Published January 18, 2011
BRAIDS. PHOTO COURTESY OF MARC RIMMER
There is no better name for the Canadian quartet BRAIDS. The band musically and personally embodies a braid: a complex structure formed by interlacing all four members’ musical talents. Their partnership dates back to their youth on the playground, where they started to weave the friendship and collective input of ideas that still shines through in their tightly-knit music.
Their friendship is solid, but their music may be misunderstood. Although classified as experimental pop, BRAIDS do something much deeper, combining dense soundscapes and ambient melodies. The young (all under 21!) group, now residing in Montreal, releases their first full-length album, Native Speaker, via Kanine Records today. On Native Speaker, expect to hear two years’ worth of work on carefully constructed layers of sound amid Raphaelle Standell-Preston’s avant-pop vocals. (You can listen to the Times-approved “Lemonade,” live at CJSW, below.)
We caught up with Raphaelle, the lead singer, and Austin, the drummer, just a week before they kicked off their album release tour.
MEMBERS: Raphaelle Standell-Preston, Austin Tufts, Katie Lee, and Taylor Smith
HOMETOWN: We are all from Calgary, Alberta.
BRAIDS’ FORMATION: We have all been friends for a long time. Raphaelle and Austin met in the sandpit, and the first thing he said to her was, “What kind of belly button do you have?” She has an innie, and then she saw his and said, “You have an innie-outie.” Then we met Katie and Taylor in high school. Katie and Raphaelle were in drama class together. Taylor and Austin were in music class together.MUSICAL HISTORY: We had all played instruments beforehand. Austin kind of convinced Raph that she had a nice voice and that she should pick up the guitar because she played such an impractical instrument—she played clarinet. So he kind of convinced her in grade 9 or 10 that she should start playing guitar, and everything kind of came together after that. We started meeting Katie and Taylor, and he is a fantastic bass player and trombonist, and Katie was a really great, classically-trained piano player, and I’d been playing drums my whole life. Yeah, we just started jamming together and playing a lot different kind of music than we are now, we were playing kind of folky pop songs.
DESCRIBE YOUR SOUND: We try not to. A lady described us as enchanting. I think to classify your own music as enchanting is really cocky. Taylor likes to say that we are aggressive, groove-based alternative pop. We could throw tons of adjectives at you but it doesn’t really mean anything. I think you don’t have to define your own music, it’s for everyone to find their own definition in. So I think it’s more important for us to ask you to define our music as you would, because I think that what sort of spreads the word is how each individual interprets the band.
ON RECORDING NATIVE SPEAKER: It was a very long process. The songs took about a year and a half to write and nine months to record. So we started recording in June of 2009 in Taylor’s garage, and we figured we would get the whole record done that summer when we went home to Calgary, and we walked out of summer with the drum tracks for only five of the songs. So it was kind of an eye-opening experience—like wow, if you don’t know how to record, it’s no walk in the park. It’s great, because we learned so much over the course of nine months.
ON WHY THEY SELF-RECORDED: Many reasons, primarily so that we could have complete creative control over it, and watch it take shape just like the construction of the song. Also, because we knew nothing going into it, and now we know a lot more going out of it, and a lot of us are really into learning everything we can about the music industry. I feel really good when I say that to record our record cost us $500. It’s also great that we know every single thing that went on in the process of recording. We don’t really like to give people control outside of the group that we don’t trust one hundred percent. It’s not because we think they’re going to take advantage of us or anythin—it’s just because we like to know exactly what’s going on.
SOME MUSICIANS THEY RESPECT: We definitely come together on a few artists, actually on many artists. In particular, Animal Collective, which we sort of discovered three and a half years ago, in high school. It really started to change the way that we listened to music and thought about the construction of music. The way they write songs, it’s really admirable. There are a lot of musicians that we draw from and it’s very vast. Bjork is huge, huge, huge, huge for Raphaelle.
Recently there has been a lot more exploration into other genres, a lot more in really complex electronic music that’s pushing the way we can hear music, doing things we didn’t know were electronically possible. That is really inspiring, to come across something that is totally fresh, and that you’ve never heard before, it really resonates in you. I think electronic music has had the biggest influence on our new writing. And contemporary classical composers like Steve Reich and Philip Glass.
TELL US ABOUT THE MONTREAL MUSIC SCENE: Well, Arbutus Records is a very big part of the Montreal music scene right now. The scene is very community-oriented, and we all live like a block away from each other—well, the Montreal music scene is actually huge, but we’re talking about a very small part of it. There’s such a range of bands—from bands that are just starting out, to bands like us that are actually starting to do something, and then bands like Arcade Fire who have done just about everything. There is a fantastic jazz music scene; it is one of the best jazz music scenes in the world. So whatever tickles your fancy, you can really find some.
BRAIDS’ FAVORITE VENUE: We really like Sala Rossa, it is in the Spanish Cultural Center of Montreal.
IF YOU COULD TOUR WITH ANY MUSICIANS… I think a big part of the tour is just the company, and we had the time of our lives touring last time with our good friends Gobble Gobble this summer. So it obviously wouldn’t be the biggest show, because it’s just BRAIDS and Gobble Gobble, but it would be really great to tour Europe, South America, and Australia with them, because they’re so spirited. We always find ourselves swimming in dark places and climbing really tall trees.
WHAT BRAIDS IS LOOKING FORWARD TO WHILE TOURING: Seeing new places. Almost all are new places that we’ve never been to. We’re looking forward to touring down the West Coast, going through Portland and all of California. We get to escape the Canadian winter a little bit, which is nice. We’re really also excited to go down to Austin, Texas for SXSW.
AND WHAT THEY’RE NOT LOOKING FORWARD TO: Road food. Gas station boiled eggs. Ick!
BRAIDS’ DEBUT ALBUM, NATIVE SPEAKER, IS OUT TODAY ON KANINE RECORDS. TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THE BAND, VISIT THEIR MYSPACE.