A Time to Flourish
Braids Overcome Speedbumps to Churn Out Synth-Driven New Record
It’s been a tumultuous year for the Montreal-based and Calgary-born group Braids—from ditching the guitar-fuelled art rock that put them on the map, to losing a founding member—but drummer Austin Tufts believes it’s only helped solidify the band’s positive outlook and experimental drive.
Braids burst into the collective indie consciousness when their 2011 debut album Native Speaker—a beaded tapestry of psych, shoegaze and post-rock—was heralded as brilliant by the likes of Deerhunter’s Bradford Cox and the Polaris Prize Shortlist.
“Native Speaker was written over two years throughout live rehearsals, and polished during several tours,” said Tufts.
The album was acclaimed and cherished worldwide, but the band decided to scrap the process that created it and risk trying whole new techniques for their following record, Flourish//Perish.
“Maybe eight out of the 10 tracks that make up Flourish//Perish were written completely in the studio and had never seen the stage until after the record was mastered,” said Tufts.
“The recording was very much intertwined with the writing. We shifted away from doing 200 takes of a vocal take just to make sure every note was in tune like we did on Native Speaker,” he continued.
“We just embraced the raw emotion and vulnerability that comes with using the first or second takes of a track.”
The band ditched the guitars almost entirely during the sessions, opting for a more insular and claustrophobic digital vibe.
The new record is a product of its environment, Flourish//Perish being recorded in Tuft’s Montreal garage studio.
“It’s a single-car garage which has been shrunken even more by building a completely isolated room inside it, resulting in a space that’s about 10 feet by 14 feet with no windows,” he said. “We spent almost every day—almost 10 hours a day—down there for an entire year. I think the space itself had an impact on how inward-looking this record is.”
It was during this time that founding member and keyboardist Katie Lee left the band for what Tufts refers to quietly as “creative and personal differences.” So while the band was shape-shifting, the music began to follow suit.
“We just weren’t hearing guitars anymore,” says Tufts.
“We had spent the whole of 2011 trying to figure out how to manipulate our guitars to sound like synths, but we found much more connection to the sounds in our heads with actual synthesizers.”
The result is a buzzing, pulsating beast of smooth synth sweeps, glazed-over glitches and fantastic freak-outs. The album’s hazy, humanistic heartbeat is something the band likes to call “natural electronica.”
“Our stuff is created in a completely digital and electronic environment, but we always stage that against the very natural, beautiful and complex voice of [vocalist] Raphaelle [Standell-Preston],” says Tufts. “Her voice and the acoustic percussion on this record form a foundation of soil and earth for all these ethereal and digital soundscapes to exist upon.”
Smack in the middle of the disorienting and dedicated process of recording Flourish//Perish were the Calgary floods and the death of Women guitarist Chris Reimer, both of which hit their label Flemish Eye extremely hard.
The band and the label have a tight-knit relationship, and Tufts notes that it was Ian Russell at Flemish Eye who actually saved the band from making what he thinks would’ve been a grave error.
“We had gone into a real studio for the last week of mixing the record to finalize everything,” Tufs recalls. “We sent him what were to be the final mixes and he came back being like, ‘Guys, honestly I think these mixes are inferior to the mixes you did at home.’
“It was such a good thing he told us that,” Tufts continued. “We listened and realized he was right. So we went back into the studio and re-did all the mixes and came up with the final mixes that everyone is very happy with.”
Created in a time of change and upheaval, and of death and rebirth, Tufts admits that it would be impossible for those themes not to creep into the songs. The melancholy atmosphere ended up being the conceptual foundation for what would go on to become Flourish//Perish.
“It’s the acceptance that things must sometimes perish before a period of flourishing; it’s that the night is always darkest right before the dawn,” he says.
As for their POP set, Tufts says they’re armed to the teeth with a multitude of synths, drum machines and other electronic minutiae.
“It’s going to be the three of us, lots of MIDI controllers, drums, electronic drums, vocals and this really awesome controller called the Mallet Kat, which is like a MIDI xylophone,” he explains.
“Right now we’re just playing all new music, mostly stuff from the new record, but some brand-new ones as well.”
After what’s shaping up to be an exhausting and extensive tour for the group, Tufts is optimistic about a new record, harboring some inventive plans of his own for the creative development sessions.
“Hopefully we can do a writing retreat in the desert where we will compose the rest of the third LP,” he said.
Braids // Sept. 26 // L’Olympia (1004 Ste. Catherine St. E.) // 7 p.m. // $25 + fees