Megan James’ family are partial to a big reunion. The latest was 150-strong in Montana, with glorious sunshine beaming across the lake. Everything was bliss, until suddenly it wasn’t. Out of nowhere, an enormous storm hit - trees falling to the ground, deck splintering in half. Megan, meanwhile, was somewhere in the middle, doing what everybody should in a crisis - calmly making pizza.
“It’s funny, because the whole time it was happening everyone was running around and things were smashing on the ground. There’s broken glass everywhere, and I’m just there carrying on…” she laughs. “It was just total havoc. And then 10 minutes passed and it was all over; we were all inside watching these beautiful pink skies. You kind of realise that things can get heavy, but there’s always a reason to stay and be present and keep going.”
This act-of-God moment, immortalised on recent single ‘Pink Lightning’, came to be a fairly formative metaphor for the return of Purity Ring. Known for their intimate brand of ‘future pop’, the Canadian duo (completed by multi-instrumentalist/producer Corin Roddick) have earned a dedicated following thanks to their otherworldly atmospherics and distinctive vocals, filed next to the likes of Grimes, CHVRCHES and FKA twigs. Yet, contrary to the traditional tour-release rota, the duo have always been willing to take the time required to craft the exact record of their imaginations. Their latest, ‘WOMB’, has taken them five years; previous record ‘Another Eternity’ took them three.
Megan recognises this to be a luxury that many bands can’t afford, but considers it essential to the alchemy of the band. “I feel like I have to take some time to settle back into myself in order to make music again,” she explains. “It’s always been something I’ve struggled with. When we first started, and we were touring in like a little Volkswagen hatchback, I brought so much shit with me. I hate the feeling of being without something. I would pin things I found in antique malls to the inside of the car like a bedroom, just to feel a bit warmer and comfier.
"I want people to be in the womb with me. 'Welcome to my womb!'"
— Megan James
“Staying home a lot more and being settled, the record really flourished from that,” she continues. “Corin and I have always been long distance and had to travel to get together and write, and I’ve always wanted to be able to make something at home instead. I’m really glad we did - I think the record is a lot more comfortable because of it.”
Seeking comfort, from that zen-like mid-storm state to the cosy internal cocoon of its album title, is the main preoccupation of ‘WOMB’. “I’m trying to define the struggle in relationships, the ones that are really intimate,” Megan ponders. “It’s the ultimate question of family gatherings and personal politics; how do you cope with all the different people’s opinions? So I guess it’s kind of about looking at why those conversations are hard, and how we can choose to make them more about love.”
It’s difficult not to hear ‘WOMB’ as a synaesthetic imagination of love and all its complexities, built around a thick production spectrum of reds and pinks. Whether it’s the pulsing thump of ‘I Like The Devil’, the delicate-yet-ominous ‘Peacefall’ or the very literally-titled ‘rubyinsides’, the record deals in matters of the heart in a way that feels particularly visual and colourful, like a soundtrack to an epic animated movie or open-world computer game.
Fittingly then, ‘Pink Lightning’ was released via a website puzzle that required users to click around the ether to reveal the link; spreading like wildfire across Reddit and [gaming community] Discord, it made for the perfect introduction to a record exploring human connection. “It was really satisfying to watch, because the record really is about community,” the singer enthuses. “It was like, ‘Yes, this is what I wanted!”
And if community is the aim, then live shows - when the touring circuit is back in action - will be a huge part of this new era. “We don’t have everything figured out and it’s all in drawings at this point, but we really want it to feel warm and quite literal,” Megan explains. “I want people to be in the womb with me! That’s the aim at this point - ‘Welcome to my womb!’”
It’s a pretty lofty offer but, for the first time, it’s something Megan feels Purity Ring are ready for: a new sense of candour, the sort that only comes from the wisdom of maturity and the time to take stock.
“I’ve dealt with my feelings, and this is me trying to figure out how to explain them so, by default, other people can deal with theirs,” she says. “Things are pretty scary right now, and when we need reassurance we go to music and the people closest to us. I hope that in whatever way people listening take it, they somehow feel that sense of comfort and warmth.”
'WOMB' is out now via 4AD.
As featured in the April 2020 issue of DIY, out now.