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Published: 2012/05/19
by Mike Greenhaus

Arcade Fire’s Sarah Neufeld: Bird Calls, Bell Orchestre and Billy Martin

How did Arcade Fire sort of absorb Belle Orchestre?

We started Belle Orchestre kind of before Arcade Fire but it really existed in that art, experimentation project realm. We were doing collaborations with the contemporary dance choreographers at Concordia in 1999 and 2000. And then Arcade Fire was getting its feet around 2000/2001 and onwards from there. Before I was playing in Arcade Fire— before the first album was made—Belle Orchestre would rehearse in Arcade Fire’s loft. So it had this kind of feeling of community and stuff between the two bands a little bit, even though we were so different. They were like, “Yes! You weirdos can use our loft!” And we were like, “You weirdos are awesome!” [Laughter.]

We just had a similar conversation with the members of The National. Like Arcade Fire, they are a song-oriented rock band but have these roots in jam and classical music that inform those songs.

Especially, Bryce [Dessner]. Arcade Fire and The National met and did a whole tour together and we realized we have also these parallels. Bryce has an [orchestral] project Clogs and after that tour they went out with Bell Orchestre. That was kind of how our friendship developed: “Hey, you guys have this rock band,” and, “Hey, you guys also have this instrumental, new music group.” It was really exciting when we met those guys.

Outside the music realm, your other focus right now is your new yoga studio in New York’s Greenwich Village, Moksha Yoga. Not only did you start the studio, but I hear you are teaching classes when you are in New York.

Well, to make a little linear story, I started practicing yoga on and off over the course of ten years ago. And then as life became more centered around touring and that kind of stuff, yoga became more important and more necessary to sustain everything and make body and health kind of roll. That sounds a little abstract, but every time I’d come back from a tour I’d get more and more into this one particular studio in Montreal called Moksha Yoga.

It’s this little community they started with one studio in Toronto as an offshoot. They were involved in the Bikram, it’s a heated style, but then they started to do their own thing. And it turns out I was a friend of a friend of the co-founder, Jessica Robertson, and this little community was blossoming. That was around 2004/2005. And then the Montreal studio opened around 2005, and I started going there a lot.

It just made so much sense: It was the first place I’d ever found that really felt like a home. And it wasn’t like this yoga clique. I was always on the road and, with some studios, if you don’t go all the time or people know you or whatever they don’t really let you in. But Moksha had this great, welcoming sort of vibe, “Hey, you’re back! It’s great and you’re working on your practice. How’s your wrist? How’s your shoulder?” Stuff like that. So I started going all the time and a lot of my friends were as well. One of my best friends, Rebecca Foon—she’s also a musician living in Montreal, and she played cello for years and years in Thee Silver Mt. Zion—and I have had these parallel lives. She was like, “OK, when you’re not on tour and I’m not on tour let’s do the Moksha teacher training and see where that goes.” So we became teachers and then this little seed of an idea of wouldn’t it be amazing if we could open the first Moksha in New York City.

I live in Montreal, but we both really love spending time here, and I spend a lot of time here anyway. I kind of felt like…there’s tons of amazing places to do yoga in New York City but there’s nothing quite like Moksha yoga with its accessibility for all levels and all needs and just this sense of a really friendly, open thing. So we were like, “Yeah, New York City, we’ll like that, I think.” Then we were like, “are we really doing this?” And so a couple years ago we started getting more serious. We found a space around a year or so ago and built a partnership. We opened two months ago and I can’t even believe it all actually happened because opening up a business in New York City is quite a feat. So it’s this beautiful space, we built it really green. That’s one of the mandates of Moksha community. We have denim insulation in the walls, kind of above and beyond the low-VOC paints and all that. We got floors in the lobby that are made of recycled tires and we got a green wall. There’s so much of our own inspiration and expression into the place and it’s really beautiful and exciting. Then, you know, I’ve been touring or going up to Montreal and doing music stuff. The Luyas are making a new record so I did all the strings. And coming back to this new home in New York City is really cool.

My last question brings things full circle. You had mentioned that you had never really worked with Billy Martin before. Were you familiar with his music from before or were there any interesting reactions given your varied backgrounds on stage?

I was familiar with him because of Martin Medeski and Wood. I’d seen them only a couple times but maybe once, specifically, we made a pilgrimage down there from a bunch of people from Concordia. I actually studied jazz and improvisation at Concordia as well as electronic music and classical. So I was in this group of people that were doing a lot of improvisation and a lot of people were really into that band. And we drove down to Burlington and saw them and I remember it was really fun. And I never really followed that band to the utmost but I was aware of him for sure. And then just Greg had spoken so highly of him and I know people were really impressed with what he was doing solo. And just in the past couple nights we’ve had these really neat, little moments of slight interplay. He’s a really good listener obviously and we’ve gone back and forth a little bit. I love playing with drummers because they do play so rhythmically. It’s really what I get inspired by so it’s been really fun to listen to him and get to play little bit off of him. He’s doing some really cool shit with bird calls. [Laughs.]

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