Catching Up With: Braids

Music Features

Braids has been spotted. From across the hotel lobby, a pair of fans recognizes the Canadian band, and rushes over eager to chat. Sure it happens from time to time—but rarely outside their Montreal neighborhood. It isn’t the first instance they’ve been made since flying in to perform at Iceland Airwaves. As drummer Austin Tufts notes, a few days prior, they were hiking through the wilderness on their way to a hot spring when they were recognized. Twice. “It’s freaking me out!” he jokes good-naturedly.

Braids’ album, Deep in the Iris, touches heavily on this idea, of being seen for who you really are. Frontwoman Raphaelle Standall-Preston has never shied away from the truth, but here the lyrics contain an extra pitch of heartbreak—tales objectification, childhood trauma, and longing for acceptance are parceled out alongside jazz beats, skittering electronics, and acoustic piano. But glitchy, warm, and brimming with emotion, Deep in the Iris is a complex song-cycle that can’t be defined by its sadness alone.

We caught up with Braids the day after they performed at Airwaves to discuss summoning creativity, emotion limits, and (naturally) the Iceland’s de facto art queen, Björk. Deep in the Iris is out now on Arbutus/Flemish Eye.

Paste: Deep in the Iris feels a lot different than your previous albums.
Austin Tufts: It’s true. I think every time we go to record, we try and really check in with ourselves on a very deep level. What are we trying to express here and why are we doing it? Every turn, every time we make a new record those reasons change. And those things change. This one, I think all of us wanted to push pretty hard against the icy and darker side of Flourish/Perish. That’s why we ended up going all the way to Arizona to record our album. To get into the woods and just be in the sunlight.
Raphaelle Standell-Preston: It’s completely different from where we grew up. So much sun! It’s the polar opposite of Montreal in the dead of winter. In a box with no windows, recording a record. We have no windows in our studio!
Tufts: The entire process was 11 months of being in our studio. We built our studio from the ground up, it’s nothing super glamorous. It’s a small fifteen-foot by 12-foot box with seven-and-a-half-foot tall ceilings.
Standell-Preston: Is that how big it is? Wow! It’s tiny. That’s two Johns! Our soundman John is six foot seven. [laughs]

Paste: Do you feel like you need to leave home in order to get a better sense of your lives?
Tufts: I don’t know because I’m always doing it.
Standell-Preston: Yeah, that’s our life.
Taylor Smith: Creatively it does help to put yourself in a different environment.

Paste: Looking for why you’re doing something—if you met together and realized you don’t have a reason yet, would you wait longer to record?
Smith: That’s what we’re in right now. Making the choice to take a few months off because we’re not ready. We haven’t done enough exploring since doing the last record to have something new to day. Or a new direction to go in.
Tufts: We’re brimming with creativity, but we haven’t developed enough since the last one to say something new.
Standell-Preston: I don’t know if I’m brimming with creativity.
Tufts: I am. I just want to play piano all day.

Paste: What does it feel like for you when you are brimming with creativity?
Standell-Preston: You just start thinking, anything that’s really simple that you pass by, you start thinking of it as more. And being beautiful. [grabs the lamp hanging above her] I would start thinking about these cylinders. Why they’re black. Your mind just switches gears. But right now I just want to have a nap and get coffee. What am I going to eat? That’s what I’m thinking of right now. That tends to happen for me on tour, I put out so much that I don’t have anything left for myself. You have to fill yourself back up. That’s what I’m going to be spending the next three months doing. Filling back up and reading lot. Creature comforts.
Tufts: For me, as a drummer, I can start feeling beats and rhythms in my body. I can tell that there’s something that wants to come out. I do this all the time, they can attest to that. But sometimes, I can feel it. Music is a very physical thing for me. I can almost feel what my hands would be doing on a piano to replicate what I’m doing in my head. I know what chords I’m going to play. If I sit down at a piano, I know what I want to play. It’s weird—but it’s tactile. You know when you’re at a swimming pool and you’re about to dive off a diving board, you can almost feel what it’s going to feel like to do it before you do it. It’s kind of like that for me. You get this tactile tingling.

Paste: Do you feel like this was a more personal album for you?
Standell-Preston: Yeah. I only talk about my own experiences. I would never want to talk about someone else’s. There’s a lot of lyricists like Julia Holter. One of her last records was inspired by a novel. For me, at this point in my life, couldn’t do that. I can’t talk about a story that I’ve read. I want to talk about things that I really felt. Things that people close to me have felt that I can talk to them about.
Tufts: It feels way more deeply personal record. I think it’s a lot less about searching for the answers and it’s a little more conclusive. It feels like we’re all laying ourselves out there. Not just lyrically but musically. It’s very vulnerable, just trying things. I feel very much like myself.

