10 Questions with…Sarah Neufeld

Photo Credit: Brantley GutierrezToday at A.T.W.N. we’re ecstatic to have 10 Questions With violinist and composer, Sarah Neufeld.  Best known as a member of Arcade Fire, Sarah is set to release her stunning debut solo violin album, Hero Brother, on August 20th through Constellation Records. Sarah stopped by to chat about her influences, the composing of her album, and she gives us all a few recommendations to add to our music, and book shelves.

Fred Varley, Neil Young, J.K. Rowling, George Lucas, Stan Lee… I could go on and on about various influences from within my own creative life. Are there any people, that you would be willing to share, who have helped to shape your life, and your sound?

There are so many influences to a life. I do have a vivid memory of around the time I “quit” the classical violin world. I was 14 years old, had picked up a little guitar and was learning a lot of Hendrix and Dylan songs by ear. I remember trying to dissect stuff from the Pixie’s Surfer Rosa and feeling confused in a really good way.

Staying with influences, for those not familiar with the work of pianist Bela Bartok, and/or legendary composer Stephen Reich, what is it about their music that drew you to them?

I grew up listening to a lot of Bartok, Philip Glass, and Arvo Part; my mother was really into it. We used to play Bartok duets together. That kind of writing made as much sense to me as Bach, if not more. I’ve always been drawn to dissonance and repetition in music. I remember first hearing Different Trains by Steve Reich and feeling though the clouds had just parted. It wasn’t a cerebral thing, I was just excited by the music.

Hero BrotherNow in terms of the songs you composed for your solo debut, Hero Brother, did you have a strict pattern you tried to follow, or did you try to write when the inspiration hit?

Composing a body of work almost entirely for solo violin was the main limitation. Compositionally, I would write when inspiration hit, with the personality of the body of work in mind.

I’m not sure you can put energy into words, but if you can, how does it differ when you’re on stage performing solo, versus on stage with Arcade Fire & Bell Orchestre?

Performing solo is entirely different than any band experience I’ve ever had. I get way more nervous, and the kind of focus and adrenaline that naturally has to arrive is much more extreme. It’s super fun but also gives me tons of appreciation for the group.

Some artists, writers, and musicians say it “felt right” when they picked up their first brush, their pen, or their guitar. What was it like for you when you started playing the violin at such a young age?

My memories from age 3 are foggy, but I do remember feeling victorious when I was “finally” allowed my own violin- as if I’d been waiting forever for permission to be granted. I don’t remember any of the terrible sounds I must have been making, just a kind of satisfaction.


Like every artist, there isn’t enough time in the day to create. Is there something on the horizon you wish you had more time for?

Yes that’s it exactly. I create in waves, and when I’m not in one I feel a bit of loss, it’s an uneven thing. Sometimes you have to spend more time organizing or touring or writing emails and just know that another creative wave will come. It can’t all happen at the same time.

Now I’m sure you have recorded in a number of unique spaces, but what was it like recording tracks for your debut album in an abandoned geodesic dome?

The dome was pretty crazy! It was cold, dark, wet and armed with pseudo guards. We really weren’t supposed to be in there, and there was an element of trouble in it for sure. The first moment being there in the pitch black, listening to my breath ricochet as if the reverb was actually in my own skull, I felt a sonic elation and a sense of paralysis come over me. All I could do was stand there in the dark and breathe, listening to the sound.

arcadefireThere are some who love their e-reader for it’s convenience, and others who loathe it for it’s lack of “personality”. The same can obviously be said for digital music. Where do you stand in terms of the vinyl revival, and to a lesser extent, the re-birth of the cassette?

I love records. They’re beautiful. Its so nice to have a tangible connection to the act of listening. I also love tiny gadgets that clip onto my clothes and turn my run into a well soundtracked action adventure. Apples and oranges.

One book, one band…

One of anything is so hard to nail down. I just read Atonement by Ian McEwan and really loved it. And the new Sam Amidon record, Bright Sunny South is really good.

A favorite book from your childhood…

Danny the Champion of the World, by Roald Dahl

Thanks to Sarah Neufeld for stopping by A.T.W.N. to chat. Though it’s not out until August 20th, you can pre-order Sarah’s debut, Hero Brother, over at Constellation Records, or on iTunes. Now if you want to keep up with her tour dates, and other news, you can follow Sarah on Twitter, or on Facebook. As well, for up to the minute coverage of everything Sarah and Arcade Fire, check out the fan Twitter account Arcade Fire Tube.