BRAIDS arrived in the world with the 2011 release, Native Speaker. The album was a multi-genre hybrid, not quite shoegaze, not quite art rock and not quite electronic. You can’t reduce BRAIDS’ complex sound by obvious comparisons like BJORK and ANIMAL COLLECTIVE: while the similarities exist, the musicians in BRAIDS are doing something different. Most songs come in at the six-, seven- or even eight-minute mark, challenging the listener with some downright dirty and erotic lyrics over spooky and stylish indie electronic. Austin Tufts plays drums and percussion, Taylor Smith plays synths and guitar, and Raphaelle Standell-Preston provides the most unique voice this side of AUSTRA. After an eighteen-month tour supporting Native Speaker, the band is back, minus one member, to promote Flourish//Perish, out in August 2013. Raphaelle and Austin were (as Canadians tend to be) friendly, and extremely well spoken. NBHAP sat down with them to talk about genres, inspiration, and the finishing ideas.
Is Taylor going to join us?
AT: He doesn’t do interviews. He doesn’t like talking about music, he feels like it imparts too much on the process. But he’s doing an interview now. [laughs]
What genre would you put yourselves in?
RSP: We made up a genre the other day called natural electronica.
What does that consist of?
RSP: Natural components making up electronic music. Like the voice and drums, more organic elements combined with electronic. We are very much electronic in the way we composed the last record, using the computer. Aside from his drums and my voice it’s all super synthesized. Natural electronica.
Listening to “Flourish//Perish”, you went in a more electronic direction. What precipitated that?
RSP: Just listening to a ton of electronic music.
AT: We started doing a lot of touring with musicians who were pretty heavy into electronic music.
RSP: BATHS (Will Wiesenfeld), he’s from LA. Morgan Greenwood from the AZEDA BOOTH.
AT: Just a bunch of music our friends are really into. Our friends in Montreal started to turn us onto the musicians they’ve been listening to forever, like APHEX TWIN and AUTECHRE.
RSP: We had never really listened to that type of music before.
AT: Yeah, like all the nineties Warp [Records] stuff. It was so fresh to us we hadn’t heard anything like that before. It was really inspiring and it started changing the way we were hearing music. We had all those sounds in our heads and we needed to come up with a system to get them out of our heads into the recorded realm. So Taylor started to learn how use the computer a lot. He experimented over the course the year we were on tour with Native Speaker. We composed the new record centered around the computer.
How does the songwriting work? In terms of both lyrics and sound.
RSP: It’s very collective, we are all very much supportive of each others ideas. I know on this record Taylor had a handful of little itty bitty melody lines that he had created.
AT: Sounds and concepts.
RSP: Sounds or concepts, he’d been thinking so much about what he wanted the next record to sound like. Then it was just about allowing those ideas to come to life and try not to feel competitive in any way with each other. If one of us needed to finish an idea to the bitter end, we would let that person take the time and space and finish that idea, come to a conclusion on it.
AT: A lot of patience. A very patient songwriting process. We like to let every idea have it’s full breath and find the essence of it. It’s very collaborative but near the end of it we were all feeling like there were things we were very strong with.
So what do you each bring to the table?
RSP: Austin’s strength is being a drummer and he’s really strong with melody, especially bass melody. I sing and write lyrics, so that’s my forte, and Taylor’s is production. So we’ve found the things that we are really good at but we are also really responsive when someone needs support in working out an idea.
AT: It’s really throwing shit at the wall and seeing what falls and seeing what sticks.
RSP: We aren’t throwing shit at the wall. But some of it’s not great.
BRAIDS: “It needed to happen in order for us to continue being a band”
I have to ask, why did Katie Lee leave the band?
RSP: Just a lot of creative differences. After touring Native Speaker for so long we had just grown apart, without even really knowing it-
AT: Totally without even really knowing it.
RSP: Until we got back in the studio and had to be really close and creative again, we had grown so far apart as friends-
AT: And as musicians.
RSP: Yeah, and as musicians. We were just on totally different pages and it was like trying to paddle upstream. Fortunately and unfortunately the three of us were really on the same page. I think it would have been different if there were two people and two people, to sort of balance it out a little bit more. Like this person is so outside of everything and this person is really slowing us down, like moving forward. We were so filled with creative energy.
AT: We had just been on tour for a really long time, and we had so much creative energy flowing we just wanted to use that. It was really tough, instead of writing it was like two weeks of talking and therapy and then two days of recording.
RSP: We just couldn’t write anymore.
AT: After four months of going back and forth and back and forth and working on how we could make the process better for everybody and what she needed to be on the same page as us, what we would compromise, what she would compromise, in the end it wasn’t the right anymore. And that’s okay, not everything can last forever. There’s a flourishing point and there’s a perishing point. There’s so much emotional regret about how things panned out, it’s totally not amicable, unfortunately. She hasn’t talked to me in a year and half.
RSP: It’s unfortunate but it needed to happen in order for us to continue being a band.
What do hope and passion mean to you?
RSP: We just had a interview beforehand and she asked us if we could have anything be eternal, what would that be? I said I would want my passion to be entirely eternal, because that’s the thing that keeps me going. It keeps you with eyes very open and allows you to not be jaded.
AT: I think passion is what drives my life, to be honest. I don’t really spend any time doing something unless I’m passionate about it. Hope…
RSP: Hope is kind of a weird bad thing at times too, don’t you think? Because you’re just hoping, you are not living now if are hoping too much.
Is hope a bad thing Austin?
AT: No. I think I hope for change a lot. I’m a very naturally positive person. I feel good about myself most of the time, but I’m always hoping I can change. There are always things I wish I could change. Hope is something I use when I don’t have control. There’s not need for hope if you have control over something. If something is out of your hands, hoping for it is great. Hope is inspiration, hope fuels inspiration, hope creates inspiration.