In the early days of Arcade Fire, Ottawa’s Richard Reed Parry could routinely be found smacking a bass drum with all his might while scream-singing backup vocals. Those images of Arcade Fire’s first shows are nearly impossible to conjure up when immersed in the calming trances of Parry’s latest release, The Quiet River of Dust, Volume 1. The origins of this project date back to an Arcade Fire tour of Japan in 2008, where in an effort to escape the everyday madness surrounding his band, Parry found solace in long walks in the Japanese forests. On one walk through the woods, Parry began to hear voices that resembled the singing of his father’s old band, thus sparking an interest in the spiritual qualities of nature. The Quiet River of Dust is Parry’s first solo release featuring vocals, and a second volume will be released in March. We reached Parry in Montreal in the midst of a ten-night residency at the Société des Arts Technologiques (SAT).
Apt613: When on the road with Arcade Fire, you toured with a 360-degree camera filming nature scenes that will be an integral part of your residency this week at the Société des Arts Technologiques (SAT). In terms of inspirations, did your ideas for the record shape what you filmed, or did the scenery captured on camera influence the music?
Richard Reed Parry: It was a combination of both. I really just like to follow my nose and see where the music takes me, and I think that was the same case with the video. I really didn’t set out intentionally thinking I was making a whole filmed world for this record, but I sort of quickly latched onto that idea. I was really just exploring and seeing what you capture when you set up the camera underwater in a river, or up a tree, or when you attach it to a rock in the ocean.
I didn’t know what these experiments would produce, but I ended up with different kinds of spectacular results, and the scenes started to really graft themselves to specific song ideas. It kind of turned into a jigsaw puzzle where certain ideas presented themselves very clearly, where I would think, “oh this footage is perfect for the ending of that song, now what video can I use for the beginning of the next one?” It was fun thinking about what images to attach to which ideas sonically, and the music became a story guided by scenes and feelings rather than narrative.
The Quiet River of Dust: Volume 1 was released on the autumn equinox, and Volume 2 will be released on the spring equinox. How did you delineate which songs would be linked to which equinox, and what sounds do you associate with autumn versus spring?
It was less about associating the songs with autumn versus spring as a season, and more about separating the dying of the year and the birth of a new one. The two volumes are kind of divided as if it’s between two sides of a river, where Volume 1 represents the more conscious awake world, and the very physical visceral experience of nature and of being alive. Volume 2 to me is a little more liminal, and more like the other side of the great divide, or underneath the water of the same river.
Is the other volume already finished?
Yup, both volumes were actually recorded at the same time.
In 2014, when promoting Music for Heart and Breath, you mentioned that the album was based on an idea that you had for a decade. With the concept of The Quiet River of Dust originating from a 2008 tour, I’m wondering if there are any other concepts for an album that you’ve been holding on to for years but haven’t recorded yet.
Oh, definitely. There’s a whole other unfinished second volume of Music for Heart and Breath to make, which features an expanded ensemble with a different sonic approach than the first record. Whereas Music for Heart and Breath contained really delicate chamber pieces, the second volume features a large ensemble with a lot of percussion going on. That’s been waiting to be made for a while.
There are also other volumes of The Quiet River of Dust that are a bit different in flavour, like much louder versions of this volume. There are a lot of things that my life-partner Laurel (Sprengelmeyer, aka Little Scream) and I have written together that’s sitting there as an album waiting to be made. And there’s a record I’ve slowly been making over several years with my friend Dallas Good of The Sadies, where we’ve recorded half of an album’s worth of songs that sound kind of Everly Brothers-esque. I have a list on my fridge of all the things I want to release.
There’s a very impressive list of collaborators on this album as well, including Little Scream and the Dessner twins from The National. You’ve collaborated several times with Aaron and Bryce Dessner, what about their approach to music keeps you coming back for more collaborations? What were their contributions on the album?
Specifically, they kind of pushed me to make this concept into a record. I have a habit of dwelling on music for a while without putting it out there in the world. The two of them were the first folks besides Laurel that I played it for, and they were like, “this has to be completed, these songs are amazing”, and they kind of pushed me out the door with energy to make the two volumes. Then Aaron and I would go back-and-forth over email all the time while I was sketching ideas, and he just kind of became my part-time executive producer. I would end up going to his studio sometimes to record, and both brothers play on a bunch of these songs. They are just natural collaborators and instigators of musical happenings, and we always like to jump on each other’s music. I’d say we’re pretty musically aligned, we collaborate any chance we get.
The Quiet River of Dust is your first solo release with lyrics in the songs. Did you find the lyrical component challenging at all?
It was challenging, but enjoyable. Lyrics are not the thing that I’m quickest or best at, so it takes me a lot of work, whereas I can find the music really easily it seems. I like to think about it as if the music and the lyrics and the flow of the whole album are all on equal ground. It’s not supposed to be words grouped with music or a singer on top of a band, it’s sort of supposed to be a bit more of a tapestry of detail that evolves and gets woven together.
I think the only place on the record where that differs is on “On The Ground”, which features your father’s old band, Friends of Fiddlers Green. What was that like getting them together in the studio to accompany you?
It was thrilling to get them on my record because I was always in the family choruses on their albums when I was growing up. They’re just all such great singers. I learned how to sing from listening to them as a child, so it felt pretty special and full-circle to be able to record a song together.
You’ll be returning to Ottawa to play on November 26th at St. Albans Church. Do you have any special memories of Ottawa shows that jump out at you, whether with Arcade Fire or from starting up when you were younger?
Tons of memories. I have vivid memories of playing in my old cafeteria at Canterbury High School – those are probably some of my most formative musical moments. I did a really special show with Bell Orchestre at the Ottawa Jazz Festival one year. There were also many Arcade Fire and Bell Orchestre shows at The Black Sheep that I always remember. I played a very sweaty late night show for Music for Heart and Breath at the Ottawa Chamber Music Festival six years ago. I think it was at Saint Brigid’s. That one was real hot and sweaty, like it was excruciatingly hot. Hopefully this show won’t be as painfully sweaty as the last church.