Arcade Fire violinist Sarah Neufeld lets beauty emerge on Detritus

“A lot of the other stuff I had written was with fierce energy,” says the former Montrealer. “It was very athletic, insistent and intense. I didn’t feel that this time.”

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Things are looking up for Sarah Neufeld.

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The former Montrealer – known as a touring violinist for Arcade Fire, for her two whirlwind solo albums and a torrential Juno-winning album with her ex, saxophonist Colin Stetson – has just had a baby. It’s spring in Brooklyn, where she is now based. She has a new solo album, Detritus, out Friday. And she is vaccinated.

“I am and everyone I know is,” Neufeld said recently, stepping out to take my call while her newborn baby was napping. “I have never been so grateful to live in New York. I didn’t feel like this the rest (of the past 12 months) – I felt trapped in a very, very dense, urban, gray place.

“I’m not near one of the two amazing city parks. It’s a simple thing, but as a Montrealer, it’s about getting on the mountain; it takes the edge off. I didn’t have the edge part.

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For a country girl, born and raised on Vancouver Island, the outdoors are everything. The recently released third album of Juno-winning Arcade Fire side project Bell Orchester (of which she is a founding member) was recorded at the remote Vermont country home she and Stetson once shared. It’s a long way, atmospherically if not geographically, from there to NYC.

“Life just happened a certain way, and I ended up here,” Neufeld said, still accepting the move. “I (co-own) a business, Modo Yoga Studios, here. My partner is here, and now I have a child here. It’s something I never planned to do. I’m not someone who always dreamed of New York. But New York without any of the New York stuff is totally different.

The need to stand out may have been a factor in Neufeld’s new album. It’s his most organic, atmospheric and downright pretty song cycle to date. For a musician who has always approached her instrument with, well, cutting edge and a flair for frenzy, this feels like a transformation.

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“I wanted to do something beautiful,” she said. “I wanted the beautiful things in me to come out of the music. Many other things I had written were with fierce energy. It was very athletic, insistent and intense. I didn’t feel that this time. »

It might have something to do with the company she held – a dance company, to be precise. The music that forms the heart of the new album took shape through a collaboration with veteran Toronto dancer Peggy Baker.

The two women first met in 2015, when Baker asked Neufeld to contribute music to a solo performance she was doing. They got on well and stayed in touch over the next two years. Then, in early 2018, Baker invited Neufeld to the Banff Center for Arts and Creativity to work with her and seven dancers on a new production, which will be called Who We Are in the Dark.

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Inspired by all the movement around her and the mountains outside, Neufeld found herself stepping out of her comfort zone.

“It’s not like Peggy Baker said, ‘Write great music,’ but it did,” she said. “I arrived at the Banff Center for our first session together, and all of the melodic themes on the album unfolded instantly seeing…the elements of all the dance pieces.

“Peggy choreographed in silence. It was all this information in front of me. It was just inspiring, and I think she was inspired by the beauty of the music, which wasn’t what she knew me for.

Neufeld brought Arcade Fire drummer Jeremy Gara on board ahead of the show – which they toured with – and brought him back for the recording of the new album, with Bell Orchester bandmate Pietro Amato on French horn and Stuart Bogie (formerly of New York afrobeat ensemble Antibalas) on flutes. The whole thing was recorded at the legendary Hotel2tango studio in Mile End by sound guru Howard Bilerman.

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“I was excited to see where it would go in the studio,” Neufeld said. “Stuart’s flute backing vocals on a few tracks are so beautiful. It was exciting to play with the different textures. That’s how I worked with my vocals this time, treating my vocals as one of the synth sounds, along with the flutes, and having all of these textures embedded in layers of ambient synths.

The album was then mixed, with great attention to detail, by Amato.

“I was there for the most part, which I’ve never done before,” Neufeld said. “It was fun and challenging. We became obsessive. Sometimes the timbre of the violin was hard to put in the right pocket. I was very involved and present. I had to be. … It was one of my most ambitious albums in terms of production.

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Reflecting on what she has created and where she is headed, Neufeld sees herself at a crossroads, both in terms of her music and her outlook on life. Tellingly, she describes the title Détritus as “the remains of something”, which “can then be reborn or flourish, as after a fire or a flood”.

Or after a pandemic. But it all comes from a personal place.

“I changed,” Neufeld said. “I’ve been through some things now. That’s where I’ve come to, as a person. It allowed me to be much more vulnerable, to let things happen differently and come from different parts of myself.

“I want to soften, let go and let beautiful patient things emerge.”

IN ONE LOOK

Sarah Neufeld’s Detritus album releases Friday, May 14.

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  2. Arcade Fire fiddler Sarah Neufeld stars in dance choreographer Peggy Baker's new show, Who We Are In the Dark.

    Arcade Fire members mark the Peggy Baker dance performance at Place des Arts

  3. Sarah Neufeld and Jeremy Gara of Arcade Fire both have shows in Montreal.  Neufeld will be at La Sala Rossa on April 10, while Gara will perform at the Fairmount Theater on March 26.

    Arcade Fire’s Jeremy Gara and Sarah Neufeld Explore New Solo Albums

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