Purity Ring

SYMBOLS. INTENSITY. REPETITION. THESE ARE THREE ELEMENTS THAT ARE PROUDLY STATED AS ESSENTIAL TO THE WRITING PROCESS OF MEGAN JAMES AND CORIN RODDICK. AND WHILE THEY HAVE ALWAYS BEEN EQUALLY PASSIONATE ABOUT CREATING IN GENERAL, IT WASN’T UNTIL THEIR CURIOSITY BROUGHT THEM TOGETHER MUSICALLY, AND GAVE US PURITY RING. SMALL-TOWN BRED, AND PLEASANTLY SINCERE, THE DUO CAME FROM HUMBLE BEGINNINGS BEFORE THEIR QUICK, TUMBLR INITIATED SUCCESS IN EARLY 2011. COOPER SAVER CHATTED WITH THE DUO FOR ION, AND FINDS OUT WHAT IT’S LIKE TO BE FAR FROM HOME, PERFORMING SONGS YOU NEVER IMAGINED LEAVING YOUR BEDROOM.

It was only a few questions into our conversation that Megan James stated, “Neither of us really planned or expected what became of Purity Ring. It was an experiment from the start and it’s become a permanent part of us. But I like to still think of it as an experiment. Music should always be a little bit of that.” Even though that quote could have gone down a cliché path, it was enough to reassure that this band is all around for real. And she’s right, you know, as experimentation tends to be the result of greatness…or the total opposite, but in this case it’s mostly greatness.

Let’s start from the beginning. You two grew up in Edmonton - what was it like living there while getting into music? Tell me about the local scene in Edmonton when you started out.

Edmonton has a few secrets when it comes to the people playing and promoting music there. We started up in a very strong, supportive community, which encouraged us to play the music we wanted, and allowed us to play regularly. There has been a lot of good music come out of there in the past couple of years. A lot of bands and musicians we know have left the city but are still strong when it comes to creating; music, words or other projects. A lot of folks still live there though, and it’s thriving. I’m always excited to go to the shows when I go back and visit.

Megan, what was more of a priority for you at the time - your homemade clothing company, or your passion for music? Did you ever find it hard to decide which you wanted to focus on?

My passions for music and clothing are a pretty evenly split. Before Purity Ring I was better known for my clothing than my music, but I loved writing and performing. I had always considered music more of a side project. Fortunately, with a bit of down time I’m able to work on both and be pretty satisfied with what I can get done. Of course, in due time, more clothing will be coming out of the works. I can’t wait!

When and how did you both meet? Have you two created together before?

We played in Born Gold for a few months together, but neither of us wrote anything for the project. We only knew that each other played music and often spoke of doing something together eventually.

What are the stylistic differences between you both, and do you think the blend of your personalities is essential to your music?

I am always awe struck when I think about the differences between us as musicians. Corin and I have very different writing techniques and ideas, but our ethics are the same. Of course we are writing very different parts when it comes to constructing a song, but I have always found that our separation has been beneficial to us. I recently had a friend describe it to me as “Corin you are the scientist, and Megan, you are the magician.” It encapsulates us well, I think. We’re searching for different things when it comes to writing, but when they come together it is a satisfying completion.

You write separately as you now live different parts of Canada. Where are you both living, and is it hard being in different cities when not on the road?

Corin lives in Montreal and I live in Halifax, but we’ve always written our parts separately, sending them back and forth only once until we get together and record. The whole time we’ve been a band we have lived in separate places, so we made it work because it’s the only way we ever could. I think the fact that we don’t sit down and write together has contributed a lot to our sound. We both work independently and that’s when we work our best. Then when we bring our parts together it seems to be a lot easier to make them compliment one another while still maintaining the entire idea of the existing respective parts.

Megan, do you have lyrics already written for Purity songs when Corin sends you a beat, or do you write after you have a track to sing on? Are there any limits to your lyrical content, or do you try to maintain a specific theme?

