Love, loss, desperation, and hope are some of the most powerful emotions a person can experience. All of these are contained within the melodies of ‘Funeral’. Arcade Fire’s debut album is a coming of age soundtrack unlike any other, the first impression from a band who have gone on to headline venues and festivals around the world. In 2004 the group were only just starting out – a collection of family and friends tied together by creativity, drawing in an audience as they searched outwards for sense and security.
All of this echoes in the ten tracks of ‘Funeral’, and indeed, in the artwork that encloses the songs. Designed by Tracy Maurice, it depicts a quill scrawling and creating; luscious foliage growing from its feathers. “The piece was primarily inspired by the music itself, the core themes of the record,” Tracy tells us. “Childhood, death and loss, the past. As well as a few reference images from the band, mainly old birth and death certificates.”
Over the course of the album’s creation, Win Butler and Régine Chassagne had both lost grandparents. Inspired by such personal themes and events, the record is at once intimate and sprawling, and the artwork both full of life and empty space. “I met the band through mutual friends in 2004,” Tracy states of her involvement. “I had never created album artwork before, but I have a deep love of music and art, so I thought that it would be a great project to work on. I met up with Win and Régine and showed them a few things that I had been playing around with, and they thought that it was the right fit and would work well with music.”
“There is something to be said about the clarity of vision that you have when you are younger and just starting out, being a bit naive.”
Painted onto pieces of a wooden planter, the artwork for ‘Funeral’ is as multi-textured as it is iconic. “It is representative of time before I became glued to a computer!” Tracy exclaims. “Drawing was very much a meditational state of mind for me. When I look back on it, I still think about the importance of trying to get back to that kind of lifestyle, the importance of focus and simplicity.”
Speaking of her motivation behind the artwork, Tracy had no shortage of inspiration. “I had a collection of antique photographs, and illustrated books from the early 1900s that influenced my drawing style at the time - and by extension the artwork,” she explains. “I really liked Japanese coloured prints, blocks of colour with crisp black outlines, scenes from history and folk tales. When I shared the artwork the reaction was that it felt like a part of the whole,” Tracy reminisces.
The artwork for ‘Funeral’ was just the beginning of her work with Arcade Fire. Tracy went on to tour with the band following their album release, design the artwork for second release ‘Neon Bible’, and direct the ‘Black Mirror’ video. “The artwork for ‘Funeral’ was coming from a different place. There was no awareness that it would be a successful record,” Tracy describes. “When I began collaborating with the band I was 20 years old, so I didn’t have much experience. I just made something that I wanted to make and it was a sincere representation of what I felt at the time, I wasn’t worried about the response that people would have. There is something to be said about the clarity of vision that you have when you are younger and just starting out, being a bit naive.”
“I had never created album artwork before, but I have a deep love of music and art.”
Speaking of joining Arcade Fire on the road following their debut album release, the artist is as awed now as she was a decade ago. “It was surreal,” she summarises. “I believe very much in Hegel’s theory that art reflects the culture of the time in which it is created. I think that success in general has to do with talent and hard work, but for the most part so much of success is really tapping into the zeitgeist at the right place, at the right time.”
“It is impossible for me to gauge its cultural importance,” Tracy continues, “but I think, musically, it resonated with a lot of people, and by extension so did the artwork. I would like to think that it was tapping into something that needed to be expressed at that time.”
Creating a mural in Brooklyn to celebrate ten years since ‘Funeral’ saw release, it seems that, much like the album, Tracy Maurice’s artwork continues to resonate with audiences alongside the songs on the record. With Arcade Fire now headlining prestigious events across the globe, that influence doesn’t look set to die out any time soon.