Interview: Purity Ring

Interview with Purity Ring

Purity Ring


Before heading out on tour with Dirty Projectors, Canadian electro duo Purity Ring stopped to talk to us about homemade instruments, producing Usher and the making of their stupendous debut album Shrines.

Questions and answers

Hi guys, can you explain how Purity Ring formed please?

Megan James: We’re both from Edmonton in Alberta, Canada, and had been making music for many years and met through playing in bands and knowing what each other did. We had talked about making music together and thought it would be something based around our instruments – I play piano and Corin plays drums – but it turned into this.

But you live in different cities now, right? How does the writing process work?

MJ: Yeah, I’m in Halifax and Corin’s in Montreal.

Corin Roddick: We’re apart more than we’re together. That might be different coming up because we’re [going to be] touring a lot, but usually we just get together a few days here and there.

I will often start working on a track on my laptop and once I’ve developed a song I’ll send it to Megan, who will write lyrics, record a rough demo on her phone and send it back to me. We don’t actually record her vocals from afar; we wait until we’re in the same room before we lay down the final version of her vocals. And then I usually work on it quite a bit more to make her vocals mesh with the production, so it feels like one song and not two totally different elements.

So, congratulations on Shrines, we love it! Can you tell us what you set out to achieve sonically with the album?

CR: Thank you! We weren’t out to achieve anything, really. I mean, we didn’t have a drawing board of the themes we wanted to combine or the bands we wanted to reference. I just wanted to make the kind of music that I wanted to hear; something new and exciting. But I didn’t really know what that was so I started messing around with sounds ‘til I got to the point where I felt comfortable and the music we were making was a good representation of us. And what Megan brings to the band is so unique, that I think that helps to set us apart.

How would you sum up your sound to someone who’s never heard you before?

CR: It’s a mash up of things that you wouldn’t think would fit together, but do, surprisingly: like pop music, fairy tales and 808s. (Laughs)

What kind of music were you listening to when you made the album?

CR: Megan doesn’t listen to much music, she mostly just reads books and stuff. But when she does, it’s mostly the music her friends make and she stays away from pop music and things you hear on the radio. My tastes are pretty much all over the place: I listen to a lot of hip hop and a lot of mainstream pop music, aggressive post-punk/hardcore music… So we’re definitely coming from different places musically.

That’s probably why it works: you can bounce ideas off each other.

CR: Totally, it’s that contrast. If we were both coming from the exact same place it’d be boring. It feels like a stroke of luck that we’re both coming from such different places, because we can bring together the outside influences in a way that we both feel is exciting.

Is it true the lyrics are taken from Megan’s diaries?

CR: Yeah. Though it’s not like all the stuff she’s using is from when she was 10 years old! I think she’s been keeping a diary for a very long time and everywhere we go, whenever we sit down for a minute, she’s always jotting something down in there. She’s got stacks of diaries but I’ve never looked in them... (Laughs)

Is there a particular track on the album you’re most proud of?

CR: I would say probably ‘Obedear’ because we weren’t gonna have an 11-song album until we wrote that song. I’m proud of the production on it: I definitely pushed things further than I ever had before.

Is it indicative of the direction you might be continuing in?

CR: I have no idea about that. (Laughs) I feel like the record we’ve completed is very much one continuous piece but I don’t really have interest in reproducing any parts of it again. I don’t know when we’re gonna start working on new material but I don’t think the tracks [on the next record] will sound like they do on this album. It’ll still sound like us because it’ll be us making it but I think it will something quite new. I don’t know what that is.

Is there anything you’d change about the album?

CR: No way. We had over a year: plenty of time to make pretty much the exact album we wanted to make, so anything we wanted to change or edit or create is already done. And I think whether it sells really well, or whether it totally tanks and nobody likes it, I still wouldn’t change anything about it.

So you’re not nervous about how the album’s received, then?

MJ: No I’m not nervous at all, I’m pretty pumped! I can’t wait to play some shows!

And what can audiences expect from the live show? We’ve seen some interesting YouTube footage of Corin playing a glowing, tree-shaped instrument...

CR: Well, we use a lot of lighting and fabric to create this very warm, inviting atmosphere and we have this instrument we’ve built, which is a series of beat lanterns which are placed around me. All the main keyboard melodies and synth lines from the songs are on there: you just hit the pipes and they all play different things – like one will play synth notes for that song – and then they light up to give a visual representation of the music.

A big part of the reason why we built it is that I’ve only been a drummer so it just makes a lot more sense for me to be using my hands to hit something onstage. (Laughs)

We spoke to Grimes earlier this year and she cited you as an inspiration. Who inspires you musically?

CR: Wow, that’s really nice of her. I think I’m inspired mostly by producers. I listen to a lot more mainstream pop music for the production and the programming – I kind of nerd out a little bit. The producers who are making all of Rihanna’s pop songs or any pop star, when you look into it you realise all the same names are popping up over and over. It’s a handful of people that are making most of the music that you hear on the radio.

Would you be interested in producing for big pop stars in the future?

CR: I would be, yeah. I think Purity Ring will always be my main focus but there are a few pop stars that I definitely admire, like Alicia Keys or Usher. I’m interested into getting into that world of pop music.

Finally, what’s been your favourite record so far this year?

CR:Climax’ by Usher is really amazing. I just think it’s one of the most undeniably catchy and emotional pop songs, maybe of the past couple of years.