Telekom Electronic Beats

Purity Ring Talks About Going Pop on another eternity

Who’s afraid of EDM? Certainly not Megan James and Corin Roddick. The ethereal Canadian pop-trap duo known as Purity Ring has lost its innocence by mining the best selling and most controversial genre of electronic music for maximum theatrical effect. The result on their sophomore LP another eternity is more melodramatic, more futuristic, and shamelessly poppier than 2011’s Shrines. But will the new album’s colossal synths and HD drops be too gauche for snobs and too abstract for the charts?

You were both really young when Purity Ring took off three and half years ago—Corin, you were in your late teens and Megan, you were in your early twenties. Have you guys ever had day jobs? If so, when did you quit them to be full-time rock stars?

MEGAN JAMES: Right when things started happening around 2011. Before that I spent summers working for my dad in our hometown Edmonton in Western Canada, mowing the lawns at the local Esso oil refinery. For the rest of the year I was more than 2000 miles away in Halifax, working at a lingerie shop. I was learning how to fit bras and stuff. Then I tried to sell clothes that I designed, but nobody buys stuff in Halifax, so that didn’t work out. I was living in this house that was kind of famous, called Willow House. People who lived there did important things for the city, culturally speaking, but when I was there it was just a bunch of pot-smoking dudes who made weird movies. I had a sewing room set up in the basement to get away from the stinking roommates. I was 23 and had graduated with a degree in fashion design.

CORIN RODDICK: Well, I was 19 in 2011 but I had been working in a recording studio making money since I was 17. Come to think of it, I’ve never had a “real” job. Edmonton is a politically conservative place, sort of like the Texas of Canada. Oil dominates the industry in the province. The youth backlash against that is with art and music…

MEGAN: Specifically hardcore and post-hardcore. People might not know the bands outside of Alberta, but that scene was important for us. The whole electronic scene developed out of the hardcore community. You see, we’re really far north, and it’s extremely cold. So you do a lot of staying indoors. It’s a great place to focus.

Was the hardcore scene railing against Edmonton’s political conservatism?

CORIN: No, the politics weren’t discussed explicitly. It makes sense only as a reaction when you start to peel back the layers. It’s about DIY, which isn’t necessarily political. Kids want to feel like they have something of their own, which usually operates under the veil of conservative oil money.

In the past, you guys have been adamant about doing things yourself in terms of production. When you started out you described your music as “future pop,” but another eternity feels more futuristic and poppier than Shrines: Gone for the most part are the era-specific sidechaining and hazy, reverb-soaked vocals. Almost every track on the new LP has clear verses and choruses, catchy melodies, and obvious EDM-underpinnings.

CORIN: The EDM connection is very real, even though I don’t listen to much EDM at all, or much instrumental music in general. I’ve been paying close attention to the builds and crescendos of EDM. What’s always impressed me about it is how producers are able to construct these massive, energetic peaks, which open up into vast, wide soundscapes, and everyone gets it immediately. You see this at EDM festivals when the drops come; the crowd totally understands this moment, and that’s really something. I find the melodicism and drum sounds of EDM unpalatable, but the idea of EDM as a movement is inspiring. So I was looking at it to see how I could tastefully enhance our music by incorporating these structural elements. This is essentially how I approach all of the music I listen to, be it EDM, pop, or hip-hop. I’m searching for the few things I find inspiring, and then I completely strip everything else away. I recombine these elements with other things to create a unified sound.

MEGAN: This ties in to our general fascination with pop music, those songs where everyone relates when the chorus comes in and everyone has emotional access.

These days it’s not at all uncommon for non-mainstream electronic musicians to reference contemporary R&B, especially in the post-Internet realm. But for many, EDM crosses a certain line.

MEGAN: I remember when Corin showed me the drop in the chorus of “Begin Again,” my first thought was: This is hilarious. But it’s so good. The EDM aspects of another eternity are kind of comic for me, but also incredibly effective. We’re not prejudiced. I don’t have a place in me for EDM or that culture, but I don’t cringe at it. People don’t realize that it is so much of America.

CORIN: If so many people are into EDM, it has to be for a reason. So much of it remains untapped, unlike the so-called “tasteful” elements of R&B. EDM is the thing people don’t want to cross paths with. We saw that as an opening.

There seems to be something farsighted about being among the first non-EDM and non-mainstream artists to mine interesting aspects of the genre. In what sense would you describe your music as futuristic?

CORIN: We strive to place no nostalgic value in sound.

MEGAN: The same can’t be said of the lyrics. They’re full of nostalgia.

And drama. Like Shrines, another eternity references lots of tears, blood and gushes of bodily fluid. But on this record you hear more about tears than new beginnings. Is this a break-up record?

MEGAN: Yes. The whole time we were making another eternity, I was really insecure. I didn’t realize I was writing a lot of lyrics that would make this sound like a break-up record. I was just trying to express myself openly and figure out what I wanted to do with my life. It was definitely a year of tears and change. This is a break-up record, but it’s a falling in love record, too. “Begin Again” and “Stranger than Earth” are both solid love songs. But it’s mostly me getting over a stupid relationship. In terms of production, neither of us knew what the record was supposed to sound like…

CORIN: …because we had covered all of the musical ground we set out to cover on Shrines. And while our first record was positively received, the end question was always, “Where will they go next?”

MEGAN: And so often hope is lost for bands like that.

Have there been any self-perceived failures amidst all the initial success?

MEGAN: I’ve never had the experience of really going for something and it not working out. That is, except for this, and I knew it would work because it worked right off the bat with our first song, “Ungirthed.” I write about my failures on another eternity, but they aren’t, like, anything entrepreneurial.

