colour-saturated dream world
One of the great things about being a music writer is getting to meet the personalities behind the music. Sometimes you’ll be presented with an endearing contradiction, other times people turn out pretty much exactly as you would imagine. Navigating the rain-soaked alleyways of Bethnal Green on the way to meet Purity Ring, though, I had pretty good reason to be apprehensive.
Three years ago, the Canadian duo of Megan James [vocals] and Corin Roddick [production] released Shrines, their first album as Purity Ring. With Corin’s ice- blasted synths and fragmented, RnB- influenced beats, it was the sort of thing naval-gazing critics at the time labelled “future pop” and bundled up with the likes of Grimes – who’d released her own breakthrough record a few months prior – with a smidgen of justification. Megan’s lyrics, meanwhile, tackled matters of the heart through macabre metaphors involving disembowelment, drilling holes through eyelids, having her sternum ripped out and other particularly gruesome acts. Ostensibly there was an emotional core to it all and to be sure, Megan’s voice certainly sounded vulnerable enough but the gore suggested her emotions were not to be toyed with.
It was with some trepidation, then, that I took my seat opposite the pair in a backstreet photography studio as people clattered about around us, preparing for the shoot. Did Megan have the deeply damaged psyche that her lyrics would suggest? Would Corin turn out to be pretentious and self-serious?
Thankfully, the answer was an emphatic no on both scores. Corin, dressed in grey and black, is unwaveringly polite and thoughtful as he offers studied responses to all my questions. He’s also shy. Megan is wrapped up in a cosy-looking off-white outfit and is smaller than I expect, sipping tea between cheerful replies. I’ve got nothing to worry about.
Still, I say, those lyrics – a mix of the morbid and intensely personal pulled from Megan’s own collection of journals and writings – would be difficult to draw from from a well-balanced, happy place. “It’s more about being satisfied, not happy,” she offers cryptically. “Or like, understood and understanding, rather than happy. Maybe it feels good at the end but not all the way through.” She lets out a resigned sigh. “Such is life.”
Fortunately, new record Another Eternity – recently released via 4AD – should be a major source of satisfaction for the two.
Another Eternity is a bigger, brighter and altogether bolder experience than Shrines. Megan’s vocals, once shrouded in effects and Auto-Tune, are now crystalline and pure in the main. Much of the bloodshed in her lyrics is influenced by the heartache of a breakup, and is implied rather than made explicit (“Meet me in the back shed, I’ll be hanging up the knives,” she sings on Stillness in Woe). Instead, the dreamlike and surreal takes centre stage.
“There’s definitely a lightness to [the new album] and that’s really intensified,” Megan says. “I feel like making anything – in this case our music – you do it in an attempt to create a world where you feel comfortable existing, or that you need in order to, like, go on. I feel like that’s kind of a part of why it seems like it’s turned into this figurative dreamy place that you can go…” Corin cuts in: “Any way that we can transport people through music and visuals, that’s ideal.”
Megan’s lyrics are inarguably deeply personal and I can’t help but wonder whether there’s a degree of discomfort given that she’s now exploring themes of vulnerability so directly. I ask her about a lyric from new track Flood on the Floor, which goes: “Don’t forget the way she pushed the water inside.” It feels like a metaphor. “Uh. Oh. Hmmm.” For the first and only time during our chat, Megan is completely lost for words.
Tears seem to glisten in her eyes. “I was hoping no one would ever ask what that meant,” she finally says, quietly. “It doesn’t mean you have to answer it,” Corin responds, momentarily protective. Megan clears her throat before continuing. “I guess in a sense that song is about … I use the word ‘she’ in it a lot because it’s a very feminine song about the womb. I think that’s all I’ll say about it,” she concludes, laughing nervously.
We move on. Purity Ring concede that, with Another Eternity, there was a concerted effort this time around to achieve a more direct, bombastic sound; a process of elimination that involved a more intelligent use of space. “We took all the ‘haze’ out. It’s when you remove things that everything else gets bigger,” Megan explains. “It’s not what you use to gain size. It’s what you lose.” Perhaps an even more significant change the pair made to the recording process, though, was co-location. Putting together Shrines via file swapping, Megan and Corin lived hundreds of miles apart across Canada – she in Halifax, he in Montreal. “That’s the thing, it wasn’t even sending things back and forth, it was just, like, sending things once,” Corin laughs.
After a period of touring and resting up, Corin and Megan ditched their previous approach and came together amidst the frozen industrial landscapes of their birthplace – Edmonton – to record album number two. Another major development was the move to a bona fide recording studio for the sessions, although Corin downplays its impact. “I don’t use a ton of gear or anything; I like to keep my setup as minimal as possible. Like, 95% of what I do is just on a laptop,” he says. Megan starts laughing. “This giant mixing board would be there and the laptop was just like, sat on top of it!” she marvels. “Having a studio isn’t that crucial but it’s just comfortable,” Corin counters. “Although yeah, it was a bit indulgent. There would be all this amazing vintage gear with an incredible board with a laptop dumped on top and we’d just be using, like, one mic for vocals.”
But while Purity Ring describe their craft with a faintly self-deprecating sense of humour, both Corin and Megan are visibly proud – and rightly so – of the expansive aural experience that is Another Eternity. I ask which song is their favourite. “Bodyache,” they both say. “It feels like an achievement just because it seems like the type of song we’ve wanted to make for years, even back to the very first song we ever wrote, which was Ungirthed,” adds Corin. “Maybe in a few years we’ll do something better than that. But for now, I feel good knowing that’s absolutely the best we can do.”
Another Eternity is out now via 4AD