Purity Ring are Feeling the Pressure to Succeed with 'Another Eternity'

We sat down with the duo to talk about the anti-claustrophobic feel of their new album, and about how hard it is to sing backwards.

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Feb 11 2015, 7:01pm

Edmonton duo Purity Ring had a fantastic run with their 2012 debut album, Shrines. Releasing it on the legendary indie label 4AD worldwide (and Last Gang in Canada), making Billboard’s Top 40 chart the first week of its release, earning Best New Music status from Pitchfork, making virtually every year-end list, and narrowly losing out on the Polaris Music Prize to some sullen Montreal post-rockers, their success built up plenty of anticipation to see what would come next.

Nearly three years after Shrines’ release, Purity Ring have answered with a successor that will put eager minds at ease. On March 3, Megan James and Corin Roddick will drop Another Eternity (via Last Gang in Canada, and 4AD worldwide), a poised and vivid 21st century pop album that expands and brightens up their cloudy dream pop. As demonstrated on early tracks “Push Pull” and “Begin Again,” this time around, critics, fans and even the band members themselves will have to find a new adjective to summarize the Purity Ring sound, because claustrophobic Another Eternity is not.

“Yeah, even we say that,” admits James. “Shrines is under the covers, there's a blanket over it. It’s claustrophobic in the sense that you’re in a cave, in the sense that you’re inside something. It’d definitely insular and intimate because of the sounds and lyrics are whisper-y. [With Another Eternity] there are no blankets! It’s cold and in the sky, in space. It’s still sleepy because I write about dreams, but with more unfamiliarity—that’s where I like to exist.”

Noisey: How hard is it learning to sing a song backwards like you did for “Push Pull”?
Megan James: I’ve been waiting for someone to ask me this! Because everyone talks about it but no one ever asks how. It was really weird. It’s like learning a new language, literally. And now if I hear the song backwards it sounds really familiar, so I had to learn the song again like it was new. I ended up just doing the chorus because it takes so much time. I don’t think the guy in Coldplay did that whole song. It must have taken him a whole year to learn it. So I had to type it all up backwards then listen to it with the song and change the words and form them into words that were more audible. So I wrote new words that sounded like the backwards words to go with my mouth’s movements.

So you were or weren’t lip-syncing in the video?
James: I was. Not the whole video is backwards, I just learned the chorus. It’s the second chorus in the video, the first shot is backwards. It’s hard to tell, but I had to make it obvious. And learning the melody backwards was so I could learn the words easier. It would’ve been too hard to memorize if it was just talking.

What is the concept of the video?
James: It’s so simple, so we were trying to think of ways to make it more interesting, give it some extra appeal. It was more of an experiment.

And it looks like you were hanging upside down?
James: Yeah, probably for three hours that day. Not all at once, but I got sick for sure. I tried to practice with a pull up bar and I would hang from my knees. But it didn’t work. It was a real test of mind and body. I got really tired.

Corin, where were you when the video was being shot?
Corin Roddick: I was there checking it out. Giving bits of feedback. We wanted this video to be Megan’s thing.
MJ: We also planned this thing over the holidays in a rush, so none of us were in the same place and it was rushed.

So why wasn’t Corin in the video?
Roddick: That just wasn’t the concept. We wanted it to be a singular image. Having us go back and forth or side by side with wind blowing everywhere, I just can’t see that looking as good. So I decided to sit this one out.
James: All of our processes are pretty well split. Even though our roles in the band are different they’re pretty balanced and make sense. But music videos aren’t a place that’s necessary to represent that. Whenever I see boy-girl bands in videos, you know, walking off into the sunset or doing beautiful things, I don’t know. It’s important that we don’t portray ourselves as a couple, if it’s just us in a video. Corin will probably be in one if there is more plot to the treatment.
Roddick: There can be certain concepts where it makes sense for both of us to be in the video, but the concept for this one, there’s no way it would’ve made any sense. And then obviously it’s not just gonna be me because I’m not the lead singer.

While making the first album, Shrines, Megan was in Montreal, and Corin was in Halifax. What made you both go back to Edmonton for Another Eternity?
James: I moved back to Edmonton, left Halifax behind. And yeah, it was mostly just easier for us to meet there. We rented an old friend’s studio there, because it was a good deal and just easy.

What did that city do to help with your creativity?
James: The hibernating of winter and close friends. I think Edmonton has a pretty inspiring scene going on in terms of the music community. I mean, it wasn’t let’s go to Edmonton so we can talk about it more because that’s where we’re from. It just panned out.
Roddick: Yeah, it happened and it felt really comfortable. A lot of our best material we came up with there, and it seemed very spontaneous. Maybe it’s because it was an environment we were relaxed in. It was cold outside, so we just wanted to stay inside and focus on making music.

