Interview: Sarah Neufeld

By Lindsay Kosma

May 27, 2015

With four tours in the queue for 2015, including a solo tour with St. Vincent and 3 duo- tours that span the globe, Sarah Neufeld is quite the high-reacher. The Canadian violinist’s unstoppable ambition has driven her to many musical pursuits. She was a core member and currently a contributor to Arcade Fire, a member of the post-rock group Bell Orchestre, and has recorded with many other groups including Esmerine, The Luyas, and Little Scream. In addition, Neufeld released her debut solo album in 2013 titled Hero Brother. Most recently, she, along with Colin Stetson of Arcade Fire, Bell Orchestre, and Bon Iver, released a duo-album titled Never Were the Way She Was, which she is primarily promoting on tour.


Neufeld overflows with music- acting as a vessel through which every inspiration she perceives transforms into and is released into inciting, unique sound. Though one could try to categorize and define her music, it is best to let it speak for itself to each listener. This is true for every work she has her hand in, including both solo and collaborative efforts.

Hero Brother stands very much alone as an artistic statement, calmly ravishing and emotionally centered.” The New York Times

Neufeld herself is just as refreshing as her music and CLTure got the opportunity to speak with her about everything from her career to who she would like to enjoy a whiskey with.


CLTure: You just wrapped up your international tour promoting your newest album Never Were the Way She Was – what was it like?

Sarah Neufeld: We just got back from our first tour in support of NWTWSW in Europe. It was great, lovely audiences. It felt really good to play the music for people.

Photo by Susan Moss

CLTure: Do you have any crazy stories or experiences from your time abroad?

SN: Touring is much less exciting than I think people imagine. We flew on planes pretty much every day, and when we weren’t in transit we were working. Excitement comes in simple pleasures like a great meal on a night off, or a particularly scenic running path.

CLTure: With little rest, you begin touring with St. Vincent in a couple of days- how do you cope with being on the road so much? Are you doing anything exciting in the break that you have?

SN: You have no idea! We actually just flew back to Europe to play Moers festival. We’ll be performing the duo (Colin and I) set as well as an enormous ensemble re-imagining of Gorecki’s 3rd symphony. I’m so happy to be in the midst of such creative and performative times, and at the same time it’s difficult to stay healthy. At the moment I’m experimenting with turmeric, probiotics and a skipping rope. How’s that for exciting?!

Colin Stetston and Sarah Neufield

CLTure: What prompted the tour with St Vincent? What are you most looking forward to? Do you see any collaborative opportunities on the horizon?

SN: I was graciously asked to open this upcoming St. Vincent tour, and while the timing, being squeezed in between 3 duo tours, wasn’t ideal, it was also completely ideal in that I’ve also just finished a new solo record. I wrote a new body of solo work over the last year or so, during the same time Colin and I were developing our duo material. I wrote in hotel rooms while on tour with Arcade Fire. After Colin and I finished recording in October, I jumped straight into making this solo record, which quickly became collaborative, as I asked Jeremy Gara to play some drums, and some drums turned into a lot of drums.

So Jeremy, who is also with us performing the Gorecki at Moers festival this weekend, was also up for the St. Vincent tour, and we’re both really excited to perform this new body of work for St. Vincent’s audiences, well in advance of its release.

Annie Clark of St. Vincent at Hopscotch Music Festival 2014. Photo by Carter Short.

Let’s talk about the album…

CLTure: Never Were the Way She Was, is an album you recorded with Colin Stetson. How would you describe it and how is it a reflection of where you are in your life?

SN: I think music is best left for the listener to experience for themselves. My own description of it is only based on my own history, my own musical references and perspective. I like to avoid coloring things for people too much. What I will say is that the collaboration is very much the coming together of our solo voices. They fit together, and I think together they become something else, outside of ourselves.

CLTure: Your music is very narrative – do you write songs with a story in mind or do you write a song and the story falls into place later.

SN: The pieces we wrote first were probably more abstract, and as the album came together everything became part of a story we were both telling and being told.

Colin Stetson and Sarah Neufeld’s new album Never Were The Way She Was.

CLTure: Describe your songwriting process- beginning with what inspires you to create and ending with how you know it’s finished.

SN: So many things inspire me to write, that’s really hard to put into words. Usually some form of chaos or discomfort propels me into a writing mode.

CLTure: Are you inspired by things other than music, if so, what?

SN: Definitely. I’m inspired by solitude, by nature, by crowds, by love, by anger and sadness, by remorse, by joy, by bodies, movement, water. That’s an endless kind of thing.

CLTure: You’re from Montreal and are clearly very well-traveled. How do the various cultures you experience influence your music?

SN: I’m actually from Vancouver Island BC, which is probably the polar opposite place to Montreal. But I have lived in Montreal for a long time. I’m not sure if and how traveling affects my music. The only traveling I’ve really done is touring, and a lot of it, which means the briefest experiences all over the world for years on repeat. Ironically I’ve never been immersed in another culture, rather touring allows you to move about in a bubble with your chosen family, it’s a bizarre existence.


CLTure: You recorded this album in a farmhouse attic in Vermont with producer Hans Bernard and did it completely live (no overdubbing, looping, sampling, etc). In what way do you feel that contributes to and benefits the music?

SN: Colin and I wanted to make a duo record, comprised of our two solo voices, employing our individual approaches to composition and instrumental/vocal technique. Composing music which layers upon itself by means of looping, or adding a lot of other voices by means of overdubbing, would be something else. When we write for film scores we overdub like crazy. This record really didn’t call for that.

CLTure: The title of the album Never Were the Way She Was (almost a tongue twister) is appropriately thought provoking. How did you come up with the name? How do you generally go about naming your pieces?

SN: Never Were the Way She Was refers to the central character in our narrative theme which developed over the course of making this record. Some pieces got their names in a very direct, linked to the story sort of a way, while others just happened out of the air.


Wrapping it up lightly…

CLTure: What bothers you about society?

SN: The culture of instant gratification bothers me a lot.

CLTure: If you could have a whiskey with anyone in the world who would it be and why?

SN: I’ve never been good at narrowing anything down like that. But if I have to answer, today, this year, Virginia Woolf. I’ve been reading a lot of her this past year, and well, it’s pretty obvious that she’d be an interesting drinking partner.

CLTure: What advice would you give a young creative looking to find success with their dream?

SN: Work really hard, find joy in working really hard, and don’t focus on the outcome of your hard work.

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