Divine Shrines: an interview with Purity Ring
It is, perhaps, rather bombastic to cry ‘BEST ALBUM OF THE YEAR!’ when it’s only July, but when it comes to Purity Ring‘s debut Shrines, it’s also impossible for me to do otherwise. How such a perfect combination of pop sensibilities and underground aesthetics can entrance the mind and soul so completely, and yet feel so effortless, is a testament to what clever composers Megan James and Corin Roddick are. From start to finish, Shrines wraps the listener in a gossamer realm of throbbing beats layered over pitch-shifted synths and lyrics that don’t merely exist, they create. In the span of thirty-eight minutes, an entire world is formed from James’ vocal chords, where fantastic beasts drape themselves across landscapes and and altars are made from the bones of love. Beautiful and brief, it’s everything a pop album should be: mysterious, engaging, and smart. What really impresses me…ah, but let’s get a dialogue going here:
Electronic Beats: What really impresses me is the way you manipulate language and how you transform words into new more complex words with double meanings.
Corin: That’s all Megan.
It takes you into an excursion about words, and what they really mean, and how easily it can be to create new words from existing ones, and give them new meanings.
Megan: I like words and alliterations and making confusing things out of words, when they’re meant to make things less confusing.
Are you inspired by any multimedia artists who are doing the same kind of things? For example, the artist Ryan Trecartin is really manipulating words as well and trying to make new meanings out of words, which I think is fascinating.
Megan: It doesn’t come from any… I don’t know where it comes from. I have influences, whether they be nameable or not, but they’re not people, or specific things that I can say ‘this is where this came from’. It’s a collection of things in me from whatever has happened to me.
You said that you were self-inspired by a lot of journal entries that you made?
Megan: I keep a journal and I mostly just write poetry and stuff. I’m not inspired by that, those are actually the lyrics. It’s the way I talk to myself, I guess.
I’m doing music with my friend, and I discovered that we develop our own language between us to communicate song parts. I was curious about how both of you work together or communicate music when you have a vision of a song.
Megan: We don’t communicate all that much.
Corin: We don’t really have a vision either.
Megan: It just happens. We work really independently when we write because we live in different cities. Corin sends me a track, I do the vocals and send back the demo and he kind of re-arranges everthing so it fits well. When we actually get together we record.
Corin: And then after it’s recorded I usually re-arrange things again for a long period of time. But it’s never because we have this thing we are working towards. I just know when it sounds right and when it doesn’t sound right and I keep working on it until every part gives me the right feeling.
Megan: It’s like a machine, I guess… an organic machine.
The song structures, at times they meld really well with the vocals, but at other times they seem at odds with the vocals as well, just because the structures of the songs are so sharp and very well-produced. The vocals are well-produced too, but they seem on another, poppier plane, whereas the song structures feel like they should be a little murkier, even though they might not be. I’m intrigued by how the songs are structured just because it seems like a marriage of two different styles that somehow works perfectly.
Corin: I would say it’s because we come from such different places.
Megan: We 100% are into totally different styles, maybe not in every respect, but when it comes to music.
Corin: I have absolutely nothing to do with the lyrics or the vocal melodies, and Megan has absolutely nothing to do with instrumental music productions. So it is very much two different things coming together.
I hear so many influences in Shrines, so many multiple genres that you seem to pull from. And it comes across as well, it feels very natural. It could be a pop album, but at the same time it’s drawing from more abstract influences. You can imagine hearing this on the radio as Top 40 radio in Bizarro World.
Megan: I think it is a pop album in that sense. Corin listens to a ton of pop albums.
Corin: I do. I’ve been listening to more and more and more pop music. Maybe next time around we actually will make a top 40 album.
What’s pop music for you?
G: Like what’s on the radio. Mainstream pop music is some of the most exciting and the most experimental music being made.
Like the production values?
Corin: The lyrics are never progressive, but yeah, in the production and instrumentals. Even like Britney Spears’ last album.
Megan: I don’t listen to very much pop music, or really much music at all. I don’t want to say that I’m not influenced by anything, you cant really say that. I definitely am. I take more from body parts and daydreams. I love music and I feel things from it; I appreciate it for what it is and what it makes. But I can’t really say that what I make is derived from music.
But the interest in body parts makes sense. Because from what I heard, the words you are using are very focused on the physical form.
Megan: I like bodies. I really like bodies.
Are you into anatomical books?