So, you were back and forth between the cold, icy tundra of Edmonton and sunny Los Angeles?
Roddick: It was kind of insane because we went to Los Angeles in the summer and it was kind of oppressive in the same way, at the other end of the spectrum. You also don’t want to go outside because it was so hot. It went up to 36 or 37. We finished the record in Los Angeles. It was about 90 percent done. We just wrapped up all the songs there and put the final gloss on everything.
James: Have you ever heard Corin’s old band Fuck the Tundra?

No, I haven’t.
Roddick: I used to be in a band called Fuck the Tundra that was very inspired by our climate. We were around for maybe two years, and it overlapped into Purity Ring. We never officially broke up. We’re just on hiatus and maybe we’ll do something together in the future.

How did working together in the same room instead of by correspondence change things?
James: It was kinda like starting a new band. The process and the flow was so different. But it was also how most bands work. I don’t think it was that unusual in general, just for us. We did it just because it made sense. It wasn’t something that we planned. We were just in the same place at the same time.
Roddick: With Shrines we were living in different cities and didn’t have the resources to get together to work on stuff. So we did it through email and it was a very separate process that way. But then this time we took time off tour and we were able to get together and focus on stuff. It wasn’t, “Should we work together the same way?” It was more, “Obviously this is much better.” I think in doing so we were able to break the songs apart and focus on them in a way that couldn’t have done otherwise. We were able to build the songs up with more intent, in a way we were excited about in the end.
James: It was more collaborative.

So was it easier to make than Shrines because it was more collaborative?
Roddick: I wouldn’t say easier.
James: We still put the same amount of time into every song and the details.
Roddick: Both albums have had their strife. No matter how you go about creating something, you pour a lot into it and it takes a lot of time and focus. It wasn’t really different between the two that way. I think we actually spent more time on the new album because we took a whole bunch of time off tour and were able to focus in on the music. We worked on it every day, which is what we wanted to do.

There is less reverb on Megan’s vocals, which really opens up the music and underlines just how much of a pop record this is. How deliberate was it to make the vocals stand out more?
James: It felt like a really natural progression and really fit our capabilities, and Corin’s capabilities recording and producing.
Roddick: A lot of it had to do with the tracks themselves and how they were produced. Like Shrines just had more going on; it was denser in its soundscapes, so there wasn’t as much room for vocals. So they sounded a little more buried. We used a bit more effects as well. But with the new album we worked to carve out space constantly as we were going. Each element we were able to make sure it was in its own zone and make sure it didn’t tread on where the vocals should be sitting. I think because we were collaborating we were able to try and complement the vocals and thus put them more at the forefront.
James: It’s a weird question though because the way it was recorded and the vocals are portrayed, and the sound respectively are portrayed, it sounds more akin to pop music that people are familiar with. But at the same time, Shrines was our iteration of pop music at that time. And this is another iteration of what we feel is pop music. How we think of pop music and how we want to make it has changed for us. It’s not like, “Wow, they made a pop album,” because that’s what we’ve always done. It’s more that our skill set and how we’ve gone about writing the songs has changed.

In between albums you collaborated with Danny Brown and Ab-Soul, and even covered Soulja Boy. Are hip-hop collaborations something you hope to do more of?
Roddick: There is a deep hip-hop thread that runs through my production, mostly in the rhythmic senses. So crossing over into working with rappers doesn’t seem like an outside-of-the-box idea for us, it’s actually quite a natural collaboration. I can definitely see more of that coming up in the future. We don’t really seek out collaborations. If someone wants to work with us we’ll see what happens and if it works out. But I doubt we’ll come up with a rap mixtape this year.

Can you imagine releasing an instrumental version of Another Eternity for an MC’s to have their way with?
James: We did that with Shrines, so maybe?
Roddick: Yeah, we did an instrumental version of Shrines and it’s floating around somewhere. We didn’t do any promo for it, we just leaked it on the internet to see if anyone would pick it up and do something with it. I don’t think many people knew about it though. Maybe some people would want to rap over Another Eternity, but it’s arranged in more of a verse-chorus set-up.
James: There aren’t long instrumental bridges, which there were a shit-ton of on Shrines.
Roddick: I don’t think there is much room on this record for rapping, but I can see us doing something in the future if a good opportunity came up.

What is the status on the lantern cocoon machine thing you use on stage? Will you keep using that or will you be coming up with some cool new invention for your shows?
James: We are reinventing that.
Roddick: We really like the concept of it and what we were able to accomplish visually. But it is a concept that has a lot of room to grow. What we’re doing right now is trying to work on the live show and see where we can go with it. I think it will be along those lines though, like a further progression.

I don’t know how long it takes to build something like that. Is there pressure to finish it before you start playing shows? Or even pressure to top the lanterns?
James: There’s pressure just to get it done. But topping it? The last one was literally homemade; we used trouble light covers and white tights to cover them up so they were tight. And because of that it wasn’t really strong enough to last. So I would buy tights in packs of three at the Bay in downtown Montreal. I think the progression might come in just making something that’s actually tour-worthy, rather than shambles.

Cam Lindsay is a writer living in Toronto - @yasdnilmac