Underneath his normal teacher exterior, Visual Arts instructor Joshua Deu is a rock star. Deu is one of the founding members of the Grammy-nominated indie rock band, Arcade Fire, and remains committed to and involved with the band to this day.
Deu always knew that he wanted to be an artist and began mixing visual arts and music as a student at Concordia College, in Montreal. Though he originally met Arcade Fire lead singer Win Butler in high school, at Phillips Exeter Academy, it was not until after graduation that the two became closer friends and started playing music together.
Deu and Butler worked both independently and collaboratively on visual and musical creations. After receiving much positive feedback on the music they produced, the two decided to start Arcade Fire.
For the first two years the duo focused on writing great songs rather than performing, beginning an emphasis on quality over productivity that has carried over to Arcade Fire’s current incarnation; the group typically releases one album every two or three years.
“Rock is about the experience. It’s not just about rebellion and being avant-garde. It’s about interacting with the audience and having almost like a religious experience,” Deu said.
Like many musicians just starting out, Deu and Butler sought free practice space. The two discovered a secret door code to practice rooms at nearby McGill University and started to rehearse incognito.
After rehearsing in one of the practice rooms one day, Deu and Butler stumbled upon Régine Chassagne, a music student at McGill, doing homework. The duo was intrigued and asked her to play music with them. Later, Deu found out that Butler had seen Chassagne performing at an art gallery weeks before.
“Win and I played guitar. Everyone played guitar. We had no music to show her, but she ended up saying yes to joining us, and I don’t know why. Maybe there was a little spark with Win,” Deu said.
Butler and Chassange married in 2003, and her haunting voice and vast musical ability added a unique style to the band, propelling them to further success. However, with attention and interest in the band growing, Deu faced a tough decision. Although he knew he wanted to continue studying visual arts and film, he wasn’t sure he wanted to be a rock star.
“It just didn’t feel like it fit me,” said Deu, who left the band in 2003 to work on video, film and visual arts projects. Even though he is not in the band anymore, Deu has continued to work with Arcade Fire. He has designed promotional materials, played occasional shows and produced web and music videos. Deu also co-wrote the songs “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)” and “Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)” on Arcade Fire’s first album, Funeral, which went on to win the prestigious Juno Award for Songwriter of the Year in 2006.
Deu implements the same methods and techniques used in the band’s music videos into the curriculum of his video production classes at Marlborough.
“When we started interviewing for someone to teach digital art classes, the most important criteria was to find someone who had digital art training. Mr. Deu talked about his experience with music videos, and I knew this would be a subject area that our students would get excited about,” said Visual Arts Department Head Gina Woodruff.
“Mr. Deu has so much experience with this. He obviously knows what he’s doing when it comes to music videos,” Sarah ’12 said.
On Oct. 5, Deu was invited to an intimate Arcade Fire show in Big Sur to shoot a sold out performance at the Henry Miller Memorial Library. Before the show began, rain forced the whole band inside the library to rehearse some songs not on the set list.
“It was more like a practice for them, but it was an eye into how the band works for everyone else,” said Deu, who managed to capture this impromptu moment on film.
Even though he is teaching now, Deu remains connected to Arcade Fire and works with them whenever he has the opportunity.
“Not everyone gets to have these experiences with a famous rock band. I’m so blessed to have been part of who the band was at the beginning, and who they’ve become now,” Deu said.