CORIN: For me it’s a tough question. I started recording my friends’ bands in my mom’s basement when I was 15, and then just slowly collected more gear and microphones until I got the job at the studio. I’d spent a lot of time working on music that I personally didn’t enjoy but I don’t consider that a failure. I was at least involved in music somehow, so I was happy. But last year I invested quite a bit of my time crossing over with some of my production work for pop artists and mainstream hip-hop artists. Some of that stuff did go somewhere, but some of it didn’t. I had a naïve idea of how it would go—like, that bigger artists would just take my tracks and that’s that. I was hoping for a placement on the Rihanna record and that didn’t work out. I learned that there are people who write five songs a day, every day, for a year. And at the end of that year they get one or two placements—maybe. After investing a lot into it, I discovered this was not an efficient use of my time. I essentially wasted a lot of energy. I made a lot of music that went unused. However, some of that became the beginnings of what we used for the album, and that really helped me hone my production chops. In the end it was positive, but it felt like a failure. Things always seemed to work out for me before, so this was frustrating. Tracks get treated like inventory. I don’t want what I make to be a possibility on a shelf surrounded by a thousand other possibilities.

I hear a lot of the tracks on another eternity in the vein of these big, half-timey emotional pop hits like Leona Lewis’s “Bleeding Love” or, more recently, Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space,” both of which also have melodies which repeat over shifting chord changes.

MEGAN: Taylor Swift is really interesting to me. We had finished our record by the time her new album had come out, but when we put out “Push Pull” there were so many comparisons. And it was just because she put out an electronic record. People thought that we were trying to sound like Taylor Swift when I actually think she was trying to sound like bands like us. But her making an electronic record also changed the landscape for bands like us.

CORIN: She’s just a genius in being able to keep her reign over pop music by shifting what she does and having a broader appeal by bringing in new elements. I love her new album, but not as much as her previous album, Red.

One of the less poppy aspects of your new LP is the way you work with automated reverb. Synths and drum hits are often expanding and contracting, which is kind of hallucinatory. But that’s maybe the only aspect of your music that sounds even remotely psychedelic.

CORIN: Things that people would describe as “psychedelic” don’t appeal to me because the term usually goes hand-in-hand with being random. From what I can tell, psychedelic describes music that twists and turns around in unexpected ways. It’s music that doesn’t seem to have a lot of control or doesn’t end in a predetermined way. I don’t really enjoy listening to things that don’t seem like they were completely thought-out. Psych rock with lots of delay trails and sounds morphing into each other is something I strive to stay away from completely. I want each individual sound to have a total purpose from beginning to end, and be very controlled in the environment of all the other sounds. It should have a perfect slope to it.

So I take it you’re not big into free jazz or improvisation or chance music.

CORIN: We definitely experiment with things in ways where we don’t know what the outcome will be. But we usually then go back and organize it. I will never leave things to seem like they were up to chance or improvised. If you do an improvised piece for 20 minutes, there will probably be a couple pretty great moments—but we don’t really have the patience for that kind of stuff. I would never want to listen to someone just improvise. In between some great stuff are usually a lot of boring and redundant things. Though I think you can go back over it and harvest those moments for something three minutes long and totally thought out…

MEGAN: …and then it’s worth your time! I don’t think we’re the type of artists that can request that people listen to a 20-minute song. That’s a lot to ask of somebody. I don’t think artists who make 20-minute songs are egotistical or anything, but it’s just not our style. We’re both very efficient. I don’t want to waste anyone’s time.

So you guys don’t take drugs at all, huh?

MEGAN: No, to say it concisely.

CORIN: But people tell us Shrines is a great pot album. But I think it’s just the sidechaining.

And still the music is almost comically evocative. Another eternity often made me feel like I was watching the most dramatic moments of some ultra-high-definition, teen sci-fi vampire series.

MEGAN: That’s a huge compliment. We both want to be in a good sci-fi. It wasn’t in our heads when we were working on the album but then we saw Interstellar and realized: this is what the album is about.

CORIN: In the film, Earth is doomed because they’ve used up all the resources. So they have astronauts search for a new earth for people to inhabit. They discover a wormhole, which is a tunnel shortcut through space-time. The most amazing thing about the movie is that the black hole they show there is the most accurate visual representation of a black hole to date. They had a massive budget to work with physicists to render literally the most realistic looking black hole ever.

MEGAN: Actually, the physicists ended up learning more about black holes because of their rendition. Corin is way more obsessed with the future and sci-fi than I am. I tend to think more of individuals as universes, which is an important way for me to come up with metaphors.

It’s interesting to think of entertainment being a catalyst for scientific progress. Corin, I know you’ve said before that pop is some of the most experimental music around. Most people usually see it the other way around, no?

CORIN: Well, pop has to experiment. You need it to stick out and turn your head. Every few years, a great pop song comes along with elements that people haven’t heard. When I’m looking for inspiration, I revisit certain kinds of pop and think how much crazier it is than experimental music. When Britney Spears’ Femme Fatale came out in 2011, that record had some of the most interesting and forward thinking vocal production I’d ever heard. A lot of people have the wrong idea about pop music. They think it has to be the lowest common denominator to appeal to the widest possible audience. But the truth is that the public moves quickly and gets bored. They need to feel excited.

MEGAN: But the idea that pop is “late” in adapting cooler things from other genres isn’t always right. But I think that should be obvious.

CORIN: Well, there certainly is the trickle-down aspect where cool things eventually make their way into pop. But that’s not the whole story.

All photos by Hans Martin Sewcz.

Published March 04, 2015. Words by A.J. Samuels.