It’s all much less calculated then the question makes it seem. I keep a journal, but mostly it’s a book of little songs and lullabies. When Corin sends me a track I go through it and find something that fits over well. I try to stay true to the melody and entirety of what I wrote originally, and find it’s pretty easy to make something fit. Often I go through phases of time where my writing is all similarly themed and spoken. I think it’s created one of many thematic elements that contribute to the album.

Were you surprised with the rapid recognition of Ungirthed in 2011? You weren’t even signed until last spring - how did you join the Last Gang Records family?

We are constantly surprised at the responses to our music. It’s been a tremendously exciting couple of years and we are so happy to be signed to both Last Gang and 4AD. They are reputable labels that have released so many albums we find respectable, and which have influenced us somehow at sometime point in our lives.

Did you plan out a live set for Purity Ring from the start, or figure it out when the booking offers started flowing in? Explain the current live-setup, and how customization is important - everything from gear to clothes…?

We had written about four songs before we started thinking about the live show. I don’t think this is all that unusual. Normally a band has a set worth of music before they can start playing shows, but by the time we started we only had six. We were definitely pressed for time with a full US tour coming up only eight months after we had written our first track, and we write slowly! We knew we couldn’t play a live show the same way we play the music at home, since we don’t really ‘play’ it. We had to make sure we had something interesting for the audience to watch - more interesting than playing a computer and keyboard to relay the sounds. This pushed us to create instruments, and variations on instruments, to perform with. We worked on a few prototypes together and Corin has since developed an instrument he plays throughout the live set. It’s a set of eight lantern lights, each rigged up with a sensor that triggers a sound and light signal when he hits it with a drumstick. We also have a bass drum on a stand that I hit like a gong, but it’s also rigged with a sensor so the sound has more of a boom. We always want an element of comfort to the visuals, making all the pieces out of familiar, attainable things. We want the room to be comforting, and hopefully puzzlingly nostalgic. We have also worked with a company out of Vancouver, Tangible Interactions, to develop a bigger lighting set up that can more fully fill space in a room than we can on our own. This turned into large cocoon shaped lights that hang over us, so we are playing under this sea of weird creatures. We want our live music to fairly represent our sound. It’s a way to be interactive with our audience and hopefully keep people in a realm of wonder throughout the show. It’s a performance show that is exciting for us to play, and be a part of.

How do you always stay positive while constantly travelling and working?

It’s taken a while to figure out the way tours work best for us. It’s a pretty harsh lifestyle. Touring preferences can be so particular to individual bands. We need to sleep a lot, eat good food, have a lot of smoothies, and keep making things even though we’re not at home. Lots of beats, and lots of van crafts you’ll see popping up on our merch table.

Do you see yourselves working more with other artists in the future? What are some of the most enjoyable parts of collaborating? Do you still try to maintain some sort of Purity Ring element even when working with other people?

The collaboration with Danny Brown happened simply because he reached out to us over the internet. Usually it’s just a matter of liking another band and asking if they want to try something with you. We’d like to do more collaborations in the future, I think we’ll always be particular about who we work with, though. As with the live show, our aesthetic is something we consider a big part of our presentation, visually and sonically we’d like to carry it out through everything we make.

One thing I admire about Purity Ring’s work is the fact that you can listen to their songs over and over and notice something new every time. Even if there’s a track I don’t like in its entirety, there will always be one part that I obsess over. This is a goal many musicians and producers in our generation forget about. While a catchy song is infectious on first listen, it can get old after being played over and over. But then there are those songs that take time - “growers” as I like to call them - which remain timeless once you realise their genius. Although not everyone understands that, only those with a certain kind of open mind appreciate it, and that is the same mindset that Megan and Corin’s fans seem to value. If one thing’s definite, 2013 will be treating them right if they continue on this path curiosity and creativity.

Photos: Meredith Truax

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