meta-scriptNostalgic For A Different Future: Arcade Fire's Will Butler On How His New Solo Album Finds Healing In Community |

Will Butler

Photo courtesy of Will Butler


Nostalgic For A Different Future: Arcade Fire's Will Butler On How His New Solo Album Finds Healing In Community

Butler talks to about his sophomore effort 'Generations,' how it fits in with an upcoming Arcade Fire album and the healing power of community

GRAMMYs/Sep 29, 2020 - 08:17 pm

When Arcade Fire released their very first single, it came with a B-side that hit very close to home to brothers Win and Will Butler: a recording of a song called "My Buddy," credited to their grandfather, Alvino Rey. In fact, several generations of musicians line their family tree. While those historic echoes provide joy and solace for younger brother Will, the world tipping into pandemic and protests over racial injustice reinforced life’s darker cycles. On Butler’s second solo album, Generations (due Sept. 25 via Merge), he explores the ways in which we come together in community both because of and in spite of those ripples.

The video for early single "Surrender" represents that duality perfectly. The clip opens with studio footage of Butler’s band recording the jangly anthem, complete with call-and-response vocals and gospel falsetto. But much like 2020, things devolve quickly, with closed captioning-style subtitles mourning the deaths of Black men and women killed by police, calling for sweeping political change, and insisting on prison reform. Though written long ago, the album holds a special ability to tap into something boundless and timeless while simultaneously feeling entrenched in the tragic pain of the present.

Butler spoke with about the album’s similarities to Fyodor Dostoevsky, the ways in which songs take on new meaning over time, how Generations fits in with an upcoming Arcade Fire album and the healing power of community.

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Did you have any hesitation about releasing the album in the midst of the pandemic?

I'm sad to not tour it. If I could wait four weeks and then tour the record... but that's not going to happen. It's actually kind of a good time to put out music. It feels morally good! People want music, so let's put out music. I've experienced that, where people put things out and it feels generous.

It truly does. You've compared this album to a novel and your debut before this to a collection of short stories. Is there a particular novelist that you feel would be in tune with your work? Do you take inspiration from fiction in that way?

It's not Dostoevsky. [Laughs.] But it is weirdly more inspired by Dostoevsky than it ought to be. It's the tumult of the 19th century, the next stage of the industrial revolution and the gearing up of socialism and anarchism. It feels related to the pre-revolutionary thing happening in Russia. [Laughs.] It's not a one-to-one comparison by any means, but it’s just the deeply human things happening in a context of the whirlwind.

Was there an experience that led you to the feeling that it was the right time to deliver such a politically driven album?

Partly, I went to grad school for public policy. I explicitly went as an artist wanting to know what's happening and why it's happening. I started the fall of 2016, which was a very bizarre time to be at a policy school. But I had a course with a professor named Leah Wright Rigueur, a young-ish professor, a Black woman, a historian. The course was essentially about race and riot in America. And since it was a policy school, the second-to-last week on the syllabus was talking about Hillary Clinton and the last week was talking about Donald Trump. It was a history class, but in an applied technical school, so it's like, "What are we doing with this history?"

We read the post-riot reports of Chicago in 1919 and the post-riot reports of the '60s, the Kerner Commission and after the Watts riots, and we read the DOJ reports after Ferguson and after Baltimore and Freddie Gray. And then Donald Trump got elected at the end of the semester. This course really trained my eyes at this moment of time, just being in that state of thinking about what's going on and why it's happening.

Right, and the album's title feels like it encapsulates not only the history that you were learning at the time but also your personal and familial ancestry.

Yes, very much so. My mom's a musician, and her parents were musicians. My grandmother grew up in a family band driving across the American West with her parents before there were even roads in the desert. Her dad got arrested a bunch of times for vagrancy or for not paying off loans. There's something very beautiful about being in the tradition of generations of musicians. That's a positive thing in this world. It's no coincidence that I'm a musician. There are, however, many more poisonous things that are also not coincidental that are rooted in both personal and political history. All of political history in America has been geared towards making each generation of my family's life better insofar as they're white men. It's been very good to my family, but that is as much of an undeniable generational heritage as music, which is this beautiful and faultless and glorious thing.

Do you see that musical tradition in your family as storytelling?

It's never been explicitly storytelling, though that is part of it. It's more about building community or building a society through entertainment. Entertainment is almost too light a word. My grandfather and grandmother did all these broadcasts during World War II, and some of it's jingoistic, some of it's incredibly moving, some of it's just dance music for people who don't want to think about the war for a minute. It's all these emotions, but still with this aim of trying to get us all in it together–which in a war context is fraught. But there's that element of always trying to make a family, make a community, learning how to bind us all together.

