Interview Purity Ring: ‘Sheep Are Puzzling Creatures’

Canada has musically been pretty busy of late, and recent 4AD signings Purity Ring are another in the long procession of quality lineage.

When ‘Ungirthed’, the first single from Montreal-based Purity Ring, was unleashed back at the start of 2011, it was lapped up so quickly that the limited 7” pressing sold out in a flash. One song in - well, two, if you count b-side ‘Lofticries’ - and the hard-to-pigeonhole electro pop duo had already established themselves a fan base; a bloody keen one at that. The lingering hope that this lone release would form into a long-term project quickly became reality, their debut album ‘Shrines’ landing this summer. But talking to Corin Roddick and Megan James, it’s clear that even they are surprised by how quickly they’re moving.

whilst the pair had previously performed together for a short time as part of Gobble Gobble [now Born Gold], the original intention was not to form a band. They had talked about the possibility of writing music together “at some point,” but Corin didn’t feel ready to jump straight into another project. The actual birth of Purity Ring happened coincidentally, whilst he was making ‘Ungirthed’; the song absolutely needed vocals, and it just so happened that Megan was the most interesting vocalist that he knew. Although unsure of how well her vocal style would work over the track initially, once finished, it was obvious that there was something pretty special in the works; “I knew that we were going to be a band,” Corin asserts.

confessing to pulling their lyrics from Megan’s old journals, an act of not insubstantial bravery, Purity Ring’s attention to wordcraft continues through to the christening of the album tracks; each an amalgamation of two separate words - ‘Belispeak’, for example, from “belly” and “speak”. “They’re really just words plucked from the songs,” Megan explains. “Some of them happened really quickly and others took a while to find the right flow of articulation. That’s the most important part of words to us, I think; articulation over meaning.”

wany meanings can and are derived from Purity Ring’s music, but it seems that few of these are intentionally placed there. We mention the strong connections to anatomy and nature within the artwork of the album and the singles, most notably with the use of a certain grass eating, cloud-like creature you often see in fields. “There are a number of reasons we use sheep so frequently,” Megan tells us. One is that the artist who creates the artwork loves to use them in her work; the other, because “they’re lovely, simple and puzzling creatures.”

whilst some bands end up recording many more songs than they need before promptly leaving them on the cutting room floor, for Purity Ring, pretty much every song made it on to the album. “We don’t make an effort to finish a song if it doesn’t have a special feeling,” Corin imparts. Luckily for us, their less than prolific nature adheres to that age-old adage, quality over quantity. And whilst the recording process for ‘Shrines’ is perhaps a little different to some, lacking the elaborate tales of artists seeking refuge in isolated places in search of inspiration, the duo’s separate locations did little to hanker the collaborative process.

“I work on a track and send it to Megan, she sends a demo back to me with vocal ideas, we get together and flush it out and then I spend a lot of time alone with it,” Corin tells us. Megan’s angelic tones are often juxtaposed with graphic imagery - however, the strangely beautiful contrasts aren’t conceived on purpose. “I couldn’t do it if I was trying,” she explains, “Every seemingly contradictory element is unassumed to us.”

Despite the assertion from Corin that he is “not big on collaborations,” on their song ‘Grandloves’, the pair team up with Young Magic to share some vocals. “I loved the Young Magic track ‘You With Air’ and had approached [frontman] Isaac about maybe doing a remix,” Corin enthuses. “I messed around with it a bit, but felt like I couldn’t do much justice to the original song. While this was going on, I was working on another track with Megan and then I realised that the a capella for ‘You With Air’ fit perfectly with what we were already making.”

whilst ‘Ungirthed’’s popularity surprised the duo, their music reached the ears of 4AD, and, as Corin says, “It soon became clear that they were the right label for us.” Sharing their new home with fellow Canuck and Polaris Prize nominated Grimes, we tentatively question whether Purity Ring think they have a chance at being nominated next year. “We would be very much honoured to be nominated for next year’s Polaris Prize,” Corin beams, “some of our friends are nominated this year – we hope they win!” And while he’s quick to assert that “good music can come from anywhere,” Megan interjects, pointing out that she definitely listens to a lot of her friends’ music, name-checking Cousins, Braids, Cadence Weapon, Kuhrye-oo and Each Other in the process, as “all lovely Canadians who live everywhere.” And whilst all those acts are certainly worth adding to a Canada Special playlist, it wouldn’t be complete without Purity Ring themselves; if all falls into its rightful place, headphones will be blaring with their infectious songs throughout the summer.

Purity Ring’s debut album ‘Shrines’ is out now is 4AD.

Taken from the August 2012 issue of DIY, available now. For more details click here.

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