Sept. 14 marked the 10-year anniversary of Arcade Fire’s Funeral, an album that changed alternative music as we know it. Billboard already gushed about its greatness in this classic track-by-track review, so we decided to dig deeper via a first-hand account of a largely untold story — Funeral’s now-iconic artwork.
Billboard caught up with Tracy Maurice, the New York (then Montreal)-based artist, designer, and filmmaker behind the hand and quill that famously adorn the LP art of Arcade Fire’s debut. She went on to provide artwork for the band’s following album as well, but it all began with some wood paintings in 2004, pictured above.
“There was a really unique mix of artists and musicians living in Montreal at the time, so we all more or less hung around together,” Maurice tells Billboard via e-mail. Within this social circle, she met Arcade Fire’s Win Butler via a mutual friend, who informed her he was looking for someone to provide album artwork for his band’s forthcoming debut. Butler and co-bandleader/wife Régine Chassagne liked the drawings she’d been working on, and picked her for the job.
Along with some then-unreleased Arcade Fire tracks, the band shared “a few reference images and some old birth and death certificates” to communicate its prevailing themes: childhood, death, and reflection of the past and future. Both Butler and Chassagne had lost grandparents during the recording process, so Maurice had been trusted with a project that came from a deeply personal space. Even so, the artist’s own articles — photographs, musicsheets, prayer cards, valentines, and illustrated books from the early 1900s — fit the theme and inspired the final product, which she painted onto the pieces of a wooden planter.
“I wrapped the wooden pieces all up in the towel to protect them and rode my bike over to their place to show them,” she remembers. Then we had to try to scan it so we could send it to Merge but the pieces of wood were too large to have the art sit flat on the scanner. We had to saw them down to make it fit. It was ridiculous, but it worked.”
Just after Funeral’s release, Maurice accompanied the band on a 20-city North American van-powered tour as stage and lighting director. “I remember blowing up drawings that I did at Kinkos, painting them in the hotel room, mounting them to foam core and then hoisting them up behind the stage at night,” she says. “It was pretty low tech, but had a certain sensibility that we were all into.”
In the months (and years) that followed, Funeral became an improbable success. First came the critical praise, then David Bowie was collaborating with them, then U2 was covering “Wake Up” live. They certainly wouldn’t be touring in a van again. A far greater audience was paying attention for album number two, and Arcade Fire once again turned to Maurice. The artist served as creative director for 2007’s Neon Bible, designing the artwork for the album, 7-inch singles, and wound up winning the year’s Juno Award for Best CD Artwork Design, thanks to the deluxe edition’s lenticular cover and two flip books.
“That was my favorite project to work on with them,” Maurice remembers. “I got to design a 7′ neon sign that we thought the band would be able to bring on tour and hang as a backdrop at live shows, but it turned out it was too fragile to transport. I also got to shoot this album artwork on 16mm film, which was a real treat. It was really an exciting process, we scanned single frames from the negatives. I also directed/art directed the ‘Black Mirror’ video (co-directed by Olivier Grouxl) as well as some web/live show content.”
Fast-forward to the present — the week of the 10-year anniversary, Funeral‘s art made an unexpected appearance in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and once again, Maurice as behind it. The pop-up mural at North 10th Street and Driggs Avenue was the idea of Merge Records boss/Superchunk frontman Mac McCaughan, who ran into Maurice at one of Arcade Fire’s Brooklyn concerts in Aug. 2014.
Maurice currently works in creative development for Serial Pictures, a production company for commercials, music videos, and short films. She also works on her own freelance projects; most recently, she shot album artwork and a music video for Arcade Fire member Sarah Neufeld’s LP Hero Brother.