It's a busy summer for Arcade Fire's Sarah Neufeld, who recently opened a yoga studio in New York and will release her first solo record
Sarah Neufeld, violinist of Arcade Fire and Bell Orchestre, steps softly through a room full of bodies, sweating and smiling as she guides us through a 60-minute flow class. Today she’s a yoga teacher at Moksha, the New York studio she co-opened last year with a few friends, and later this summer she’ll become a first-time solo artist when her debut album is released in August.
“When I look around the studio, I feel we’ve just opened up a bunch of subway cars and everybody’s tumbled into Moksha,” says Neufeld, 33, who co-owns the studio with fellow Montreal expats Britton Darby and Guillaume Brun, and cellist Rebecca Foon. “There’s an eagerness and a joyfulness in that studio. It’s so diverse.” Indeed, the cheerful Greenwich Village space has earned a loyal following, as well as accolades from Vogue and the New York Times T magazine for its fun, inclusive and welcoming environment. The studio’s name comes from a popular style of hot yoga that tones and detoxifies the body, and is also believed to calm the mind. Teachers bring their own style and levels of study, and classes are geared toward a diverse group of yogis—some even include live music.
“People come to hot yoga for lots of reasons,” Neufeld says. “One of the main ones is the workout angle—you sweat a lot, and there’s the weight loss thing, but it’s less acrobatically demanding than if you threw yourself into, say, an Ashtanga primary series. Yoga gets you into your body in a different way than going to the gym, and people sense that.” It is the mental, emotional and creative benefits of the practice to which Neufeld attributes her own more patient attitude since she started practicing Moksha. “You still get stressed out, but you don’t get as wrapped up in your own reactions,” she says. “I’ve noticed when I’m able to focus and not be as distracted, I can follow through on a creative impulse or an idea. You’re building endurance, but you’re also building focus and the ability to concentrate.” This is not to say that she’s some kind of “yoga robot,” though—“I’m quite a middle-path person. I still stay up late and have drinks, if that’s happening,” says Neufeld. “I’m not abstaining from all things non-yoga. But the more dedicated I became to my practice and my teaching, the more space I created in my own life.”
For Neufeld, who grew up on Vancouver Island and studied electro-acoustics at Montreal’s Concordia University, this newly created space afforded her the room to produce her first solo album, an 11-track instrumental violin record called Hero Brother, out August 20th on Constellation Records.
"Having a perfectionist brain, you want to understand the whole picture before you set out to do something, which is kind of amazing and kind of crippling."
“The birth of the Moksha New York and the birth of my solo record happened at the same time,” she explains. “It’s so funny how parallel the two projects were. I would go to the construction site, and then come home to my tiny New York room, and just play and play and play, and record.” As Moksha NYC grew, Neufeld started to play solo shows, including small tours with other artists working on solo projects (like her boyfriend, saxophonist Colin Stetson of Bon Iver). She also met a producer named Nils Frahm, with whom she went to Germany to record Hero Brother, a process that took just 10 days.
“There are these two sounds to it,” Neufeld explains excitedly. “Slower, more atmospheric pieces that feel stark and haunting, with vocalized melodies happening in the background, and stuff that’s way more in your face, drawing on the fiddle tradition.” Working within the limitations of a single instrument, Neufeld and Frahm decided to explore locations that contributed their own unique acoustic qualities, like natural reverb, or wind blowing. Using “an old ’60s tape machine,” parts of Hero Brother were recorded in a concrete geodesic dome on top of a mountain, an underground parking garage and an old subway station. “It was this amazing creative field trip,” says Neufeld, adding that “the meat and bones were recorded in a more orchestral recording hall—an old broadcast studio in East Berlin.”
Featuring album cover artwork by Tracy Maurice, who has designed covers for Arcade Fire, Bell Orchestre and Colin Stetson, Hero Brother also has an accompanying narrative element inspired in part by the title track, which Neufeld imagined as being about a “stoic kind of character.” Neufeld enjoyed venturing into other realms for the record. “It was fun to create this narrative world with all these different characters. It became this whole other project, finding a storyline for these abstract notions.”
Neufeld had dabbled in solo work prior to Hero Brother, most notably composing music for the award-winning short film Scalpel/Stradivarius (directed by Jason Last), which was originally commissioned for Vogue Italia. But clearly achieving one dream (the yoga studio) has helped her to pursue another. “When you find yourself doing something you never really thought you would do, like opening a studio in New York City, all the ‘what ifs’ and the cautiousness goes out the window,” she says. “I think that gave me energy to just go for it, write a body of work and not worry about the outcome. I’m a perfectionist, so in the past I have shied away from doing anything solo, because I didn’t quite know what it might become.” She trusts herself well enough, though, to recognize the value of the unknown. “Having a perfectionist brain, you want to understand the whole picture before you set out to do something, which is kind of amazing and kind of crippling. So I let go of that, because everything else is so groundless and so intense and so new anyways.”