Interview: Fired Up

Eoghan Scott discusses large scale stadium tours, Tom Waits collaborations and intimate Cork gigs with duo act Colin Stetson and Sarah Neufeld (of Arcade Fire fame).

Colin Stetson and Sarah Neufeld kicked off Triskel Arts Centre’s Cork Guinness Jazz Festival lineup, bringing with them an intimate live performance featuring cuts from their critically acclaimed duet album collaboration Never Were The Way She Was. Born in Ann Arbor, Colin Stetson spent a decade in San Francisco and Brooklyn AF Duo Colin-Sarah_Scott-Irvine-Kim-MeineltB honing his skills as a horn player and has worked extensively over the years with the likes of Tom Waits, Arcade Fire, Bon Iver, the late Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson. Having developed his own utterly individual sound as a soloist, Colin has become one of the most in demand horn‐players working today.

Completing the pair is Montreal‐based violinist and composer Sarah Neufeld, best known as a member of Arcade Fire, as well as being a founding member of the acclaimed contemporary instrumental ensemble Bell Orchestre, along with fellow Arcade Fire musician Richard Reed Parry.

Counting their mutual influences as amongst the likes of “Bach, Jimi Hendrix, Arvo Part, Steve Reich and Aphex Twin, to name but a few,” the duo’s collaborative project is drawn from a diverse range of influence and association, creating something truly unique and yet completely entrenched in the work that has borne such a strong impact on them.

Despite both being heavily associated with their work in Arcade Fire, this side collaboration as a duo has been coming long before their time working with the world renowned Canadian alt‐rock band, as Sarah is quick to point out.

“We actually knew each other long before Colin came on tour with Arcade Fire. We’ve worked together in a lot of different contexts, with bands, and more recently on a few soundtracks. We’ve always wanted to create a body of work as a duo, and the time was right.”

Never Were the Way She Was was released earlier this year to glowing reviews; of the little criticism to be found, some reviewers felt that the album was too short. “We’re really happy with the reception it’s gotten!” remarked Sarah, adding “it’s been lovely performing it live as well.” Colin also noted that the album managed to “[take] on a life of it’s own in the live arena.”

The pair were clearly anxious to bring said live show to Cork, praising the burgeoning Cork music scene, which has somewhat exploded of late, last month attracting the likes of Bryce Dessner of The National, not to mention Sarah Neufeld’s frequent Arcade Fire and Bell Orchestre collaborator Richard Reed Parry, as part of this year’s inaugural Sounds from a Safe Harbour festival.

“We’ve heard so many things about Cork and it’s music scene from friends of ours, like Bryce and Richard. We’ve never been before and are excited to be a part of it!” They also note what they feel makes Irish audiences special: “Warm, expressive and loud – the best!”

Colin and Sarah’s live performances together are known for their deeply intimate and personal atmospheres. Such a contrast, one would imagine, from the more over‐the‐top and visual outings Sarah must be used to alongside Arcade Fire. However, she asserts that “every different performance context has it’s own charm. We love an over-the-top arena show just as much as an intimate hall, the connection is different and the energy is different. We’re both grateful to have such varied experiences.”

Colin too has worked with an astonishing array of acclaimed musicians over the years, each seemingly more impressive than the last. “I’ve enjoyed all of my collaborations, particularly the likes of Lou Reed, Bon Iver and TV on the Radio! I think, however, the most influential and memorable is still the time I had with Tom Waits. At that point in 2001, I was living in San Francisco and had always dreamed of making music with him someday (which was in fact largely why I chose to move to San Francisco a few years before), so when I got the call and was invited to come and record for him on Blood Money and Alice it was pretty much a dream come true scenario.”

When working on his albums, everything Colin does is recorded in one take, no overdubs and not manipulated in any way. Rather than limiting his work, he finds that this opens up many more possibilities for the record.

“I’ve always found that instituting these basic limitations and parameters opens up an enormous amount of freedom, musically. The challenge of it, physically, is a motivator and a process that has reward and satisfaction built into its structure.”

One only has to glance at his discography to understand how in‐demand Colin Stetson is as a collaborator.

“When I guest on other people’s records, it’s them coming to me…and yes, unfortunately, there are many requests that I can’t take on, because of scheduling, preference, etc…many different reasons.”

Teasing an upcoming project of his own, he admits one of the reasons he can’t find the time to collaborate more.

“In projects of my own that involve others, of which I have a BIG one coming out next year, I reach out to those musicians who are close to me and who I feel would be right for the music.”

Both Colin and Sarah acknowledge that there is no end to the number of artists with whom they would like to collaborate.

“I just had the chance to perform with Evan Parker [renowned British free‐ improvising saxophone player], which was such a beautiful moment” remarks Colin; “and Sarah just collaborated with the wonderful Canadian choreographer/dancer Peggy Baker. Collaborating with artists who have had such rich, long careers is incredibly inspiring. There’s a ton of people we would still like to work with.”

Aside from the many projects, a constant in Sarah’s life has been having worked with Arcade Fire for over a decade now. However, she is quick to play down any individual role, describing it as a wholly collaborative process.

“It’s not really about “putting my own stamp on it,” it’s a collective thing. It’s been an incredible 11 years working with them, completely outside anything I’d really imagined!”

Though, as a result of the distinct contrast between the kinds of music she and Colin have put out alongside bands and artists such as Arcade Fire or Bon Iver and their mutual solo efforts, she appears to have noticed a notable amount of crossing‐over of more casual, indie‐rock fans from their more well‐known work.

“We do find that some listeners come across our experimental work via these bigger rock channels, and in some cases, our music serves as an introduction to the more experimental side of the spectrum.”

On working as a solo musician as opposed to within a group, Sarah notes “when you work alone, it’s much more of a direct line from your vision to the outcome. It’s a really interesting process and I think one that’s important to craft. It allows you to deepen your relationship to your own process, to learn when to trust your instincts and when to discard something you were previously attached to. I believe it makes for stronger collaborations with others as well.”

Her debut solo record Hero Brother was released back in 2013 to a positive reception, but not wanting to rest on her laurels, Sarah has already made plans to release it’s follow‐up. “ I finished another solo record earlier this year, which is coming out in early 2016. I’m very excited to get that out there and do a bit of touring on it as well!”

Never Were The Way She Was by Colin Stetson and Sarah Neufeld is available now.