That reminds me of the call and response vocals you've got throughout the record. It has an especially gospel-y feeling on "Close My Eyes," which is such a clever way to paint a song about surrendering to something bigger than yourself, that communal feeling. What was the impetus for that narrative voice?

Part of it is just rooted in Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. [Laughs.] Years ago, someone mailed us the complete Motown singles on CD, just every single starting from day one. Even though there’s some garbage mixed in there, it just feels so human with those gang vocals and great singers that sometimes they just pulled off the street. You get the sense of humanity. Having backing vocals be so integral instead of just having my voice layered feels like having a community and feels very natural. It's hard for me to not just rely on that every third or fourth song. [Laughs.] It just feels like that's how it should be.

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Those multi-part harmonies must be especially potent live in a room. Do you write in a way where you’re already picturing these songs live?

We played almost every one of these songs live before we recorded them. My solo band played "Surrender" live on the Policy tour for years. But even before we went into the studio last summer, I booked a weekend of shows. We did the Merge 30th Anniversary festival just to have us feel it live and have that communication. And then we went down to the basement to try to iron it out.

Speaking of "Surrender," that song took on an entire new life in the video. It starts out with videos of your band in the studio, but then quickly and powerfully gets replaced with messages mourning the deaths of George Floyd and Breanna Taylor and emphasizing the need for prison reform. You never know what life a song will have when you’re writing it.

That song is very nostalgic in a certain way. It’s looking towards the past, but not wishing to be in the past. It's wishing that we were in a different present because we had already chosen a different past. So when I was editing the video, I started it as a "making of" video. But the footage is from January of this year—five, six months old. There's this feeling of nostalgia, but also 2019 was not good enough to look back at. [Laughs.] 2019 was also horrible.

It's not like I want to go back to 2019. I want to play music with people. I want to be having fun with my friends. I want to be making a record. But I don't want it to be 2019. I'm nostalgic for a different future. And as I'm editing the video, there have been six weeks of protests of people trying to build something, and it just felt crazy to not acknowledge that. It was what people were focused on, at least the people around me.

Do you feel like you'll be infusing more overt social and political commentary into your music going ahead?

I think so. It's important that it's organic. It's part of the world I live in, part of my family and my friendships. Before the coronavirus hit, I was very much looking forward to touring and had vague plans to do town hall meetings and discussions. It felt like a rich time to do that around America, and around the world. I'm sad to not get to do that, but I think it will happen someday.

You produced the album yourself in your basement, so were you writing with the production choices already in mind or were you writing while in the studio?

I had the band come down and record for a week. And at the end of that first week, we had seven or eight songs that could be real. Some of them were clear. Some of them are simpler, like "Surrender." Others were trying to figure out where they would go. "I Don't Know What I Don’t Know" was more trial and error, trying something crazy. We'd turn everything off for two days and then come back to it and try something else. You try to be surprised by it.

I love revision. Well, I don't love it. I hate it. [Laughs.] I love the process of editing, of making a version of something and then finding something that's either better or worse. It's fun when you work with an editor that you trust, but when you're just doing it yourself, you drive yourself batty after some time. But I still love versioning it until it makes sense.

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It feels like you're not too precious. You just want to service the song at the end of the day.

Yeah. I try to not be precious. I feel like the songs mostly came out with a fresh spirit. I didn't massage any of them too much. I'm very conversational in how I think of the world. Nothing is the final statement. You say something and then someone says something else and then you say something. And you have to finish what you're saying in order to hear what the other person says. So if that means putting it out into the world without rounding everything off, to me that feels right.

The record begins and ends on the same burning synth tone, like history ready to go around the loop again. What does that synth tone represent for you?

Not to get too mystical, but there's something about the bass that is so embodied. There's something about a really powerful bass that is fundamental, something that just gets to the core. I wanted that core to feel a little uneasy. It's not like the hit at the end of "A Day in the Life" where it’s this clear conclusion. It's a little bit gnarly. It's a little bit not in the right key for the song. It’s something disturbing at the very core of everything.

What has writing and producing this record taught you about yourself?

I found that while I still prize quickness and thoughtfulness and conversational life, this record took longer and took more effort than Policy. It was way less casual. It was not casual in a very good way. I realized this shouldn't be a casual undertaking—even though it can have lightness and humor and breezy elements. Even then, the whole undertaking can still be serious and grounded. It can even be quick without being casual. In the past, I've fallen into thinking, "Just do something first before you think about it too hard." But this was a reminder that you can do something more thoroughly.

