a boundless appetite. So until my head explodes…”

2024 PMA Magazine. All rights reserved.


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