Violinist Sarah Neufeld is in demand. Our recent phone interview was delayed, though no fault of her own, because the Arcade Fire member and Bell Orchestre co-founder was booked on back-to-back interviews to promote her upcoming solo debut Hero Brother, out today. When I reach her, she was charmingly apologetic and instantly at ease, with a wide open friendliness that, dare I say, seems to be a rather Canadian quality.
The video for the first single, “Forcelessness,” is the brainchild of arts collective Pressur.es co-founder Derrick Belcham, who Neufeld met through the Montreal music scene years ago. According to the New York Times’ T Magazine, who debuted the video online, Pressur.es is a “multidisciplinary arts organization and film series dedicated to exploring artistic modern dance and progressive music.” Neufeld has an extensive dance background: she danced for 12 years while growing up in Vancouver and Bell Orchestre began in collaboration with contemporary dance students while she was attending Concordia University. “I love working with dance and I thought it was perfect for the piece because it has the right kind of rhythm to move to. A lot of my music is frenetic and would have been crazy to choreograph to. It was a really lucky collaboration for me, it was probably what I would have wanted anyway, but they brought it to me and it was perfect.”
Neufeld shares the genesis of Hero Brother, her thoughts on dressing for the stage as a solo artist and her favourite shops on tour and in her adopted hometown of Montreal in our interview below.
FLARE: How did Hero Brother come to be? You’ve been working on solo music for a few years; when did you decide that you were going to create an album?
Sarah Neufeld: The first solo pieces I wrote were for film collaboration and those both happened while I was still on the last Arcade Fire touring cycle. And so I started writing a little bit more earnestly and someone asked me to perform. I always like a good kick in the ass and I only had a small handful of pieces so the minute we stopped touring I started writing a lot. That was about a year and a half ago, so I would say I wrote at least knowing it was a body of work I was developing. I had it in the back of my mind that I wanted to write a solo record, but I needed the body of work to start to speak for itself—like, I wanted it to tell me it was a record. Last summer I wrote the piece “Hero Brother” and I just knew that it was encapsulating the spirit of what I was doing, that all the other pieces tied into it and it was a record. I went to Germany and recorded in 10 days.
FLARE: Talk to us about fashion, how would you describe your relationship to style?
SN: I really do love clothes and colours and textures and the way things fit on the body. From the age of two, I was refusing anyone else deciding what I wore, so I’ve always had a strong sense of fashion, but I’m not a fashion geek. I’m kind of a hippie [laughs]. I mean, I love shoes. I like to keep things simple because I travel so much. Being on tour you kind of need a uniform because you can’t bring a tonne of stuff. I’m more like, “What am I going to wear to death in the next three months?” and then I’ll switch because I’m so sick of it.
FLARE: Now that you’re a solo artist, will your style change?
SN: It’s really fun because I can be much more of an individual. I get to live out my fashion dreams a bit more because I’m alone on stage. There’s a theatrical element to the way you dress and the way you’re translating your music as a visual artform. I started wearing this very Gothic black cloak-y robe all through my winter and spring performances, I found in at a store in Brooklyn called Oak. So [I wore] that and this long crazy Icelandic chain for winter, even though I’m not a Goth. I’m like a short, short-haired, chubby-cheeked Canadian [laughs]. I got really in that and these insane cowboy boot shoes that I found in a thrift shop in Toronto. My shoes always have to have a really hard sole for stomping. For summer, I’ve been wearing these white Oxfords that are really loud.
FLARE: Is there anyone whose onstage style you admire, past or present?
SN: In terms of a whole experience, Laurie Anderson is someone I’ve always admired. Her art is so interesting and unique, and her personality and the music that she makes. She’s a visual artist and a performance artist and her physicality and style have always played a huge part of that. She doesn’t play into any kind of mainstream fashion trend at all, but she’s a trend-setter just on her own.
FLARE: Besides Oak, what other stores do you frequent on your travels?
SN: I was just in Chicago and a shop that I always go into, it makes me so happy because they have the most incredible sales and craziest selection of crazy dresses is Penelope. In Montreal, Les Étoffes is a really special boutique on St Laurent.
Hero Brother is available now on iTunes. Watch the video for “Forcelessness” below.