Violinist, composer, and a long-time member of Arcade Fire, and founding member of Bell Orchestre, Sarah Neufeld, confronts anguish with beauty, turmoil with grace, gliding through the present as a dancer mid-motion, reaching through space ’til she’s caught.
CVLTartes: First of all, how did you start making music? Tell us a bit more about yourself!
Sarah: I started playing violin at age 3 in the Suzuki method. I think I stuck with it because I had a real affinity for improvising, and I’d worked hard enough and long enough at the instrument to have fluidity with it – I felt a sense of freedom with the violin that kept me inspired to keep playing and pushing myself in different directions with it over the years.
Given the state of mainstream culture that permeates how we consume media, how would you introduce your activity to a stranger?
I think people can fall in love with things they can really connect with. I find that people that might not normally listen to experimental instrumental music, but find themselves hearing me live, actually connect very easily to the music in the live setting, and then might enjoy discovering a whole new realm of music they weren’t previously familiar with.
Take me through your sound design process. Is this a quick process, or something you might obsess over and re-visit?
By “sound design”, I’m guessing you mean the process I go through while mixing a record. I really enjoy the mixing process, and always love experimenting with outboard studio gear to find new textures and vibes to my sound. On this new record, I got really into treating the vocals- they get quite sci-fi at times. I generally obsess more over the quality of my performance, and over aspects like EQ, whereas I have loads of fun playing around with synths, vocals, and effects.
I find the prevalence of social media kind of soul-crushing. I probably belong to an even older generation. I miss the mystery of life pre google and iPhone.
What are your core motivations for music-making, and have they changed over the years as you’ve become more visible, so to speak?
I only really enjoy making music when I’m inspired to do so, and that inspiration kind of comes out of nowhere, like a wave. Sometimes it doesn’t hit for a while, and I go through periods of non-creativity. I’m always relieved when it comes back. My relationship to that impulse of creativity has stayed pretty constant over the years, even if the circumstances, or my intentions, or my stylistic direction, might be constantly in flux.
When you are not busy creating, which other artists do you follow or listen to?
I listen to lots of different music. Right now I seem to be listening to a lot of Brian Eno, Bob Marley, Mary Lattimore, and Debussy.
Sarah Neufeld’s influences range from Bartok to Arthur Russell, to Aphex Twin. The third solo LP ‘Detritus’ follows her acclaimed debut album ‘Hero Brother’ which was produced by Nils Frahm. In 2015 Neufeld released Juno award-winning ‘Never Were The Way She Was’ with celebrated saxophonist and collaborator Colin Stetson, and in 2016 Neufeld released her second solo album, ‘The Ridge’.
What does it mean to play and live in the millennial generation of music artists? What do you borrow from those who came before you, and what do you do to push the genre forward?
I try not to think about it too much. I find the prevalence of social media kind of soul-crushing. I probably belong to an even older generation. I miss the mystery of life pre google and iPhone. I do better in my creative life when I’m less connected. I’m not sure I push any genre forward, but I try to stay open and curious and continue to find joy in exploring life and making music.
Your latest release is a sonic tension between reverie and concrete. What literary work – novel or poetry – do you think would fit the sound descriptions? Can you give us a title and a reason?
I actually wrote most of the songs on the album for a dance collaboration called “Who We Are In The Dark” by Peggy Baker Dance. So it already has its roots in another art form, one that’s tender and raw and full of human experience.
I propose to stay on topic, therefore, if you didn’t make music, in what artistic compartment do you think you would be more suitable?
I feel like I’d probably be a chef of some kind?! Or I’d find a way to go on hikes professionally.
Does the conception come first or does the song evolve naturally – do you have a clear idea of what it will be before you start to make it?
I might have the idea that I want to make something slow, fast, short, long, heavy, light, dark, etc… but beyond that, the pieces usually emerge naturally.
When listeners make their way through your songs, what do you want to feel?
I suppose I want them to feel a sense of exploration.
In how much, do you feel, are creative decisions shaped by cultural differences – and in how much, vice versa, is the perception of sound influenced by cultural differences?
If I understand correctly, how does one’s culture affect one’s creative decisions? Probably a lot, as usual, our influences make a pretty big impact on us, and quite often influences have something to do with the culture we come from.
We are currently living through a very trying and charged time right now so I am curious to know how your own music is reflecting this time period?
I think you’re referring to the last year, which has been especially trying and charged. This album was actually written and produced in 2018/2019, although I was personally going through a trying and charged time, which I think the music reflects. It’s pretty emotional, brooding, with the occasional release, which I feel also relates to the year we’ve all just had!
What do you hope to do with your art in the future? I mean, do you have any special goals?
Specifically, I’d hope to keep making music, and to keep making better music, to keep challenging myself, and perhaps even have more fun doing it.
‘Detritus’, is wistful and emotive, and carries the listener on a journey of euphoric and complex looped violin dusted with mesmeric melody recall. Openers ‘Stories’ and ‘Unreflected’ lead with atmospheric ease, somber soundscapes, and distant, otherworldly vocals. ‘With Love And Blindness’ ups the tempo with remote, dreamlike rhythms that hypnotize and enthrall. ‘The Top’ is elated, but it highlights the isolated strings and poetic loneliness Neufeld is able to convey with them. ‘Tumble Down The Undecided’ and ‘Shed Your Heart’ are climactic in their delivery, full of cascading notes and delays before closer ‘Detritus’ exits with a state of calm, easing back into the shadows and taking with it the vivid textures and images crafted with infinite grace over the course of the album.
With Love And Blindness
Tumble Down The Undecided
Shed Your Dear Heart
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Photos: (c) Jason Lewis
Styling: Randa Eid
Make-up: Destinee Cushing