Paste: Has this always been your creative bent? Using yourself to tell the story?
Standell-Preston: My mom’s a writer and my father went to journalism school. And they always said to write about what you know. Write in your own voice. That is the writing that’s most impactful. That’s something that has always stuck with me. Writing about what you know. I’ve tried writing lyrics about events that I haven’t taken part in. Or political events that I find resonate within me but I haven’t experienced. I tried writing a song about the massacre in the movie theater that happened when Batman was released. I couldn’t sing them with the same emotion. For me, telling my story and my experiences, because I’m so connected to it, other people can connect to it better. I used to have a fear that it was being self-centered. There was an interview that I did where this guy was making it seem like I was self-centered by thinking so much about my story and myself. But I realized over time that the more connected you are to yourself, the more connected you can be to other people. Especially with understanding your story and how you’re feeling.
Tufts: I think that same journalist would never look at the new Björk record and say, “Oh, she’s so self-centered.”
Standell-Preston: I remember Björk had the same insecurities too.

Paste: I found it interesting she canceled her performance at Airwaves because she felt that her material was too personal.
Standell-Preston: Yeah. That’s another interesting side of it. You do have to find how much of it you can give. That’s something that I battle with all the time with connecting with people on stage. Sometimes I’ll give out too much. You have to find that balance of how deep you can go emotionally.

Paste: Are there songs that you just don’t play because you can’t give the amount that the song needs?
Tufts: Not really. There are songs that many people would have that relationship with. But we don’t really shy away from it because our entire day is about preparing for a 40-minute show. You have a lot of time to prepare yourself for that. Whether or not it’s Raphelle bearing those lyrics that are deeply personal and very intense, and singing two feet away from someone’s face about those things. Or whether or not it’s putting the entirety of my body into the performance. We don’t really shy away from those intense things.
Standell-Preston: In Björk’s case, she wrote a record so close to a hard event. Leaving her lover. I don’t know if I could do that, where I’m writing songs to get over it. Some of the harder issues that I wrote about on the record, like slut-shaming and abuse, I’ve had many years to overcome that and I’ve had many therapy sessions. I can look at it with a bit of bird’s-eye view and I don’t feel like that problem is a part of me anymore. But in Björk’s case, that’s raw. Her wound is still open. She hasn’t healed yet. Music can heal, but I think when you’re performing it to people, it can bring it up again because you’re reliving those emotions.
Tufts: I can’t imagine what it must feel like to do that. I have this empathy for her. We’ve all gone through heartbreak. That must have been a big one. I can’t imagine standing in front of thousands of people and trying relive that. When I go on tour, if I’m going through shit, I get to escape that. She has to live in it.
Standell-Preston: I found that on Flourish/Perish when we were touring it without Katie, Katie having left the band. Singing together a song about her leaving, it was really sad some nights; it was really hard some nights. But the lyrics that I wrote on this record, I don’t really delve into sadness. I delve into liberation and overcoming things. It’s empowering for me to sing about it. It’s the emotion I was trying to go for on the record. Freeing. Liberating.

Paste: I was curious listening to it. I couldn’t tell if writing was act of you having worked through it or you currently working through it.
Standell-Preston: It was me working through it in a way where I wanted to be stronger. I wanted to have strength over it.
Tufts: I’ve seen you working through it for years. This isn’t the point where you all of a sudden started writing lyrics about these things. It didn’t feel like you were in it anymore. Something switched and you were writing about these things. When we were tracking, you said you couldn’t wait for it to finally be out and pressed on a physical record. It puts it so much behind you when you’ve risen above all the crazy stuff that happens.

Paste: I think one of the greatest lies in life is that we don’t have themes, that something isn’t a part of you even when you get over it.
Standell-Preston: Yeah. We repeat a lot of the same mistakes over and over again. It just depends on how you look at it. I feel like I overcame a lot. But it’s still within me. Your experiences never really leave you. You just decide a perspective.

Paste: There’s a line that really got to me from “Taste:” “We experience the love that we think we deserve.”
Standell-Preston: That’s actually advice that Austin gave me. We were talking about my mother. My mom had a lot of shitty boyfriends while I was growing up. Austin was like, “We experience the love that we think we desire.” I was like, whoa, that’s totally true. We put ourselves through the kind of relationship we think we desire.
Tufts: That theme hit home for me. The book, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, that was one of the things that his girlfriend said to him. We accept the love we think we desire. That was a beautiful thought. It’s so true. Your self-worth and how you feel about yourself totally defines the love that you search out. I thought that was beautiful.

Paste: We did deep and dark. And we overcame. So on the flipside: what’s making you the happiest right now?
Tufts: Geothermic hot tubs!
Standell-Preston: The hot pools here make me so happy!
Smith: The little touring crew, we have the best time. We get along so well. We rip across the world. Three years. We know how to keep ourselves happy and laughing. Touring is one big joke the whole time.

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