Little Scream married into the Arcade Fire family last weekend.
The Montreal singer-songwriter, whose real name is Laurel Sprengelmeyer, got hitched with Arcade Fire’s red-headed giant Richard Reed Parry. She informed me of the news when I picked up the phone for our interview Monday afternoon.
It felt almost intrusive to be thrust into such intimate surroundings, but Sprengelmeyer broke the ice, recounting the events of the previous few days as if I were a friend who had just dropped by and she was bringing me up to speed.
“There were loads of people in from all over the world,” she said from Galena, Ill., where her parents live. “It’s just the tail end of them now — we’re out having tea and seeing people off. Now we’re going to go through dealing with boxes of wet wedding items, and the cleanup.”
OK, well, since she brought it up, how was it?
“Oh my god, I can’t even describe it. We’ve run out of superlatives. It was pure magic, gorgeous, with lots of serendipity. Neither Richard nor I are big planners — we actually dislike planning. So when it comes to planning a wedding, with 200-some people coming together …
“We picked which parts we would plan, then left everything else to the winds of fate. And fate was very kind. It was really extraordinary.”
British singer-songwriter Alexi Murdoch performed. They had a Quaker ceremony, in accordance with Parry’s upbringing, which meant that in lieu of speeches, “when the spirit moves people, they speak,” Sprengelmeyer explained.
As for the oddly timed business of putting out an album — let alone promoting it — on the heels of such a momentous occasion, she noted that it comes with the territory.
“We knew it was silly to get married when I have a record coming out. It’s just one of those things. It was the only weekend we could get it to work with the venue, people coming together and my label. It was either we release it this week or wait till spring.”
Sprengelmeyer is signed to Arcade Fire’s old label, American indie imprint Merge Records. Parry plays on the new album, Speed Queen, though not as much as on previous releases. (Sprengelmeyer has also played on Parry’s solo albums and toured with him.)
“The first two we really made together,” she said. “This one I wanted to do on my own, so I brought him in late in the process. One song (the stirring hymn Don’t Wait for It) he and I wrote together. For the rest, I’d say the album was 80 to 90 per cent finished when I brought it to him to come up with arrangements and ideas for different parts.”
Speed Queen is another collection of inherently catchy tunes from Sprengelmeyer, filled with hooks and grooves and a laid-back confidence that comes from experience, as well as an overarching affiliation with classic Americana.
Tom Petty comes to mind, as does Prince.
“Definitely Tom Petty,” Sprengelmeyer said. “I was listening to Refugee or American Girl — there’s such solidly constructed storytelling (in those songs). I was inspired by stuff from that era, songwriter-focused music written with guitars. I’ve always said I feel like guitar is a genre — that’s where I come from, my musical roots.”
She mentions her moody gem Switchblade as being directly influenced by Petty, from its sinuous late-night bass line to the jangly, exuberant chorus, complete with ’80s sax flourishes.
As for Prince, while he was Sprengelmeyer’s muse for her second album, Cult Following, he plays more of a background role this time around.
“You can’t even approach him,” she said, “but he’s always an unconscious influence.”
Speed Queen opens with Dear Leader, a coy ode to corrupt politicians, inspired by the poet laureate of Sprengelmeyer’s adopted hometown.
“I was fortunate enough to participate in some of the Leonard Cohen tributes happening (a few years ago),” she said. “The Future was a very big record for me as a teen. (The title track) feels like it could have been written yesterday — he was talking about what was happening topically, in a manner that gets to the truth of why something is happening.
“I was just studying that song. I wanted to put (my thoughts) together in a way that didn’t sound angry, had a sense of humour and included self-accusations, wasn’t holier-than-thou. A lot of us struggle with how we’re implicated in the things we critique. It’s part of the messy world we live in.”
Sprengelmeyer calls Speed Queen a road diary, and fittingly most of it was written on tour, from the philosophical vantage point of one who is away from home and reflecting on where she’s at and what it all means.
“It’s a road diary in the sense that it incorporates news, class and poverty, intertwined with struggling to make it as a musician, playing crappy venues sometimes, big venues when you’re opening for people, and driving around in our minivan.
“It also comes from my working-class background. I do my own driving and tour managing, which is insane. I have guilt about being able to do art, so this is how I atone for it, by doing the heavy lifting.”
Sprengelmeyer’s mom is a cleaning lady, and her dad runs an antique store. Those humble roots keep her grounded, she explained, and have gone from being a source of shame to a point of pride, even a guiding light.
“My mother’s car is held together with duct tape,” she said. “But it’s nice, red duct tape that matches her car. There’s a dignity to it. It used to embarrass me when I was younger; now I love that that’s the truth, and I embrace it.
“That was the beautiful thing about bringing people here for the wedding, having my dad pull up in his s—ty truck with the antique chairs we were going to use for the procession. It was raining in the end, so we didn’t use them, but that’s what it’s about — showing up in a s—ty pickup truck and owning it.”
AT A GLANCE
Speed Queen is released Friday, Oct. 25. Little Scream launches the album with shows Nov. 8 and 9 at 8 p.m. at Martha Wainwright’s venue Ursa, 5589 Parc Ave. Visit facebook.com/ursamtl for tickets and more information.