Were you writing these songs while working on the next Arcade Fire album? Speaking about intention, how do you compartmentalize those two sides of your creativity?

Yeah, Arcade Fire is always very cyclical. We record for a year and a half, we tour for a year and a half, and then we're off for a year and a half. I was very conscious to do this in a moment when I wasn't distracted by something else. I wanted to focus on this.

I'm still figuring it all out. Right now I'm making a video for the song "Close My Eyes." I have children, two-year-old twins and an eight-year-old, so the spring was just complete family time—net positive, but total chaos. [Laughs.]

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Kendrick Lamar GRAMMY Rewind Hero
Kendrick Lamar

Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic


GRAMMY Rewind: Kendrick Lamar Honors Hip-Hop's Greats While Accepting Best Rap Album GRAMMY For 'To Pimp a Butterfly' In 2016

Upon winning the GRAMMY for Best Rap Album for 'To Pimp a Butterfly,' Kendrick Lamar thanked those that helped him get to the stage, and the artists that blazed the trail for him.

GRAMMYs/Oct 13, 2023 - 06:01 pm

Updated Friday Oct. 13, 2023 to include info about Kendrick Lamar's most recent GRAMMY wins, as of the 2023 GRAMMYs.

A GRAMMY veteran these days, Kendrick Lamar has won 17 GRAMMYs and has received 47 GRAMMY nominations overall. A sizable chunk of his trophies came from the 58th annual GRAMMY Awards in 2016, when he walked away with five — including his first-ever win in the Best Rap Album category.

This installment of GRAMMY Rewind turns back the clock to 2016, revisiting Lamar's acceptance speech upon winning Best Rap Album for To Pimp A Butterfly. Though Lamar was alone on stage, he made it clear that he wouldn't be at the top of his game without the help of a broad support system. 

"First off, all glory to God, that's for sure," he said, kicking off a speech that went on to thank his parents, who he described as his "those who gave me the responsibility of knowing, of accepting the good with the bad."

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He also extended his love and gratitude to his fiancée, Whitney Alford, and shouted out his Top Dawg Entertainment labelmates. Lamar specifically praised Top Dawg's CEO, Anthony Tiffith, for finding and developing raw talent that might not otherwise get the chance to pursue their musical dreams.

"We'd never forget that: Taking these kids out of the projects, out of Compton, and putting them right here on this stage, to be the best that they can be," Lamar — a Compton native himself — continued, leading into an impassioned conclusion spotlighting some of the cornerstone rap albums that came before To Pimp a Butterfly.

"Hip-hop. Ice Cube. This is for hip-hop," he said. "This is for Snoop Dogg, Doggystyle. This is for Illmatic, this is for Nas. We will live forever. Believe that."

To Pimp a Butterfly singles "Alright" and "These Walls" earned Lamar three more GRAMMYs that night, the former winning Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song and the latter taking Best Rap/Sung Collaboration (the song features Bilal, Anna Wise and Thundercat). He also won Best Music Video for the remix of Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood." 

Lamar has since won Best Rap Album two more times, taking home the golden gramophone in 2018 for his blockbuster LP DAMN., and in 2023 for his bold fifth album, Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers.

Watch Lamar's full acceptance speech above, and check back at every Friday for more GRAMMY Rewind episodes. 

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Arcade Fire GRAMMY Rewind Hero
Arcade Fire at the 2011 GRAMMYs.

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GRAMMY Rewind: Watch Arcade Fire Win Album Of The Year In Disbelief in 2011

When Canadian rock band Arcade Fire won a GRAMMY for their acclaimed album 'The Suburbs,' the moment wasn't only monumental because it was their first golden gramophone — it was the biggest award of the night.

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When Montreal-based indie rock band Arcade Fire stepped into the 53rd Annual GRAMMY Awards, the odds weren't in their favor. They stood alongside industry heavyweights like Eminem — who'd already won over 10 GRAMMYs across his career — and Lady Gaga, who was at the height of her breakthrough.

Nonetheless, Arcade Fire triumphed, taking home their first-ever golden gramophone in the prestigious Album of the Year category and marking the start of a renaissance for indie musicians.

In this episode of GRAMMY Rewind, travel back to that fateful evening in 2011 when Arcade Fire won Album of the Year, right as they were preparing to take the stage to perform their hit "Ready to Start."

