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  • Witchy woman: Megan James

Berlin

Witchy woman: Megan James

MUSIC INTERVIEW: Canada's dreamy future pop darlings Purity Ring rose from internet fame to being signed by 4AD in a matter of months. The duo touches down in New York City on Friday, June 12 for a show at Terminal 5

Image for Witchy woman: Megan James

Photo: Renata Rashka

Around four years ago, Purity Ring, the Canadian duo of singer Megan James (photo, left) and producer Corin Roddick, released the song “Ungirthed” online. And, in doing so, blew up the internet. 

But such is the nature of online love that, by the time of the release of 2012’s Shrines (4AD), the backlash had already begun. The problem with priding oneself on “future pop” is that the future possesses a limited future: Witch house was having its Comiskey Park bonfire moment and ethereal gothics were moving toward the R’n’B realm. Purity Ring did, as well, with Roddick collaborating with rappers Danny Brown and Ab-Soul, among others (Lady Gaga!). Their new full-length, Another Eternity (4AD) finds the Edmonton-ites one step closer to the mainstream (the mainstream is shimmying in their direction, as well). Watch the act begin again at Terminal 5 on Friday, June 12.

Purity Ring happened very fast. You were signed to 4AD in 2012 and immediately playing festivals: from anonymity to fame in six months’ time.

As much as Purity Ring came out of nowhere for you, it also came out of nowhere for us. We had tours planned when we only had six songs written – that was how the internet was at the time. We grew out of being posted on blogs rather than touring. It was backwards for us. But I wouldn’t change things for the world.

What were you doing at the time?

I didn’t think I would be doing music. Corin was a drummer and a studio engineer with a recording space in Edmonton. I was living in Halifax and working at a lingerie shop – I have always made clothes and would sell them at different places. I would go back to Edmonton in the summer and do some landscaping for my dad. It was easy to start Purity Ring, because we had the means in place.

Many bands have popped up in the last year that resemble you, but you don’t particularly sound like them.

It’s always weird to see those comparisons. It seems like whenever there is a female on the vocals and a male on the production side, our band comes up. We are never mentioned when journalists write about them, but they are always mentioned in relation to us. People hear a lot of influences in our music and it’s often bands that are newer than we are. Maybe they are bigger? I don’t feel relative to other bands. We want the world inside our heads to be fully expressed.

Still, you’re a chart band now.

We will still play “Fineshrine” and “Lofticries”. I am not following a business model, but we have always done pop music. Shrines was our iteration of pop music and that is where we want to be in terms of writing. But I don’t relate to most music. There are so few records that inspire me.

I find that hard to believe.

I love Leadbelly and a lot of old songs. I have a tendency towards blues melodicism. I don’t know if that comes out on the records. I think that writing is scriptural and testimonial. It’s a way of witnessing existence. There’s more to life than music. I am not thinking about other things besides what is inside my head. There are a lot of poets and artists that I have a huge affection for. I have an affinity for W. B. Yeats and a lot of poets of that era. I was raised in a very religious world, and I felt like I never really fit in with that, so my writing is a form of fitting in with my world.

Do you like any of your 4AD forerunners such as Cocteau Twins and Dead Can Dance?

We had a lot of choices for labels. We liked the history of 4AD but we weren’t too concerned about the sound. It was more important that we had a Canadian label first. 4AD seemed like the best fit. I had never listened to Cocteau Twins before, but God, do I love that band now.

I’ve heard Purity Ring, like Cocteau Twins, described as “magical” and “witchy”.

That is sweet. I love magic and the parables of witches. Those are great images. There are some acceptable metaphors in those stories for me. I can feel a lot in them – it’s not very far off from where I am. I feel fierce onstage, and it is empowering because it is what I am expressing. I am expressing emotions like anger and frustration, so I have to be mean and cruel. It’s scary.

Is that person onstage a persona or is it you?

It’s not how I act every day, but it is a way that I feel natural onstage. It’s what happens when the show starts. There is feistiness to it. I am in survival mode. It’s what my nerves do to me.

It’s odd how many of the best synth bands, like Yaz and Soft Cell, were duos. It seems a natural thing.

Due to social genderization and the performative aspects of a female-fronted band and a male producer, it’s the easiest iteration, because that gets more attention.

These EDM festivals you have to play are just big bro-fests.

We have played a number of different festivals, but I am never comfortable at a festival because I don’t see how we fit in sometimes. But I don’t see us playing with guitar bands. I would prefer a mixture of both because I don’t think that we fit in with either of those. But both of those suck. There are weird vibes at festivals; there is a different set of vulnerabilities. We played at Primavera Sound and after that we realised that we should never play during the day. So now we will only play at night.

I hope festival staff doesn’t treat this request like Jack White’s Guac-gate.

Honestly, we have never put any recipes on our rider, but we have put ingredients on it for making guacamole. I feel bad for Jack White – his rider is nowhere near as severe as some of the riders out there. And it probably makes sense because he has a crew of 20 people on tour and away from home for eight months of a year. They look forward to having some good food backstage and in the green room. It keeps them sane. Also I was shocked how low the guarantee was. It seems low for an artist like Jack White who has been around a while.

You just did Late Night with Seth Myers a few days before this interview. Was that the first time Purity Ring was on television?

Yeah. It was terrifying. There was so much stress. After we finished, I went backstage and started crying. People came to greet us and I was bawling my eyes out. That was exhilarating I guess. And scary. It was a magical thing to do. We haven’t done any shows for a year and a half, and the first thing we do is on fucking national television.

PURITY RING W/ BORN GOLD Fri, June 12, 8PM | Terminal 5, 610 W 56th St, New York, NY 10019

Originally published in issue #137, April 2015