Purity Ring’s sophomore album isn’t quite as mysterious as their shadowy debut, Shrines. Then again, it would be difficult to duplicate the shock that came with their initial singles “Ungirthed” and “Belispeak,” which derived their magic from a refusal to give into any one genre. Sure it was pop, but awash with glowing electronics producer Corin Roddick’s hip-hop inspired beats and frontwoman Megan James’ little-girl lost soprano, their music felt like a Lynchian take on the term. The band’s otherworldly vibe was only enhanced by their stage show, which featured cocoon-like lighting rigs, homemade clothes and an elaborate, handcrafted percussion tube.
“Beauty is always the goal,”James says, succulently summing up her band’s mission statement.
She’s in California today, soaking up some of the winter sun before leaving on tour. They still consider themselves a product of Edmonton, Canada (where both members grew up), but both she and Roddick have actually been in Los Angeles for the last six months, where they finished writing and recording Another Eternity. Although clearly the most content while creating, James says it took them a while to get to the point where they could uninhibitedly work on the follow-up to their breakthrough album.
“There was pressure the entire period of time when we weren’t writing music,” she says. James speaks quickly, pausing only to underscore her ideas with a playful laugh that implies that while she may take her art seriously, she’s not above acknowledging the difficulty that comes with articulating the process.
“We took a year and a half off. Every time I thought about how we had to make another record, my head would immediately go to ‘What’s it going to be, what are we going to write about?’ I don’t have any material! Even though I do. I always write. It’s an unnecessary stress. There was a lot of procrastination involved. We didn’t know what we were going to do. It’s hard to talk about what you’re going to do, because we do go, ‘Oh, I like this band—let’s make a song like that!’ Our writing process is entirely searching out things that we don’t like. It’s a lot more effective for us.”
Predictably, that tension began to subside once the pair began work. Throughout the summer and fall of 2014 James and Roddick wrote together, crafting songs in the same room rather than emailing parts back and forth like they had done in the past. Unsurprisingly, things started to happen quickly.
“I’m free to be where I want to in my head,” James admits. “I feel like a lot of the escapism elements in our music are just how I grew up and formed habits and ways of seeing the world. And the ways I was treated at church. It’s a lot of what goes into my writing. Just being something that didn’t quite fit. The way that I deal with that is by making something. The only person who can do that is me. And Corin too, which makes it a really weird and magical relationship.”
Another Eternity finds Purity Ring finds itself indulging electronic textures that flirt with hip-hop, and even briefly dipping a toe into EDM territory on opening track “heartsigh.” This time out, James’ vocals are a major factor, sitting clearly on top of the mix rather than relegated to its murky, reverb-filled depths as they were with Shines. Sure, clear mixes and punchier pop packages might indicate a band hunting for greater accessibility, but James assures that any tweaks in their sound weren’t in service of attempting to reach more listeners.
“I feel like if we had tried to do anything that was trying to appease an audience that didn’t include us, we would have ended up making something that no one really liked,” she says. “In the end we wouldn’t like it either. It’s a better risk to take to make something that you really love…but at least someone will like it in the end. It’s not a waste of time and energy.”
It’s a theme that James comes back to several times throughout the conversation. She and Roddick are making music for themselves. Sharing their songs on an international level might occasionally be intimidating, but James says that she feels the same about writing that she always has. A daily journalist, many of her personal lines such as “I lied/Now I’m lying awake/I cried/Until my body ached” actually started life in the pages of her diary. She hopes that people will identify with the emotion behind her words, even though often her motivation for writing is not having to discuss painful moments with others.
“Being understood is something I struggle a lot with,” she admits. “But also, I dream of being actually understood by everyone around me. You know that song [“Schoolin’ Life”] on the Beyoncé record where she’s like, ‘What do you want most in this life?’ When I first listened to that I thought she was going to say, ‘To be understood!’ Then she says, ‘To be happy!’” That’s the thing I took from that record.”
James goes on to note that sometimes, understanding for her comes after writing when she looks at her interconnected web of words. And, as is the case with the album’s title, sometimes understanding isn’t even her end game.
“I think it’s really hard for me to explain what Another Eternity means, even to me,” she admits. “A large part of it is that it’s an anomaly in and of itself. Seeing that instantly creates a question mark. Trying to imagine the possibility of another eternity existing after this one. It’s a form of enticement. It entices wonder, which I feel like a lot of mine and Corin’s art is about. To construct a place that feels like you’re inside a body instead of inside the world. Or in a universe instead of on the world. I feel like those words, in the same vein, makes you wonder what it means and where it might be.”
She pauses and laughs lightly. “We’ve also been really into sci-fi lately.”