More about: Arcade Fire
Arcade Fire had just completed a tour of Japan and the band's multi-instrumentalist, Richard Reed Parry, was staying in a Buddhist monastery on Mount Koya-San. He was walking through the vast, tranquil forests when suddenly he began to hear music.
"I started hearing singing voices that sounded exceptionally like voices from my childhood," the Canadian musician recalls. "They sounded like the voices of my father's folk band, Friends of Fiddlers Green. But no matter how far I walked, I never found where the voices were coming from."
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It was this otherworldly experience that provided the stimulus for Parry's latest solo album, Quiet River of Dust Vol. 1, released via Anti-Records last week. "When I got home from that trip I immediately – kind of accidentally – started writing the song 'On the Ground'. It presented itself, as it were, just for me."
Inspired by the folk music of Parry's childhood, the single 'On the Ground' also features ambient synths and vocals that evoke the plaintive echoes of a Buddhist chant. It sets the meditative tone for Quiet River of Dust Vol. 1, an album that sails gently across continents as well as genres. Like the ghostly music Parry heard at Koya-San, it seems to carry you away to somewhere dislocated from both time and place.
This effect comes in part from Parry's typically heterogeneous approach to composition; the songs were written on instruments including classical guitar, upright bass, and an iPhone synth app. "I'm able to make music on any instrument, whether it's satisfying or good is another case," he says. "But I'm definitely able to pick up instruments and make them create music of some sort."
Throughout the album, we hear field recordings taken from Parry's travels across Japan, as well as places a bit closer to home. "There's recordings of tree frogs and crickets in Vermont. And there's cicadas and more crickets and strange insects in Japan."
This abstract world Parry creates in his music takes shape in the video for "Sai No Kawara (River of Death)", directed by animation artist Caleb Wood. "We talked about the ideas I had behind the song and came up with a bit of a narrative story for it," Parry recalls. "But then that narrative got abstracted by Caleb's natural way of working and turned into something more interpretive.
"There were a lot of Japanese animators working on it. If I had an absolute budget I'd really animate the whole album with those same folks because I think they do incredible work and that aesthetic is really magical for me."
The animations for the video are strikingly reminiscent of a Studio Ghibli film, and this isn't the only way Japanese culture directly influenced the album. While he was working on the songs, Parry was profoundly affected by Buddhist literature, particularly a collection of haikus written by Japanese monks at the moment of their death.
He explains: "They're trying to put some words that encapsulate a feeling or a time into a little observational bubble. And that really feels like an act I can relate to having worked on so much of this record alone, trying to encapsulate things into little bubbles of feelings and sending them out there into the ether."
Encapsulated in his songs are meditations on aging, parenthood, and the cycle of life and death. Arcade Fire's last album, Everything Now, was a scathing critique of the instant gratification of Western consumer culture. But in his solo work Parry embraces a more transcendent worldview, finding peace in his "little bubbles" that drift across a vast, unknowable universe.
"You just create the experience that you want to have in the world," he says. "You try and create the time and create the space that you're looking for. Rather than the Arcade Fire approach, which is to protest wildly."
Parry will transport us back to his serene, spiritual world with Vol. 2 of Quiet River of Dust. It is to be released next year in the spring, although Parry is rather cryptic about what we can expect.
"I divided the album into two halves that vaguely represent either side of the River of Death," he says. "Volume 2 is kind of the other side of the river. It's a more liminal, floating version of the same world that Volume 1 takes place in."
More about: Arcade Fire