Purity Ring Interview

By Alexander Laurence

Three years ago, Purity Ring released their first album Shrines, and the internet blew up. This previously unknown Canandian duo of  Megan James and Corin Roddick found themselves on a two year world tour offering up their own brand of sugary pop, witch house, and electronic goth.

A year has passed and we have seen a lot of Purity Ring soundalikes and electronic duos popping up internationally. Purity Ring has been hibernating in Edmonton and creating a sequel album called Another Eternity, to remind us why we all fell in love with them the first time.

AL: It seemed like Purity Ring happened very fast. You were signed to 4AD in 2012 and already playing festivals in the first year. What was that experience like of being anonymous and then fairly well known in six months time?

Megan: It was backwards for us. We had tours planned when we only had six songs written. That was how the internet was at the time. We grew out of being posted on blogs rather than touring. The next step is to grow from touring as well. There has been a shift in focus. As much as Purity Ring came out of nowhere for you, it also came out of nowhere for us.

AL: What were you doing at the time?

Megan: Corin was a drummer and a studio engineer. He had a recording space in Edmonton. It was easy to start Purity Ring, because we had the means in place. I was living in Halifax and working at a lingerie shop. I would go back to Edmonton in the summer and do some landscaping for my dad. I have always made clothes. I have sewed thing and sell them at different places. I didn’t think I would be doing music. I wouldn’t change things for the world. We are now touring the world and playing shows with our friends.

AL: Did you have an idea how these songs would be presented onstage early on?

Megan: We were planning the live show when we were writing our second and third songs. We had an idea how we play it, and some of those ideas we continue to do. You start with some ideas and it shifts and changes. It was important that we didn’t have Corin standing behind a computer and me singing. Corin is a drummer. So we had to think of a way for him to play live drums and not just play the same thing on a keyboard. We built this midi controller that would light up.

AL: I was watching this documentary called Synth Britannia which was about British Synth bands in the 1980s. It’s was odd that many of the best synth bands, like Yaz and Soft Cell, were duos. It seems like a natural thing.

Megan: It’s the easiest iteration of a band, due to social genderization and performative aspects of a female fronted band, because that gets more attention, and a male producer. That is very natural to happen. Now it’s suddenly changing. The musical landscape is very exciting right now.

AL: It seems like Purity Ring is its own world. It’s not like you grew up and had all this anger and emotions to share with everyone. It’s more like a projection on a wall, and words and ideas make sense in the Purity Ring world.

Megan: People hear a lot of influences in our music and it’s often bands that are newer than we are. Maybe they are bigger? It’s always weird to see those comparisons. I don’t feel relative to other bands: I don’t go into the studio and think “this is what we want to sound like.” It’s always filtering out what we don’t want, rather than what we do. We want every musical idea to be fully expressed. We want the world inside our heads to be fully expressed.

AL: Many bands pop up in the past year that seems like Purity Ring but you don’t really seem to be like them. It’s a one way influence.

Megan: We are never mentioned when journalists write about them, but they are always mentioned in relation to us. I pay attention to music in general, but I don’t pay attention to those specific bands. I am not following a business model. It seems like whenever there is a female on the vocals and a male on the production side, our band comes up. I am waiting for that to change. I am involved with the production. There are a lot of women are visually more involved with the production. We get slotted in with them. It’s often how you appear and not what you sound like.

AL: Do you see yourself as this indie band? Or do you think that you may play at venues where indie acts play, but you are a pop group?

Megan: We have always done pop music. Shrines was our iteration of pop music, and that is where we want to be as terms of writing. I don’t think we are in the same boat as other indie bands. I feel insecure sometimes because I don’t pay attention to most music. I don’t relate to most music. There are so few records that inspire me. I want to do popular music and I want to have a career.

AL: Since you took a year off and spent some time doing this second record, were there some new influences, such as books and films, which affected the new record?

Megan: There are a lot of poets and artists that I have a huge affection for. I don’t know if I am inspired by them or if I relate to them. My writing is so much inside my head. I am not thinking about other things besides what is inside my head. I have an affinity for W. B. Yeats and a lot of poets of that era. When I write, I am trying to write my own historical record, not biography. I am writing about my own religion and my own scriptures and beliefs. I was raised in a very religious world, and I felt like I never really fit in with that, so my writing is a form of fitting in with my world.

AL: When I think of Edmonton, I think of an oil city on the river. I think of a lot of similar cities where people made Blues music.

Megan: People leave Edmonton, but it’s very vibrant city and changing all the time. I love Blues music. I love Leadbelly and a lot of old songs. I have a tendency towards Blues melodicism. I don’t know if that comes out on the records. I think that writing is scriptural and testimonial. It’s a way of witnessing existence.

AL: I heard Purity Ring described as magical and witch. What do you think of that?

Megan: That is sweet. I love magic and the parables of witches. Those are great images. There are some acceptable metaphors in those stories for me. I can feel a lot in them. It’s not very far off from where I am.

AL: When you get onstage do you feel shamanistic or witch-like?

