Interview: Purity Ring

Purity Ring - Photo by Landon Speers

Purity Ring – Photo by Landon Speers

Just a matter of half a decade ago, it was hardly conceivable that a band without an album to its name would have a huge following, but that seems to be exactly the case for Purity Ring, a dreamy indie-pop project from Canada.

The duo – which consists of Edmonton, Alberta natives Megan James (vocals) and Corin Roddick (everything else) – has been in existence since late 2010, and is just now preparing to release its debut full-length, “Shrines,” on 4AD

“I think we’re more anxious than anything,” James said, sharing that by its release date of July 24, the album will already have been done and ready for four months.

Not only that, but it has been even longer since the music-writing and recording process first began.

“It took almost a year-and-a-half to make it,” Roddick explained. “I write really slowly and I’m a perfectionist, so both of those things together, combined, [made for] a really long music-creation process.”

In contrast, James’ contribution to songwriting is much quicker, as she is responsible for the lyrics and vocal melodies. Rather than search for the perfect song topic, she shared that she draws from a pool of journal entries as the starting basis for lyrical inspiration.

“I’m a pretty avid journal-er,” she said, referencing that she’s always been one to record moments throughout her life.

And in spite of the vast collection of writings, James specified that she tends to stick to the more recent entries.

“Most of the things off this album I’ve written in the past, like, two years, so it’s not like far enough back to be embarrasing,” she said with a laugh.

Of course, with a distance of more than 1,000 kilometers between the two now – James lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia, while Roddick lives in Montreal, Quebec – the majority of songwriting, or at the very least, the intial aspect of it, occurs as a collaboration over the Internet.

“I’ll write the track and show it to Megan and she’ll send it back with like a demo…and we’ll go from there,” Roddick explained. “So often I’ll have to restructure the track around her vocals.”

He did state one exception, that being “Shuck,” the last song on the album, as having undergone a different recording process. It was initially written acapella, with the rest of the song then built around the vocal melody.

“It’s like totally backwards to how we normally do it,” he said.

But this kind of experimentation with technique is a crucial aspect to the Purity Ring experience. In particular, once the music itself was written, the two were presented with the dilemma of how to translate that music to a live setting, something which the two said involved a lot of planning and problem-solving.

“The music was very much created…in the studio,” Roddick said, referencing that it wasn’t necessarily created with an audience in mind.

But because they already had shows booked, the pressure of working under a deadline forced Roddick and James to work fast, and luckily, they share that it all “came together pretty quickly,” resulting in a unique visual experience that is better understood when seen, as opposed to explained.

In the meantime, this fast-paced rise from a virtually unknown group to one on a well-known label has definitely provided the two with a greater sense of both purpose and confidence.

“I haven’t necessarily learned or changed a lot…but it [has] more like, intensified my understanding of having control over, like, what I want to get out of things, and like, where I want to go, and, like leading the direction of things ourselves,” James said.

More specifically, she explained that, with so many people involved in the process of organizing promotional material, booking shows, and dealing with random other logistical aspects, “it’s really easy to, like, just let things happen.”

Roddick agreed, sharing that “when there [are] a lot of people with ideas and schedules…it’s easy [to agree to] something that you may not have envisioned, [and] things can get out of your hands.”

As a result, the two are constantly finding ways to allow other people to help them and take responsibility for things, and feel OK with surrendering that control. In the meantime, James and Roddick have realized that it is not only important, but also good, for them to focus on the creation of music itself, knowing that the rest will work itself out.

Purity Ring plays tonight at Kantine am Berghain in Berlin. The show begins at 21.00.

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