"What the hell!" frontman Win Butler exclaimed at the beginning of the acceptance speech. "I just want to say thank you — merci — to Montreal, Quebec, for taking us in, giving us a home, and a place to be a band."

Butler later praised their families, the Recording Academy, and the listeners for supporting their endeavors.

"Holy s—, Scott! I can't believe it. We just won," Butler exclaimed to their manager, Scott Rodger.

Press play on the video above to hear Arcade Fire's entire acceptance speech for Album of the Year the 2011 GRAMMYs, and make sure to keep checking back to for more new episodes of GRAMMY Rewind.

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Hero: 2023 GRAMMYs Nominees Alternative Playlist
Listen to this comprehensive playlist of the Alternative Music GRAMMY nominees at the 2023 GRAMMYs.

Graphic: The Recording Academy

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Alternative music triumphed in 2022, glistening with ambition, sincerity and yearning.

The Recording Academy introduced several new categories for the 2023 GRAMMY Awards, including an addition to the alternative genre's honors: Best Alternative Music Performance. Together with Best Alternative Music Album, these two categories celebrate the alternative genre's greatest music makers.

In the recently added Best Alternative Music Performance category, Arctic Monkeys are nominated for their down-to-earth track about a doomed relationship "There'd Better Be A Mirrorball," alongside Big Thief's folksy "Certainty" and Florence + The Machine's acute "King," which both examine a precarious future with sharpness and heart. 

Best New Artist nominee Wet Leg's tongue-in-cheek wit shines through on "Chaise Longue." In the same category, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Perfume Genius unite with a beautifully ominous quality on "Spitting Off The Edge Of The World."

Embracing visionary eclecticism, the following albums are nominated for Best Alternative Music Album: Arcade Fire's WE, Big Thief's Dragon New Warm Mountain I Believe In You, Björk's Fossora, Wet Leg's Wet Leg, and Yeah Yeah Yeahs' Cool It Down.

Listen to all of the above songs and albums in this comprehensive playlist of the Alternative Music GRAMMY nominees at the 2023 GRAMMYs.

Check it out on Amazon Music. Find out who wins on Music's Biggest Night on Sunday, Feb. 5!

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Franc Moody
Franc Moody

Photo: Rachel Kupfer 


A Guide To Modern Funk For The Dance Floor: L'Imperatrice, Shiro Schwarz, Franc Moody, Say She She & Moniquea

James Brown changed the sound of popular music when he found the power of the one and unleashed the funk with "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag." Today, funk lives on in many forms, including these exciting bands from across the world.

GRAMMYs/Nov 25, 2022 - 04:23 pm

It's rare that a genre can be traced back to a single artist or group, but for funk, that was James Brown. The Godfather of Soul coined the phrase and style of playing known as "on the one," where the first downbeat is emphasized, instead of the typical second and fourth beats in pop, soul and other styles. As David Cheal eloquently explains, playing on the one "left space for phrases and riffs, often syncopated around the beat, creating an intricate, interlocking grid which could go on and on." You know a funky bassline when you hear it; its fat chords beg your body to get up and groove.

Brown's 1965 classic, "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," became one of the first funk hits, and has been endlessly sampled and covered over the years, along with his other groovy tracks. Of course, many other funk acts followed in the '60s, and the genre thrived in the '70s and '80s as the disco craze came and went, and the originators of hip-hop and house music created new music from funk and disco's strong, flexible bones built for dancing.

Legendary funk bassist Bootsy Collins learned the power of the one from playing in Brown's band, and brought it to George Clinton, who created P-funk, an expansive, Afrofuturistic, psychedelic exploration of funk with his various bands and projects, including Parliament-Funkadelic. Both Collins and Clinton remain active and funkin', and have offered their timeless grooves to collabs with younger artists, including Kali Uchis, Silk Sonic, and Omar Apollo; and Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus, and Thundercat, respectively.

In the 1980s, electro-funk was born when artists like Afrika Bambaataa, Man Parrish, and Egyptian Lover began making futuristic beats with the Roland TR-808 drum machine — often with robotic vocals distorted through a talk box. A key distinguishing factor of electro-funk is a de-emphasis on vocals, with more phrases than choruses and verses. The sound influenced contemporaneous hip-hop, funk and electronica, along with acts around the globe, while current acts like Chromeo, DJ Stingray, and even Egyptian Lover himself keep electro-funk alive and well.