Megan: I feel fierce onstage. It is empowering because it is what I am expressing. I have to be mean and cruel. It’s scary. I am expressing emotions like anger and frustration.

AL: Is that person onstage a character or is it you?

Megan: No. I have nerves. It’s not how I act every day, but it is a way that I feel natural onstage. It’s what happens when the show starts. There is feistiness to it. I am in survival mode. It’s what my nerves do to me.

AL: Would you rather play an EDM festival or an indie rock fest?

Megan: I don’t see us playing with guitar bands. We have played a number of different festivals. I think there are a lot of in-between examples of those two examples. I would prefer a mixture of both because I don’t think that we fit in with either of those. We have elements in our music which would be adaptable to some festivals. I am never comfortable at a festival because I don’t see how we fit in sometimes. But both of those suck. We will only play at night. We played at Primavera Sound and after that we realized that we should never play during the day. We have not played certain festivals because they wanted us to play during the day.

AL: Since Purity Ring has been gone for a year, I guess some of the big stories in music news have been Jack White and “Guacgate.” Does Purity Ring have any good riders, and do you have any comments about Jack White’s rider?

Megan: Honestly we have never put any recipes on our rider, but we have put ingredients on it to make guacamole. I feel bad for Jack White since that happened. His rider is nowhere near as severe as some of the riders out there. And it probably makes sense because he has a crew of twenty people. His group are probably on tour and away from home for eight months of a year. They look forward to having some good food backstage and in the green room. It keeps them sane. Also I was shocked how low the guarantee was. It seems low for an artist like Jack White who has been around a while.

AL: Also it seems like there are a lot of unflattering pictures of musicians online every week. People make a big deal about that almost every other week. How does your average Purity Ring fan react to these photos you think?

Megan: There are so many unflattering pictures of me online. Oh my god! I am very human. I like shitty pictures of me. I can’t prevent it. I don’t want to make it everyone’s job to prevent that. I don’t think I am particularly photogenic. Just showing the mistakes is part of our image. Looking amazing all the time is not important to me.

AL: What about when you do a photo shoot for a fashion magazine?

Megan: That’s fun. I can do that that now. It took me a long time to feel comfortable for someone else do my makeup and hair. It’s a learning process. If I look like this, I have to say these things, or I will look like everyone else in a magazine. I have an interest in the fashion world. Not as a model, but making clothes.

AL: As far as being on the 4AD record label: do you like any of the 1980s 4AD bands like Cocteau Twins and Dead Can Dance, or do you follow newer bands they have like Ariel Pink?

Megan: We had a lot of choices for labels. 4AD seemed like the best fit. I had never listened to Cocteau Twins before, but God, do I love that band now. They are so good. We liked the history of 4AD but we weren’t too concerned about the sound. It was more important that we had a Canadian label first.

AL: Have you done a lot of collaborations and remixes?

Megan: I think there are really only two: Danny Brown and Jon Hopkins. I didn’t do the Lady Gaga remix. That was all Corin. I sang on the Jon Hopkins track, and Corin didn’t have much to do with that. But we label it all as Purity Ring activity.

AL: When you are a duo, like Purity Ring, sometimes you get to the second or third album, and you add members. If Purity Ring added a member what would it be?

Megan: Maybe like a harpist. We are not too interested in having any musicians onstage. We are not too interested in writing songs with other people. On the first record, we did have the band Young Magic on the track “Grandloves.” It made the song better. It’s all about making the best thing, and the thing that is representative of you.

AL: You just did the Seth Meyers show this week. Was that the first time Purity Ring was on television?

Megan: Yeah. That was our first time. It was terrifying. After we finished I went backstage and started crying. People came to greet us and I was bawling my eyes out. There was so much stress. That was exhilarating I guess, and scary. It was a magical thing to do. We haven’t done any shows for a year and a half. And the first thing we do is on fucking national television.

AL: That look on the Seth Meyers show: is that going to be what we will see on this upcoming tour?

Megan: Not really. The thing that Corin was playing: we will have that on tour, because we have just finished making that. But there will be a bunch more things going on for the tour. There are so many rules for playing on TV. Most bands don’t have their full set up for TV. We haven’t finished the production side of our live show.

AL: When you play festivals and there are some drunken bros waiting for Arctic Monkeys, maybe they are not familiar with you band, and they say something sexist. What do you do then?

Megan: Yeah, there are weird vibes at festivals. There is a different set of vulnerabilities. If someone does or says something sexist I will stop the song and say “Okay, who was that?” We can stop a song a start from the beginning. It is fine if I can call out someone for their bad behavior. I can publicly shame someone who deserves it.

AL: You will be focusing on these new songs. Do you get tired of playing the old songs?

Megan: We will still play “Fineshrine” and Lofticries.” At the end of the first album tour we were tired of playing the same songs. We had done the same set for two or three years. At this point we are excited to be on tour again. It won’t be hard to play old songs when we are playing a bunch of new ones too. 

Purity Ring plays the Fonda in Hollywood on Friday, May 8th 2015.