Seminal Canadian indie band Arcade Fire was in Toronto this week promoting their new documentary The Reflektor Tapes, which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival.
The film offers a glimpse into the making of 2013's Reflektor, the group's hugely successful double album, bouncing around from writing and recording sessions in Jamaica to shows in Los Angeles and an impromptu gig in Haiti. The whole thing kinda feels like an acid trip—without the fun of actually being high. There's little narrative or dialogue, save for a few wisdom bombs like "People have false expectations about what love is" delivered in voiceover. Director Kahlil Joseph previously worked with Kendrick Lamar on m.A.A.d., a 15-minute short that showed at LA's Museum of Contemporary Art.
VICE spent some time with frontman Win Butler, his wife and bandmate Régine Chassagne, and bassist Tim Kingsbury last weekend, where we asked them about the documentary and, in light of Canada's upcoming federal election, politics.
VICE: What made you want to work with Kahlil Joseph on this project?
Win Butler: I personally think Kahlil is a major director. From a selfish perspective, I think it's really cool that his first feature length is going to be this film 'cause I know that he's gonna do major film work for the next like 30 years. When I was just in LA we saw a piece he did on Kendrick Lamar. I left the film feeling like I knew something about his process and something more intimate than a normal documentary would maybe tell me.
I'm hopeful that the film Kahlil made for us has a similar impact and you kind of get windows into the creative process and the art.
Haiti, obviously, you guys have a really strong connection to it. Can you talk about your philanthropy work there and why that's been so important to you?
Régine Chassange: My family is from Haiti. I grew up [in Montreal] always being told, "You're so lucky to be here… Go to school, shut the fuck up, don't complain 'cause you have access to everything." I really had this in mind my whole life. I never thought I would be in a band ever. When I realized that it was going to be a real job and it was going to be successful, I really started to right away want to give back absolutely to Haiti, which is the poorest country in the hemisphere.
Butler: We started touring Funeral and on the course of that tour we went from playing 80-person rooms to, by the end of it, selling out like six nights at venues in LA. It started to get kind of crazy. We were coming home to do a hometown show and, as a band, we decided we wanted to give away the money from the hometown show because we could. Once it became real, you're like, "Here's a bag of $10,000, what's actually going to happen with it?" I think that's when we read Mountains Beyond Mountains and started learning about Paul Farmer.
In light of the upcoming election, what local or Canadian issues do you think are important?
Tim Kingsbury: I'm excited to change governments. It seems like the Harper government has kind of constantly been keeping people in the dark more and more. You can see when he gives press conferences, he won't take questions. It's kind of weird.
Butler: I actually learned recently that, as an American citizen, I'm not allowed to endorse, as a public figure, a Canadian. If I were like… "I wish the NDP would win the election," that would be completely illegal for me to do.
There have been opinion pieces in the media lately about Harper's legacy and how Canada seems to be skewing more to the right, in terms of its policies, and becoming more American in a sense. What do you make of that?
Butler: Not that American. When I first moved to Montreal, I feel like everyone I knew in a band was on some kind of an arts grant, like every single person in every band that I knew, which was kind of an amazing thing, and that's all completely gone. Systematically, things have kind of chipped away. But in terms of the big picture stuff… Canada is just way more liberal than the States, it's like not even comparable.
This interview has been edited for style and clarity.
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