Today, funk lives in many places, with its heavy bass and syncopated grooves finding way into many nooks and crannies of music. There's nu-disco and boogie funk, nodding back to disco bands with soaring vocals and dance floor-designed instrumentation. G-funk continues to influence Los Angeles hip-hop, with innovative artists like Dam-Funk and Channel Tres bringing the funk and G-funk, into electro territory. Funk and disco-centered '70s revival is definitely having a moment, with acts like Ghost Funk Orchestra and Parcels, while its sparkly sprinklings can be heard in pop from Dua Lipa, Doja Cat, and, in full "Soul Train" character, Silk Sonic. There are also acts making dreamy, atmospheric music with a solid dose of funk, such as Khruangbin’s global sonic collage.

There are many bands that play heavily with funk, creating lush grooves designed to get you moving. Read on for a taste of five current modern funk and nu-disco artists making band-led uptempo funk built for the dance floor. Be sure to press play on the Spotify playlist above, and check out's playlist on Apple Music, Amazon Music and Pandora.

Say She She

Aptly self-described as "discodelic soul," Brooklyn-based seven-piece Say She She make dreamy, operatic funk, led by singer-songwriters Nya Gazelle Brown, Piya Malik and Sabrina Mileo Cunningham. Their '70s girl group-inspired vocal harmonies echo, sooth and enchant as they cover poignant topics with feminist flair.

While they’ve been active in the New York scene for a few years, they’ve gained wider acclaim for the irresistible music they began releasing this year, including their debut album, Prism. Their 2022 debut single "Forget Me Not" is an ode to ground-breaking New York art collective Guerilla Girls, and "Norma" is their protest anthem in response to the news that Roe vs. Wade could be (and was) overturned. The band name is a nod to funk legend Nile Rodgers, from the "Le freak, c'est chi" exclamation in Chic's legendary tune "Le Freak."


Moniquea's unique voice oozes confidence, yet invites you in to dance with her to the super funky boogie rhythms. The Pasadena, California artist was raised on funk music; her mom was in a cover band that would play classics like Aretha Franklin’s "Get It Right" and Gladys Knight’s "Love Overboard." Moniquea released her first boogie funk track at 20 and, in 2011, met local producer XL Middelton — a bonafide purveyor of funk. She's been a star artist on his MoFunk Records ever since, and they've collabed on countless tracks, channeling West Coast energy with a heavy dose of G-funk, sunny lyrics and upbeat, roller disco-ready rhythms.

Her latest release is an upbeat nod to classic West Coast funk, produced by Middleton, and follows her February 2022 groovy, collab-filled album, On Repeat.

Shiro Schwarz

Shiro Schwarz is a Mexico City-based duo, consisting of Pammela Rojas and Rafael Marfil, who helped establish a modern funk scene in the richly creative Mexican metropolis. On "Electrify" — originally released in 2016 on Fat Beats Records and reissued in 2021 by MoFunk — Shiro Schwarz's vocals playfully contrast each other, floating over an insistent, upbeat bassline and an '80s throwback electro-funk rhythm with synth flourishes.

Their music manages to be both nostalgic and futuristic — and impossible to sit still to. 2021 single "Be Kind" is sweet, mellow and groovy, perfect chic lounge funk. Shiro Schwarz’s latest track, the joyfully nostalgic "Hey DJ," is a collab with funkstress Saucy Lady and U-Key.


L'Impératrice (the empress in French) are a six-piece Parisian group serving an infectiously joyful blend of French pop, nu-disco, funk and psychedelia. Flore Benguigui's vocals are light and dreamy, yet commanding of your attention, while lyrics have a feminist touch.

During their energetic live sets, L'Impératrice members Charles de Boisseguin and Hagni Gwon (keys), David Gaugué (bass), Achille Trocellier (guitar), and Tom Daveau (drums) deliver extended instrumental jam sessions to expand and connect their music. Gaugué emphasizes the thick funky bass, and Benguigui jumps around the stage while sounding like an angel. L’Impératrice’s latest album, 2021’s Tako Tsubo, is a sunny, playful French disco journey.

Franc Moody

Franc Moody's bio fittingly describes their music as "a soul funk and cosmic disco sound." The London outfit was birthed by friends Ned Franc and Jon Moody in the early 2010s, when they were living together and throwing parties in North London's warehouse scene. In 2017, the group grew to six members, including singer and multi-instrumentalist Amber-Simone.

Their music feels at home with other electro-pop bands like fellow Londoners Jungle and Aussie act Parcels. While much of it is upbeat and euphoric, Franc Moody also dips into the more chilled, dreamy realm, such as the vibey, sultry title track from their recently released Into the Ether.

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