Ever since their self-titled debut EP was released in 2003, Arcade Fire have had a sound like no other.
The Montreal band have blended as wide a range of musical and thematic influences as you could imagine, evolving with each new release. This has helped them secure headline slots at some of the world’s biggest festivals, as well as embarking on huge stadium tours across the globe.
We caught up with founding member and multi-instrumentalist Will Butler to discover his Ultimate Playlist – the songs that mean the most to him – and his answers have helped us gain insight into one of the world’s most intriguing musical acts.
Arcade Fire are on tour in the UK now
Favourite Sad Song
“Probably The Drifters, probably ‘There Goes My Baby’, if I’m in a more melancholy, romantic mood I’ll go with that. If I want to feel devastated and hate the world I listen to ‘Strange Fruit’ - probably the Billie Holiday version but really any of the versions of ‘Strange Fruit’. It’ll make you feel real dark.”
Favourite Movie Soundtrack Song
“Once again you can go many different ways. I’ll stand by both Ghostbusters the record and ‘Ghostbusters’ the song. Every three-year-old in the world likes it, every person in their thirties, it brings back their whole youth, people in their 80s are like ‘Oh, this is a fun song’. It’s like everybody loves it. People like it ironically, people like it unironically, it just really brightens up a room - and the whole soundtrack kinda does that - but the title track is where it’s at.”
Favourite Song from Your Childhood
“I didn’t really listen to the radio, growing up, I listened to a lot of classical music, I played in the little school band. It was the Walkman days, sort of between the Walkman and Discman days, and I’d listen to the tape I had of Tchaikovsky. One side was ‘Marche Slave’ and the other was ‘The 1812 Overture’. But I really played the ‘Marche Slave’ side to death… reading pre-teen fantasy novels and listening to ‘Marche Slave’.”
Favourite Song That No One Else Knows
“I really love almost everything that Lora Logic has done, but she’s more heard of in the UK probably. There’s an Essential Logic song called ‘Martian Man’, it’s just this amazing post-punk UK [track]… it should be a classic.”
Favourite Club Anthem
“Probably ‘Blue Monday’, it’s pretty much the best-sounding song that was ever recorded. You listen to it and you’re like “My god”. I read an interview with Bernard Sumner where he was talking about every single song he ripped off to write it and you listen to all those songs and you’re like “oh yeah!”, but then you still stick on ‘Blue Monday’ and you’re like “No, it’s still got something else”.”
Favourite Wedding Song
“I’ve been to a lot of weddings with bad bands and I’ve been to a lot of weddings with DJs, and I guess if they’re playing a really great Motown song you can’t be mad at anything. I’d just go with ‘My Girl’. There’s probably greater songs you’d like to hear at a wedding, but they’re going to play that one at a wedding, so…”
Favourite Novelty Song or One-Hit Wonder
“This one has been slightly complicated for me. Definitely, traditionally, it was ‘Tainted Love’ by Soft Cell, which I’ve always thought was kind of a novelty or one-hit thing, but then I started getting into Soft Cell and I realised it’s not quite that. I think they’re bigger in the UK, but I kind of grew up being like “Oh, they’re this one hit ‘80s thing” and then realised “oh shit, it’s a real band”. But still I’ll go ‘Tainted Love’.”
Favourite Lyric from a Song
“This is the one that gets me, is it Morrissey, is it Patti Smith, is it something from the ‘40s, is it some American songbook classic?
“It’s probably something from The Smiths, I’m almost always singing a Smiths song myself - I mean I want to say ‘William, It Was Really Nothing’ but that’s not really my favourite lyric, it’s just because my name’s William. It wouldn’t be inaccurate to say “Please, please, please let me get what I want this time” - from a clever man, it’s just so direct.”
Favourite Current Song
“I was going through the charts and realised I’m way behind on it. I listened to a lot of that Colin Stetson record last year; it’s called ‘All This I Do For Glory’, and I guess I’d start with the title track, but I kind of just put that record on depending on what sort of despair I’m feeling.
“We used to tour with Colin on the ‘Neon Bible’ tour and he used to open with solo saxophone - like we’d play an arena in Mexico with 15,000 people and he’d open with solo saxophone - he had the whole crowd in the palm of his hand, playing something really stunning.
“This record came out when we were filming the ‘Everything Now’ video and we were driving back. The shoot was in Death Valley in the west of America, the middle of nowhere, and I was driving the rental car back at 100 miles per hour down a pitch-black freeway and we were like ‘Oh, Colin’s new record’s out’. So we put it on and we were going 100mph through the desert listening to this really hypnotic music, it really stuck with me.”
Favourite Song from Your Own Music
“I keep coming back to ‘Afterlife’. I think that’ll be one of our songs that kicks around for a little while. Just from like a rhythm perspective, we got it right, I think, on that one. That was one of the very first ones we started on - we had these three Haitian drummers in a studio in Lafayette, Lousiana, and then I’m playing the bass on that track and it was one of those glorious moments where I was like “oh wait, the bass part is to not play the bass!”.
“Once again, the lyric is pretty simple and pretty straight, and it just works. I really try not to think about our band’s lyrics, because it’s our band and it’s my brother singing, but that one really cuts through.”
(Images: Guy Aroch)