Arcade Fire's Tim Kingsbury on Miami, Bowie, and Loving Dance Music

Tim Kingsbury and Arcade Fire try to make it home from Everything Now.
Tim Kingsbury and Arcade Fire try to make it home from Everything Now.
Photo by Guy Aroch
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Depending on how you look at it, Arcade Fire's performance at the Watsco Center this Saturday has been anywhere from 13 to four years in the making. Despite being among the most visible faces of indie rock, earning a well-deserved Grammy for 2010's The Suburbs, and its status as one of the last largely agreed-upon entrants in the great rock 'n' roll canon, the Montreal outfit has never played a proper large-scale gig in the Magic City. Sure, there were the back-to-back warmup gigs in preparation for 2013's Reflektor tour, but as wonderful as they were, they hardly captured the bombastic theatrics and stunning showmanship for which Arcade Fire has become known. With the band now back on the road in support of its newest release, July's Everything Now, the upcoming show represents a chance to right a long-standing wrong.

"I'm superstoked to come back," bassist/guitarist Tim Kingsbury says between band rehearsals in Montreal. "We've been to Haiti a couple times, and every time we've gone to Haiti, we would fly through Miami and would have a night there to hang out. So I like the city a lot."

Kingsbury, an accomplished multi-instrumentalist who has been with Arcade Fire since the group's 2004 breakthrough, Funeral, notes that despite the bandmates' dearth of appearances in the area, they're quite familiar with Miami. Lead vocalist Win Butler has DJ'ed at Bardot under his goofy moniker DJ Windows 98; the video for the recent single "Signs of Life" features well-known local landmarks such as Pérez Art Museum Miami; and because of the band's extensive work both in and on behalf of Haiti, the members have a number of connections in the area.

Even with its firmly rooted Montreal identity, Arcade Fire has increasingly become a globally minded act. Following up on the prominently featured Haitian imagery and rhythms that defined Reflektor, Everything Now saw the band record in New Orleans and Paris, aided in large part by album producer Thomas Bangalter, an artist who's best recognized when in costume as one-half of Daft Punk.

"I met him... about two years ago at a thing in Los Angeles. And then Win and Régine [Chassange, band vocalist, multi-instrumentalist, and songwriter] had met him at some point, and we all just kind of liked him a lot," Kingsbury says of the collaboration.

"He's a really intelligent guy, and in just talking to him, he was really thoughtful. We were kind of curious about how it would work, and so Win spoke to him right at the beginning of the process of making this record. He was interested in getting involved, so he came out to New Orleans for a week just to see how it went, and it went well."

The band's freewheeling style of collaboration has resulted in a number of cosigns from well-respected peers and musical elders: Dance-punk maestro and LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy produced Reflektor, David Byrne of the Talking Heads cameoed on a bonus track off The Suburbs, and members of Pulp and Portishead also helped shape the sound of Everything Now.

But of all of Arcade Fire's collaborations, the band's work with the late David Bowie is likely the best known. Bowie — who was an early champion of Arcade Fire and made it a point to come to the group's first shows in New York City — collaborated with the band for a live EP and made a major vocal appearance on Reflektor's title track. Although his relationship with the band was as platonic as it was professional, Kingsbury says being in Bowie's presence never ceased to feel slightly surreal; it didn't help that he told the band a wealth of great stories, including an incident about seeing Elvis Presley at Madison Square Garden while dressed in full Ziggy Stardust regalia.

"[Bowie] said Elvis was playing the show, but he looked up at him and he could just feel Elvis glaring at him," Kingsbury shares with a laugh. "You know, obviously probably upstaging him a little bit."

Like Bowie, Arcade Fire has always demonstrated a flair for the dramatic, and the Infinite Content tour shows little sign of that changing. Even though they're playing to bigger audiences in increasingly larger venues, they're consciously trying to retain the closeness that has defined their live shows from the outset.

"[On this tour] we're playing in the middle of the arena rather than onstage, and so the whole thing is a lot more intimate than what we did on [the Reflektor] tour," Kingsbury says. "We've done a few shows like this, just smaller shows in Europe, but I'm really excited about it! We just started rehearsing for the full show this week. I think it's going to be really, really fun."

Although the goal of working audiences into a frenzy through stirring, anthemic lyrics and rousing rock 'n' roll may still be the same, the means by which the group achieves them have changed dramatically since the band's early days. Commenting on Arcade Fire's noticeable shift from earnest, guitar-driven indie rock to dance-inflected grooves and syncopated synths, Kingsbury says that although the band has always nursed a passion for dance music, growing older and more confident — along with attracting increasingly open-minded audiences — has allowed them to be bolder and more fearless in writing their material.

"I guess when we started off playing, we were all fans of New Order or the Talking Heads, but I don't think we were as focused on dance music as a genre," Kingsbury says. "When I first started playing music, Abba was something that I grew up with, but when I was like 20, I would've thought of it as a guilty pleasure. Whereas now I'm like, 'Oh, Abba is just amazing.' I don't feel conflicted about it anymore. And so I think... just as we've gotten older, we probably take ourselves a little less seriously and just kind of want to have fun."

Arcade Fire: Infinite Content 2017. With Wolf Parade. 8 p.m. Saturday, September 23, at the University of Miami Watsco Center, 1245 Dauer Dr., Coral Gables; 305-284-8244; watscocenter.com. Tickets cost $31 to $105 via ticketmaster.com.

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