Sure, they spent their youngest years at odds, as brothers will. But early on they discovered something that would inform the rest of their lives as creative partners at the heart of one of rock 'n' roll's most creative and single-minded bands.
"I left the house when I was 15 to go to boarding school and would come back in the summers, and I started to realize he's the only person I related to in the whole everywhere," Win Butler, 33, said. "There's not too many people in the world where you literally have the exact same influences, so we kind of developed this language to work together where it's really easy."
"That doesn't mean we see everything identically," Will Butler, 31, said. "But it means that, certainly in artistic endeavors, there's a bit more empathy and compassion for each other because we see where they're coming from. And we tend to agree more than two random musicians would."
That relationship is at the heart of Arcade Fire's success and creativity, something that is on full display this week as the Grammy Award-winning group flies from one end of the continent to the other, and back. In the space of three weeks, Arcade Fire members will have played in a Mardi Gras parade while in New Orleans, played "The Tonight Show," performed in Haiti, and then returned home to Montreal for two days to pack for a trip to Los Angeles and the Academy Awards, where the band is up for best original score for its work on "Her.
"Normally when I come back from Haiti, I just look at all the power lines and streets and road signs and I'm just, 'Wow, look at all this infrastructure,'" Win Butler said. "I'm kind of in a daze the first couple of days when I get back to North America. But going from Haiti to the belly of the beast (at the Oscars) is going to be something of a mind blow."
After the show, the group flies directly to Louisville, Ky., for rehearsals and the launch of a summer-long North American tour, interspersed with European festival dates. Add to the hectic mix the birth of a son to Win Butler and his wife and bandmate Regine Chassagne.
The intense workload since the six-piece began recording "Reflektor" last year has required the kind of teamwork the brothers and their band have perfected since Will and Win began writing songs together growing up near Houston.
The band worked on "Reflektor," the follow-up to the 2010 Grammy album of the year "The Suburbs," and Spike Jonze's best picture-nominated film in parallel fashion—the album even contains a song proposed for the score that didn't make the film. They recorded "Reflektor" with James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem and Markus Dravs serving as producers, delivering an unpredictable but completely danceable record full of Haitian-influenced rhythms and reflective lyrics.
The work on "Her" began when Win Butler and Chassagne stayed at longtime friend and collaborator Jonze's house in Los Angeles during the early screenwriting process. They traded story and musical ideas about the world Jonze created in the film about a man's love for an artificially intelligent operating system, and quickly came to the conclusion they should score the film.
As both projects came to a simultaneous conclusion, Will Butler took over supervisory duties on the score, working with Jonze and the band's frequent collaborator Owen Pallett. In one case the band was working together toward a shared vision. In the other, they were a contractor trying to match Jonze's needs.
"So that was very, very different," Will Butler said. "There's a lot less drums and a lot less vocals on the soundtrack. And our band is very good at drums and vocals."
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