Will Butler isn’t the vacationing type. In between months of nonstop touring, the Arcade Fire multi-instrumentalist found himself with a rare chunk of free time last May. Rather than take a break from music, Butler recorded “Policy,” his first full-length solo album, which dropped this week. “The cause of the collection was almost more timing than art,” says Butler, 32. “It was like, ‘Oh, I have the time now. Let’s fill it with something appropriate.’ ” He’ll test out the new tracks with his relatively small touring band at the Rock and Roll Hotel on Saturday.
There’s a tongue-in-cheek tone to your record. What inspired it?
I like jokes. I wanted the album to be light. I think there’s room for irony as long as you actually care about what you’re talking about. Irony that’s really detached isn’t that great. But a little bit of distance from something you care about can be a useful thing.
That’s interesting because Arcade Fire is known for being a very sincere band.
I think you can be sincere and jokey. You can be bitter and still expressing yourself clearly.
How do you think the songs on “Policy” work in dialogue with Arcade Fire songs?
I think the album has more in common with the live show of Arcade Fire, which is very all over the place and frisky. The songs are a lot shorter and simpler and the arrangements are simpler, but that’s partly just a function of not having as many creative minds on it at the same time.
The album is pretty diverse, soundwise. What were you listening to while making it?
The two sonic references I gave to engineers were [records by] the Plastic Ono Band and The Breeders’ “Pod.” They’re both spare and direct but they have some beauty in them. I was also listening to a lot of podcasts. There’s a lot of great podcasts these days.
I like “Hardcore History.” Slate has a good language one called “Lexicon Valley.”
For “Policy,” did you play everything or work with a band?
I had a week booked [at the studio], and for the first four days I had Jeremy Gara — the Arcade Fire drummer — down. We blitzed through and laid down all the beds for all the tracks, so drums, guitar, piano. I did all the band instruments, and I had a couple of friends come in to do clarinet, saxophone and backing vocals.
You started playing solo shows in the middle of the “Reflektor” tour last year. What was it like performing in an arena one night and a small club the next?
Arcade Fire has historically done that all the time. This is the first tour where we did pretty much all big venues, and it was mostly for logistical reasons, not spiritual reasons. So, it didn’t feel that strange. The thing that was refreshing was playing music that nobody heard before and had no expectations about.
Has a fan ever demanded you to play “Wake Up” at a solo show?
Rock and Roll Hotel, 1353 H St. NE; Sat., 8 p.m., $13.