January 26

Arcade Fire’s maternal spark

Jazz harpist Liza Rey Butler of Mount Desert Island has the musical chops to make a lasting impression. Just ask her two sons, members of one of the hottest rock bands on the scene today.

By Ray Routhier rrouthier@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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The mother of two members of Arcade Fire, Liza Rey Butler has an impressive musical resume of her own. “She was a real prodigy,” says Alan Waite, a longtime friend and publicist for The King Sisters and her father, Alvino Rey. She was “probably the most talented musician in the whole family.”

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

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Arcade Fire, from left: Jeremy Gara, Regine Chassagne, Will and Win Butler, Richard Reed Parry and Tim Kingsbury.

Additional Photos Below

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

Her sons’ band has earned so much attention that Liza Rey Butler has now limited herself to keeping only the magazines that feature Arcade Fire on their covers.

ARCADE FIRE: DISCOGRAPHY

2004: “Funeral”

2007: “Neon Bible”

2010: “The Suburbs”

2013: “Reflektor”

2013: Score of the motion picture “Her,” directed by Spike Jonze

Another harp belonged to Liza’s mother. The third harp is small enough for Liza to take on the couple’s sailboat. That is something she does often. “She plays and we sing and have a wonderful time on their boat,” said Martina Herries, a friend of the Butlers who lives in Blue Hill. “She’s a fantastic sailor too. She says it’s because she takes great direction from Ned.”

There aren’t many mementos of Liza’s own musical career in the Butlers’ living room. There are black-and-white publicity portraits of both Liza’s mother and her father during their performing days. And she has a couple of her father’s guitars.

There are family pictures, such as a framed Christmas card shot in the 1980s that shows Liza, Ned and their two blond sons, all dressed in red.

On Liza’s grand piano, prominently placed, is a picture of her two sons hugging on stage after winning a Grammy in 2011.

“That was an amazing moment,” she said.

MOM'S MUSICAL INFLUENCE

Liza didn’t steer or push her sons toward show business, but she encouraged music and creativity at every turn. Win remembers his mother’s music being a constant presence in his young life.

“Music was definitely super normal to me,” said Win, 33, speaking on the Australian TV music channel (V) earlier this month. “Like I’d always come home from school and my mom would be practicing Debussy, or whatever, on the harp and you’re like, ‘Mom, shut up, I want to play video games.’ You really take for granted that you’re listening to this incredibly beautiful music in the background all the time.”

“In my family it’s kind of like being an accountant, being a musician. It’s the most normal thing I could have done,” Win said.

As a young adult, Liza reinvented herself. She went to graduate school at the University of Arizona for a master’s degree in performance harp. Then, while living in California, she started playing jazz harp in clubs and at hotels, making a name for herself on her own.

“There wasn’t anyone else playing jazz harp at the time. She’s very talented and she was gorgeous. People loved her,” said Alan Waite, a longtime friend who worked as a publicist for The King Sisters and for Alvino Rey. “I remember her as a teenager, running rehearsals for her father’s act, and for her mother’s. She was a real prodigy, probably the most talented musician in the whole family.”

Liza and Ned were living in California when Win (Edwin Farnham Butler III) and Will were born. The family later moved to The Woodlands, Texas, near Houston, where Ned was working for Pennzoil.

Will, 31, says he and Win didn’t listen to much recorded music while growing up. But he can recall in a flash specific pieces his mother played regularly, either on her concert harp or on piano.

“I really strongly feel for the classical pieces she was always playing when I was a kid; ‘Concierto de Aranjuez,’ though she plays it jazzy, ‘Song in the Night’ by Salzedo, ‘Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring,’ which she always plays fast, happy, not ponderous,” Will wrote in an email from Australia last week, where Arcade Fire is on tour through January. “I was raised to care exceedingly much about music, and I’ve never really cared too much about the music business. I think I may have inherited that attitude from my mom, and from her parents.”

Liza formed a neighborhood band in The Woodlands, the North Millbend Gang, with herself on harp and her sons and their friends on a variety of other instruments.

She also played in music education programs, visiting schools, and often brought her sons with her to play along. Win played trumpet then, Will clarinet. Liza says her sons were both creative from an early age but that Will was more focused on traditional musical pursuits, like school bands. Win played music, but he also painted, drew and took photographs. He was into outrageous fashion at an early age.

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Additional Photos

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Liza Rey Butler publicity photo from her days as a jazz harpist.

Contributed photo

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Liza Rey Butler plays the harp at a nightclub in the 1970s. She earned a master’s degree in performance harp from the University of Arizona.

Contributed photo

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Liza Rey Butler’s father, Alvino Rey, was a jazz guitarist and bandleader, and contributed to the development of the electric guitar in the 1930s.

Contributed photo

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Liza Rey Butler and her family appeared on TV in the 1960s, mostly on "The King Family Show" on ABC. In this undated TV photo, Liza is on the harp on far left, with brother Jon Rey on clarinet, brother Rob Rey on bass, father Alvino Rey on guitar, and mother Luise King on the other harp.

Courtesy Liza Rey Butler

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The mother of two members of Arcade Fire, Liza Rey Butler has an impressive musical resume of her own. “She was a real prodigy,” says Alan Waite, a longtime friend and publicist for The King Sisters and her father, Alvino Rey. She was “probably the most talented musician in the whole family.”

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

 


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