“I think when you realize you have something really special, a connection with people, you kind of do whatever it takes to keep that together.” Austin Tufts said as he explained how Braids made the move from Calgary to Montreal five years ago.
When their debut album Native Speaker hit the airwaves in 2011 with its intriguing and enthralling sound, it firmly established Braids on the radar as one of Canada’s most pertinent noisemakers. In light of the recent release of their sophomore album, Flourish//Perish, I had the pleasure of having a candid chat with Austin Tufts, whom along with Taylor Smith and Raphaelle Standell-Preston make up the influential trio.
“Starting the group was really fun. It was during a period in Calgary where things were really exciting,” Tufts recounted, diving into the journey that has led Braids to Flourish//Perish. Two bands, Azeda Booth and Women, were ripping up the local scene. Azeda Booth took people under their wings, becoming sort of “dads” on the local scene, and they along with Women and gave Braids guidance and encouragement to keep doing what they were doing. Eventually, Braids and these local groups became quite close. Around the same time, a bunch of workshops and seminars led by someone from CJSW, the local college radio, addressed topics like how to expose one’s music to a Canadian audience, booking tours across the country, and how to get radio DJs to finally listen to your music. These workshops attracted a whole group of people excited about launching their careers and boosted Braids determination and strong DIY work ethic.
Their second year playing Calgary festival Sled Island, where local talent is featured alongside international acts, Braids were invited to open for Deerhunter. The experience was beyond expectations, Tufts described, “We got a standing ovation led by Bradford Cox. It was the biggest surprise of our lives.” Cox offered to put them in touch with Animal Collective, a band that Braids really liked and whose influence is tangible on Native Speaker. Although they were asked to tour with Deerhunter, their university acceptances beckoned and they declined. They did however, play two more shows with Deerhunter one in Montreal and one in Toronto.
“At that point, seeing somebody that we looked up to care so much about what we were doing was a huge affirmation,” Tufts recalled.
It was during their Montreal show that The Neighbourhood Council announced that they were re-naming themselves ‘Braids’. Like many bands, the question of a band name had been on the agenda for some time: “Braids came from the way that we write music is very collective, woven, and intertwined. We are very good friends and a very tightly woven community of four people and now three people. There’s something very special about the connection that we have.”
For those unfamiliar with Braids, they evoke a melange of Radio Head, Her Space Holiday, Bjork, Psapp, Lampshade, Animal Collective, Panda Bear, and Lali Puna. Flourish//Perish boasts a markedly different sound than its predecessor. The lyrics penned by Standell-Preston speak to more difficult and ambiguous emotions. Indeed, her singing and words have become altogether more poetic in this record. Braids has moved towards the synaptic using loops expertly and leaving behind the youthful exuberance of Native Speaker. Standout tracks include ‘Victoria’, ‘Girl’, and ‘December’.
Whereas Native Speaker was recorded by the group itself in Taylor’s parents garage in Calgary and in their back room in Montreal. Flourish//Perish was recorded by the band themselves again in a studio set up in their garage and at the new PHI center. Most of the songwriting for Flourish//Perish was done using a computer:
“There were parts of it that were really tough and parts of it that were really beautiful. Having the ability to just listen, being as much a producer as a player. It exercised different sides of my musicality,” Tufts spoke to this new process.
“One of the key transitions on this new record, is being more comfortable with ourselves as musicians […] Because we are a lot more comfortable on our instruments, we were able to do two things: capture most of the takes within the first five takes that also enabled us to preserve the raw emotion,” Tufts elaborated, “We’ve grown a lot since Native Speaker and embraced the more emotional side of things rather than trying to be super technically proficient.”
In terms of musical inspiration for Flourish//Perish, Tufts named Radiohead’s Kid A and The King of Limbs, Portishead’s Third, Massive Attack’s Tear Drops, James Blake, Max Cooper, Burial, and Pantha Du Prince.
As Braids is already preparing for their third album, Tufts said he’s been listening to more played music (versus simulated) like Little Dragon’s Ritual Union, Disclosure, a lot more R’n’B and soulful music, The Portico Quartet, Bonobo’s KEXP session and back to Radiohead.
“Something I’ve been thinking about for a long time is how Flourish//Perish is very cerebral. Next time, I want to write something that’s a bit more raw again. We’ve been experimenting a lot with new songs already which we’ll be playing on this next tour,” Tufts explained.
Recently, Braids signed with Arbutus Records, a local record company, for the State-wide release of Flourish//Perish. Despite having received different offers for their sophomore album, Braids decided to choose working with friends: “We are very young, and very early in our career still, we are not the kind of band that’s just going to write one record, get famous, and cruise,” Tufts explained, “We want to be working with our friends, in conjunction with people whose careers we believe in, we want to help grow the label and we really believe strongly in the community that it stands for.”
Catch Braids on November 2, 2013 at the SAT (Société des Arts Technologiques) in Montreal.
Check out braidsmusic.com for their new album Flourish//Perish.