Braids, a foursome originally from Calgary’s own Western High School, have gone from being Neighborhood Council, a guitar-driven group, to a lush, dreamy pop threesome based out of Montreal and are set to release Flourish//Perish, their follow-up to the critically acclaimed debut. In 2011, Braids released Native Speaker, which landed the group on the radar of music bloggers and critics all around the world, on the Polaris long-list and two Juno Nominations, as well as touring with the likes of Toro Y Moi, Girls, Baths and The Antlers.
It’s been two years since Raphaelle Standell-Preston, Austin Tufts, Taylor Smith and Katie Lee created Native Speaker, and a lot has happened in that time — events that would shape them, break them, rebuild them and create a different direction, ultimately manifested in Flourish//Perish. “Some people were surprised in the direction the record took us in. Like, ‘Whoa, you guys aren’t playing guitars anymore, that’s really different.’ Yeah, of course it is. We were 18 when we created Native Speaker and now we are like 22-23 years old,” says drummer Tufts. “We are very different people, we have grown up a lot and gone through so much. We have experienced a lot between the recording of these two records. Of course we have changed, the sounds changed.” Braids have always wanted to stay true to themselves and, on Flourish//Perish, have focused on the representing the growth they have been through. “We wanted to be true to be really true to where we were at this moment in our lives, not just try to recreate who we used to be.” They were unsure how fans would react to the change in their music style, but embraced what they wanted to create and drop the expectations that everyone had for them. “Why don’t we just embrace a different way of making music and give it a shot.”
Though Katie Lee was involved in the early recordings of the new album, she left the band in early 2012, a move which would completely change the dynamic of the group. “It’s real life,” he explains. “I know a lot of musicians that draw on scenarios that they dream up, they think of, their ideal situations. For us it’s always a snap shot of where we are in our lives. Music is always is a expression of time and expression of the moment.” As for what happen between Lee and the rest of Braids, the new album is saturated with loss, gain, frustration, liberation, heartbreak, growth and growing apart. “When we originally went through this whole thing with Katie, we really wanted to…” Tufts pauses, sensitive to the subject. “It’s so hard for everyone involved. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have an outlet anymore to talk about her side of the story. It’s not really fair to talk about it in interview.” The four of them had been in the band since they were teenagers and, while some may want the dirty details, the bottom line it is a loss of a relationship for everyone involved and that is never easy. “If you really want to know what happen, listen to the record, or take her for coffee and talk about it.” Tufts is sincere by that, for a lot of interviews, the main focus has been about Katie Lee leaving the band, when the focus should be on Flourish//Perish.
Lee’s departure would create a challenge in existing as a unit, but that’s what life is all about: challenges and changes. The album’s title feels fitting considering circumstances — the loss of a creator, band mate and friend, rebuilding yourselves in songwriting, finding new inspirations. “It wasn’t an easy record to record. I think you can hear it that when you listen to it. Hence the title and the very distinct arches on the front and back of the record. The whole Flourish side is more upbeat, pop sensibly. The Perish side is slightly darker and introspective, electronic focused. We never set out to write like that, all the stuff we through, all the emotions we experienced in the recording of it all manifested itself in two distinct halves in the body of work.”
Like all artists that have a successful debut, the pressures of expectation can weigh on a band and all the individuals involved. “It’s a real pressure that musicians face, when your first record is well received: for the first time your essence, your music, your art is being written about, it’s supporting you financially. It’s your dream come true and you’re just crossing your fingers that you don’t fuck it up.” It’s safe to say that by creating a beautiful, honest, personal and moving record, Braids are on the right track to having a long career. Not all bands can overcome what they have been through a turn it around to make it a positive, and they do it so well, it’s hard to think it was a difficult record to write.
Braids will be on tour at Commonwealth (Calgary) on September 14, at the Pawn Shop (Edmonton) on September 15 and at Union Sound Hall (Winnipeg) on September 17.
By Danni BauerAB, Alberta