Richard Reed Parry is lying on the floor a few inches from me, and we spy a discreet smile on his face. While his music is slowly filling the air of the Plateau Mont-Royal location where we’re gathered, we notice how his current, nearly meditative state is in contrast with the raw energy he usually displays onstage when playing with his band, Arcade Fire. That said, it’s true that we’re not here to talk about one of the world’s most famous rock bands; no, we’re here to talk about his recent solo album, at the invitation of Julien Boumard Coallier, the host of Montréal’s Die Pod Die evenings. The musician has agreed to listen to his own album – on vinyl, naturally – with a small group of fans before answering our questions.
Right from the start, we tell Parry how appropriate this collective, almost religious, listening session seems. Even if the intimate and hypnotic music on Quiet River of Dust Vol. 1 is tailor-made for headphone listening, it’s also, paradoxically, too expansive for a single pair of ears.
“It’s true that it’s an introspective album that aspires to stretch out in wide spaces,” says Parry. “Not only was it inspired by nature, it touches on the theme of transcendence, of going beyond oneself. When I was writing those songs, the one image that kept coming back to me was that of a funeral at sea. I love the idea of scattering someone’s ashes over water, then that water evaporates to become clouds, and comes back to earth to feed a tree, and when that tree dies, it goes back to the water. I’m fascinated by this immense circle of life, the eternal return to nature.”
In fact, it was in the midst of nature that this project was born about a decade ago. After an Arcade Fire tour, Parry wanted to flee from the daily chaos of the rock-musician life, and exiled himself to a Japanese monastery. Far from the world, his days were punctuated by Buddhist chants, and the infinite silence of a snow-covered setting, where he found a ghostly inspiration. One day, deep in the forest on one of his long walks, he thought he heard a melody from his dad’s repertoire – his father being a folk musician who played with Friends of Fiddler’s Green.
“The music was there, even though no one was there to play it,” he says. “It was as if nature’s silence had awakened something and brought me back to myself: the music was there, everywhere… The image of the river in the album title also symbolizes this musical continuum that’s at the heart of the folk music I grew up with: the transmission of ancestral songs from one generation to the next. That’s something the I feel very strongly about.”
Although some songs are clearly situated within the folk tradition – notably the epic “I Was In The World (Was the World in Me?)” – others fall more into the realms of ambient music, and even psychedelia. The natural sounds of insects, birds, wind, and rivers are scattered throughout this spiritual musical journey. In other words, it’s as if Parry has connected the two poles of his artistic personality: the traditional side of his familial legacy, and the experimental side he explored during his electro-acoustic music studies at McGill University in Montréal. Everything is tied together by a highly complex conceptual approach, where Japanese spirituality occupies a central role.
“Granted it’s a concept album, but it’s not The Wall, either,” he says. “There’s a beginning and an end, and Volume 2 [to be released in Spring 2019] is going to explore the other side of the river, but I’m not trying to tell some kind of linear story. To me, it’s like painting with words, evoking rather than saying. And I believe that if you let yourself go, the sound itself will tell a story.”
That’s most likely the only key one needs to understand this bewitching album. Lay back, close your eyes, and allow yourself be carried away by the sound: the journey is much more fascinating than the destination.