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

ON MOUNT DESERT ISLAND — What is it like to be the mother of two rock stars?

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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

“The highs can be very high, when you’re at the Grammys, when you’re at an event sitting next to David Byrne, or Peter Gabriel sends your grandchild a mobile,” said Liza Rey Butler, whose sons, Win and Will, are at the core of the Grammy-winning, platinum-selling rock band Arcade Fire. “The lows are very low. They’re gone a lot. And when they’re here, I can’t show them off. I can’t always call them directly. They don’t come to our Christmas party anymore.”

Arcade Fire is about as hot as a rock band can get. The band’s latest album, “Reflektor,” debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard album chart in November. In September, they performed on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” and then appeared in their own concert special on the network. This month Will was named as an Oscar nominee for the band’s work on scoring the film “Her.”

The band is written about and photographed so often that Liza now saves only the magazines that feature the band on the cover. She used to save every clipping they were mentioned in, but now there are just too many.

There is likely no good way to prepare for having sons so famous they have to sneak into your house, who are constantly in demand, who have teams of people guarding their privacy. But if anyone can be prepared for such a thing, it’s probably Liza Rey Butler.

BORN INTO STARDOM

Her father, Alvino Rey, helped develop the electric guitar in the 1930s and had his own big band. Her mother, Luise King, was a member of the King Sisters, a singing act that became a big name in radio and film in the 1940s. Later the King Sisters had families and expanded the act, so young Liza become a member of the singing King Family. ABC aired “The King Family Show” sporadically for about five years in the mid-’60s. As a teenager growing up in Hollywood, Liza sang backup on recordings by Frank Sinatra, Doris Day and Johnny Mathis.

She took to music easily and instantly, but she didn’t take to the music business.

“For us it was like any chore you have, doing the dishes or something,” said Liza, sitting in the 1940s Cape Cod home she shares with her husband, Ned, on Mount Desert Island. “I knew what it was like to have (Hollywood costume designer) Bob Mackie make my dresses, and what it was like to fly in private jets, and not have boyfriends. I knew I wanted another kind of life.”

On a camping trip with her family in the mountains of Idaho in the early 1970s, she met and later married Ned Butler. Ned, who was working as a geologist, had grown up on Mount Desert Island. His family had a boatyard there. The couple moved to Maine about 10 years ago to care for Ned’s parents, and they now live in Ned’s childhood home.

After she married Ned, music remained Liza’s passion. She played harp in a jazz trio in clubs and hotels. The family lived for many years in a Houston suburb called The Woodlands, where Will and Win grew up.

The first things a visitor notices in Liza and Ned’s Maine home are the grand piano and the three harps at one end of the living room. There is Liza’s six-foot-high concert harp, which is worth at least $30,000 and is more than 40 years old. Once, when he was young, Win knocked it over and caused “$9,777 worth of damage,” his father remembers.

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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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