Megan: Very much! It comes from what I see being in a body or what bodies are capable of, not necessarily the physical form itself but it’s potential.
Corin, before you mentioned that you weren’t involved in vocals at all. Who did the male vocals on ‘Grandloves‘?
Corin: It’s a friend of ours, Young Magic. The vocals are directly out of his song ‘You With Air‘, which I really enjoyed. I wanted to make a remix for his track and I tried for a while, but I couldn’t come up with anything. While this was going on I was working on a separate track, which I thought would be good for Purity Ring. It was the same tempo as the remix and the same key so I dropped his vocal file over the other track that I was working on and it meshed really well. Then Megan wanted to sing over it.
Megan: I didn’t know that it was originally for Purity Ring.
It’s really cool. It feels very different…not very different, but it feels different from the rest of the album. It’s just really nice, like BAM, out of nowhere: male vocals playing against her vocals.
Corin: It’s unsuspecting.
Megan: It feels funny to do collaborations.
Corin: Technically I just sampled the vocals on his song. You should listen to the original. The vocals in his context, it’s really great.
But you can’t imagine Purity Ring collaborating with anyone?
Corin: That’s because I feel really content with everything that we make on our own. I usually don’t like collaborations. I have rarely heard collaborations, even when its two artists, it always seems like they collaborated just to collaborate. It feels…
Megan: It’s usually something really gimmicky.
Corin: It seems like a bad way to keep quality up. When you’re collaborating you don’t have control over what the other person is contributing. You can’t say “do this” because it’s supposed to be their input. We like to have absolute control over everything we do.
Do you have solo stuff?
Megan: I did, I don’t have any available. I don’t share it. I play the piano and sing. That’s how we originally met, and maybe intended to make music together. Didn’t turn out that way. I’m classically trained on the piano, I’ve done that stuff for years.
And you might again?
Megan: Oh definitely, I think about it a lot. One day.
Corin: We didn’t meet on Craigslist or anything.
When I had a band I petitioned for a drummer via Livejournal. Why not, it’s a resource.
Corin: I’ve done that thing before. You can meet really interesting people that way.
I got curious about the name Purity Ring. At first I wasn’t thinking about it, this living abstinence.
Megan: It doesn’t mean anything to us.
Corin: The way you might first interpret it, not thinking about it beyond just being words, it’s how you are supposed to interpret it. That’s actually good. For people for whom English isn’t a first language, or aren’t from North America where this actual purity ring item exists.
Megan: It’s more about how it is said. “Purity Ring”. It gets linked just because of the word.
Do you ever get contacted by people looking for actual rings?
Corin: We had someone a while ago send an email asking to put an ad banner up with a purity ring sale on our website. ‘It’s so cool, I really support what you guys are doing, spreading the word.’
One of your songs is called ‘Amenamie’….like ‘Amen Amy’? And then in the lyrics: ‘something reborn’…
Megan: It’s funny that you said that, because we change how we pronounce the words. It’s actually ‘Amen Amy’ but we pronounce it as ‘Amenamie’.
Who is Amy?
Megan:Just a friend of mine whom I love dearly. When I write I feel like I’m writing scriptures for myself.
Music as a religion has been explored heavily in the last couple decade. I think that’s really sort of a shift. They legalized downloading or file sharing as an official religion in Sweden recently. An obvious step is to legalize music as a religion, because what’s 90% of the file sharing that happens?
Megan: That’s amazing that they would turn file sharing into religion.
At the same time, imagine the exaltation you feel when you hear music that you truly love. It is like a religious experience.
Megan: Religion has always heavily been involved in music. For anyone who makes music, whether they are a part of an established religion or just doing it for themselves, it’s kind of a matter of holiness to represent yourself, in the ways you do when you make anything, whether an artist or a musician, you are representing yourself in such an open way, representing yourself like that. You do it because you believe in it and you want people to understand what you believe.
I would connect your album very closely to religion in the sense that it feels like something holy, like a sermon.
Megan: Like a shrine?
Like a shrine, of course! In a total non-deity sort of way. More like you’re creating multiple deities out of these songs.
Megan: It’s not about hierarchy, it’s about representing something. Something we believe, I don’t think just necessarily me. The collaborative effort creates that sense that hopefully someone feels when they listen to it.
Shrines is out July 24th on 4AD. Stream the album in its entirety here.
Special thanks to Carolin Langner for her collaboration in this interview.
Published July 17, 2012. Words by Daniel Jones.