It’s late at night after the first stop on Braids’ tour in support of their second full-length, Flourish//Perish, and Raphaelle Standell-Preston and I are sitting on the floor underneath a green light at Glasslands in Williamsburg. Meanwhile, her bandmates, drummer Austin Tufts and multi-instrumentalist Taylor Smith, pack up their gear. It’s an unexpectedly terrestrial vision of the Montreal-based trio, considering the ample accolades they collect for their otherworldly sound. While BRAIDS’ music certainly accessible, their unique personality shines through a thoughtful spontaneity and reverberant intimacy, and through Standell-Preston’s clarion singing and intermittent injections of impassioned yelping.
Last summer, Canadian music weekly Exclaim! published a lengthy cover story on BRAIDS, who along with Grimes is signed to Arbutus Records, that painfully detailed the falling out between Standell-Preston and her keyboardist and friend, Katie Lee, who eventually left the band. The piece was a rare and revealing look at the personal wars band mates must sometimes wage, and it left Standell-Preston feeling hurt and exposed. Since then the singer, who also fronts Blue Hawaii, has been weary about the press and their ability to make her into the story, instead of her music.
The first time I spoke with you guys, you had just finished Native Speaker. I understand that the way you approached writing and recording your new album was really different.
With Native Speaker, it was very trial-and-error, because we didn’t really have any idea what we were doing. We kind of pounded ourselves into the ground. We’d do take after take after take, never knowing when we had reached our personal best. With Flourish//Perish, we wanted to capture the emotion right off the bat, and we got a lot of rawness on this record, a lot of real emotion, a lot of what was going on in the room.
Flourish//Perish does sound a lot more restrained and sparsely arranged. There’s definitely an element of negative space. Was that approach influenced by anything in particular?
Yeah. I think that goes back to the recording environment, and we’ve just been listening to so much minimal electronic music. I think space is a very powerful tool in music. I’m currently trying to understand it. It’s kind of like a realm of its own. This album sounds a lot more electronic as we were using the computer more. Before, we had amplifiers and synths and we would play it and track it as we went along. But this, we would play it or program it in, then we would sit back and listen to it.
I understand your recording environment was really different this time around too. You all share a house in Montreal, right?
We do! Right after we had finished recording Native Speaker, we turned the garage downstairs into a studio. It’s a good studio but there’s no window. It’s like a room within a room, so if you can imagine, all the emotion that was going on as we recorded Flourish//Perish was very much contained within the walls. A space with no windows really holds the emotion. I think that’s something we’re learning we don’t want for our next record – there were a lot of really difficult times that went on in that room, and I think you can hear that on the record. It’s something that we definitely want to acknowledge, and that I think we made the best of, because we made something very beautiful from something that was really painful. For our next record, we want to try and embrace open space. We want to go to Arizona and rent out some weird place in the middle of the desert and just have endless space.
On that note, do you want to talk about (keyboardist/vocalist) Katie Lee’s departure from the band?
It’s a difficult thing to be represented properly, because there’s so many sides of it. It was kind of a life-or-death thing for the band. The band really felt like it was going to end, o we all had to make that decision. It’s been really hard; I really, really miss her, and I think about her. When you go through anything in your life that’s difficult or traumatic, you have 20/20 hindsight vision. I think that we’re in a good place now. It’s hard, but at least we made a piece of art together to mark that difficulty. She’s still all over the record. Katie was there for the first third of the record, so she’s on it, and it’s her record too. We made a good record together.
I read your interview in The National Post where you said you felt that situation, and your own character, were really misrepresented in your cover story interview with Exclaim! What do you think went wrong?
You can kind of see what went wrong. I felt like it was a piece by a writer for other writers. It felt as though he amplified everything to such an intense degree to make it really interesting. I found he talked too much about me as a personality. Sure, I make up our music, and so does Taylor and so does Austin, and I guess my core ideas are more immediately portrayed in the music because the lyrics are there, but I just felt like he was not talking about our music, he was talking about me, and I don’t want to be a personality. I feel like he painted me as a self-obsessed vain person, which I’m not. So far from it. That’s something I really stand behind: to be introspective is not self-obsession.
Some artists want their art to be separate from their personal identity, whereas others see their work as so personal that they don’t mind putting themselves out there. In light of all that, how do you feel about having your personality connected to your work ?
I’m feeling like maybe my person should be separate and protected from my work, because that interview, hearing his thoughts on who I was as a person made me so upset that perhaps, as a form of protection, I should separate myself. But I think the art that we make is so personal, it’s so vulnerable. People like to see a person who is exposing themselves and isn’t acting like some weird, made-up persona that’s much more grandiose than their self actually is. I guess if people want to do interviews with us, I just have to be myself and deal with it. But I sometimes wish I was ballsy enough to be like, “I had a bad interview! I’m never doing them again! I’m just making my art!”
Do you really think that’s ballsy, or do you think it’s more cowardly not to go and face the press?
The interesting thing with art is that, preserving your art and the honesty of it and its legitimacy, that is so much more ballsy than giving in to interviews, and trying to get on this show and that show, and be in this or that magazine. That, to me, seems cowardly, if you really care about that stuff. So I think you just need to find a really fine balance between how much you want to do and the people you want to talk to. I probably overreacted to the Exclaim! interview. I really wish he would’ve treated the Katie situation better, but I don’t want to trash him. He’s a writer, he did a good job, he wrote an interesting story. I’m just the hurt artist. I’ll get over it.
Maybe sometimes the personality thing and the politics of the music industry make the actual creative process and the music itself take second stage.
It’s not a good thing. Thinking about yourself that much is not a good thing, either. Sometimes thinking too much about what it is you do, that’s not good. When you get a burst of inspiration, you’re not really thinking about it; you’re just letting it come. So when you start to dissect your process, it’s like, “Did I get that right? Is that actually how I do things? Is that actually what I think about this?” Thinking too much about what you do actually hinders you from doing it.
If you can actually articulate the reasons, it kind of takes the magic out of it.
Yeah. Art is very much that same thing. It’s intuitive. It is kind of thought-out, and so is love; you can have discussions with yourself about it. But sometimes it’s just too much to explain.
How does it feel to have this career going, and to be scrutinized in these ways we’ve been talking about, when you’re only 23? Do you think people expect more from you than they should?
I’ve been told since I was younger that I have an old soul, if that means anything. I definitely get confused about a lot of things in my life, but maybe I investigate them as an older person would. I think I am shy, but I decide to put myself out there. People are going to associate the face you put out there with your music, and it’s something you have to really think of. That’s something that is really interesting about Claire Boucher (Grimes). She’s one of my great friends. We’re very different people, very extreme in our own ways, but Claire is somebody I really look up to in regards to how she has handled her personal image. With her Tumblr and everything, she’s really putting herself out there. She has this imaginative, other-worldly presence, but she’s being extremely human and addressing all of these topics like being female in music. She is able to be really real, but then have this project that is so other-worldly, and the two work really beautifully together. It’s something I really look up to a lot when it comes to my personal image.