Sarah Neufeld – 'There's an intense level of engagement between myself and my instrument and that isn't super normal these days'

Interview: Sarah Neufeld - 'There's an intense level of engagement between myself and my instrument and that isn't super normal these days'

Arcade Fire's Sarah Neufeld talks touring alone and her tricky relationship with the classical world

'Oh man, I can't even believe there's a tour,' says Sarah Neufeld, talking about, well, her tour. The violinist has played around the world as part of Arcade Fire, but now she's taking her solo material on the road, with five dates across Europe. 'I guess it isn't technically a tour, then, is it? But come on, five dates you can treat differently to 25 dates.'

It's not that Neufeld dislikes playing live. In fact, it's the opposite: such is her enjoyment of gigs and tours, that the whole thing can grow legs, and be a little exhausting. 'I toured a lot in 2016,' she explains, 'and I was like, OK, no more tours until Arcade Fire goes out in the summer. Then I agreed to one show. One show turned into five shows. But it's gonna be nice.'

When I ask whether the experience of playing solo compares with the band gigs, she laughs. 'It's night and day, my friend. I think some people will come to my shows because they know of Arcade Fire, but if they click any link they're gonna know that it's minimalist and very different.'

It's true that her solo work differs vastly to the type of music the band creates, but it also changes rapidly from record to record. Her first album, Hero Brother, is full of darkly brooding, violin-led instrumental pieces. The second, The Ridge, is a classical-pop crossover, which sits comfortably on a line rarely drawn in music. In case you were wondering, this tour will feature music from neither.

'I'm not touring my new record because I am alone,' she explains, meaning it would be impossible to recreate the full studio effect. That said, she is grateful for her sound engineer, whose presence means she doesn't feel 'like a total alien'.

'It's really just me, presenting a lot of the solo material, so I think they can expect people can find a little transportiveness to lose themselves in the music. I think a solo performance can be an intense experience.'

Neufeld's solo work is rooted in the experimental. As a child, she studied violin, but found herself rebelling against traditional musical teachings.

'As I grew up with the instrument, I struggled right away with not identifying with the classical world as I knew it. Even just practicing the repertoire I was given – some pieces melted into my heart, but mostly it didn't work with who I was. I preferred improvising from the age of six. That's what kept me going with music.'

That's what Neufeld enjoys playing now, and is what she hopes her audience will enjoy watching, too.

'For me, watching a soloist perform is a totally different way of being captivated. There's a really intense level of engagement between myself and my instrument and that isn't super normal these days. It can be really beautiful to watch that kind of engagement with a person and their instrument.'

Sarah Neufeld will be engaging with her instrument at Summerhall on Fri 3 Feb. Tickets for the tour that she can't believe exists are on sale now.

Sarah Neufeld

Indie rock musician from Canada best known as the violinist for Arcade Fire.

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