Braids are practically begging to become more than a cult concern in this country and are a band that deserve greater attention than they are currently getting. Beautiful first album Native Speaker was a dream pop record with some wonderful embellishments and was good enough to make the shortlist of 10 for 2011 Polaris Music Prize. 2013’s Flourish//Perish was a brave and dense album of vocally led progressive electronica. This year’s Deep In The Iris is a hit filled combination of the band’s two sides, complete with ‘Miniskirt’ a feminist anthem to rival the best of them.
Braids play Green Door Store on Tuesday 1 December – tickets here – so we spoke to drummer Austin Tufts about all things Canada, their phenomenal work rate, their wonderful new album Deep In The Iris and the track ‘Miniskirt’.
You’re a really tough band to categorise, we quite like ‘experimental art-pop’, how do you categorise yourself?
I would say that most commonly we are faced with categorizing ourselves at boarder crossings between countries. The boarder guards always want to know. For simplicity sake and for fear of getting denied entry, we are a three-piece rock band. But for people with more time on their hands I would say that experimental art-pop works quite well.
You’ve been playing together since school, how do you think this contributes to your band dynamic? You must be really sure of your relationships with each other now?
Our friendships and musical relationships strengthen with every year we spend together. I think the fact that this band was started as a collection of friends who set out to collaborate and experiment with one another is what has kept us together for eight years. It’s more than just skilled musicians put in a room together to play songs. We live and breath this music together daily.
Your first album Native Speaker made the Polaris Prize (the Canadian equivalent to The Mercury) shortlist of 10, looking back was that a help or hindrance to your development as a band?
Definitely a help. The Polaris prize turns a lot of heads in Canada and we are happy and honoured to be continuously supported by them. The Arcade Fire won in 2011 when Native Speaker was nominated and let’s be serious that’s a damn good album.
You made a move from Calgary to Montreal early in your career, why was that? When we think of Calgary, we think of Women and latterly Viet Cong, is there much else going on there? Are you still in touch with bands you know from your time there?
Calgary is a very special place with a very tight knit music community. Lots of support and love for everyone. That being said, it’s small and very isolated. We all moved to Montreal to go to university as well as because of its compelling music scene. Bands like The Arcade Fire, Besnard Lakes, Wolf Parade and Islands were getting a lot of recognition at the time so it was an exciting thing for us to move there. When we arrived though, we discovered a very different scene to the one that was on international display. All those bands were touring all the time and had either moved away or weren’t really playing around town much anymore. That’s when we started hanging out with Seb Cowan and all of the amazing musicians and artists that went on to become Arbutus Records. Grimes, Majical Cloudz, TOPS, Sean Nicholas Savage, Doldrums and Blue Hawaii to name a few.
When we were growing up there were some incredible bands in Calgary. Chad Vangaalen, Women, Azeda Booth, Laura Leaf. Oh man Azeda Booth, honestly the most incredible hidden gem of a band in the whole world. Their album In Flesh Tones is still one of my most played records of all time.
Many of the friends we made back then are still our closest buds.
(BN Note: Chad Van Gaalen, who runs Flemish Eye, a label that has had a hand in each of Braids’ releases, remains one of the most underrated musicians in Canada for our money. As a producer he worked on both Women albums and was described as having a big influence on their unique sound. As a performer he releases delights such as this and this.)
Canadian music is in rude health at the moment, where do you think that you fit in to this? Why do you think there’s such a healthy underground scene? Have the global successes of Grimes or Arcade Fire filtered down to more people seeing live music?
Canadian music is absolutely on fire right now. I think that the scene we have been cultivating for years is ripening and many of the brilliant artists are seeing larger recognition. I get asked this question quite often these days. I think that there are two big contributing factors at play here. One is government funding that allows artists to make left of centre music and still be able to pay rent. Secondly, there is a brutal winter for half the year and honestly the best way to make it through is shacking up and hashing out songs.
Canadians love to go see music. Especially Canadian music, haha. Lots of National pride going on there.
We’ve caught wind over here of the progress of the divisive bill C-51 through Canadian Parliament (essentially a Canadian patriot act) Do you think this flies in the face of the Canada you see and how the country is perceived abroad?
I honestly feel that the Canada many Canadians are proud of has been quietly and strategically dismembered by the Harper Government. This includes implementation of bills such as C-51. The bill is unjust and unconstitutional and I hope that the new liberal government does what they’ve promised and basically dismantle the bill. I am optimistic that Trudeau’s government will take steps in the right direction to return our country to be a global leader in environmental policy, arts funding, freedom of speech/association and being a safe and transparent place to live.
Three albums in four years, is quite a work rate – have you had time off? Is there a plan for each record or does it come naturally?
Since Native Speaker came out four years ago we haven’t taken more time apart than annual Christmas Holidays. It’s been intense and amazing all at once. Continuing straight up to the release of Deep in the Iris we have always felt a burn inside us to keep working on new music, keep sharing it and keep touring. There is always lots of thought that goes into planning the making and releasing of an album which means we are almost constantly planning our lives 12-18 months in advance. After this tour finishes in early December though, we are all going to take four months of just personal development time. Exploring our own music and lives independently. We all feel very proud of our latest record and want to take some time to live new experiences, explore new sounds and styles, see new cities and come back together in the spring such that we don’t repeat ourselves. Regurgitating the same ideas and pulling from the same experience as we did on Deep In The Iris is not something we are excited about. We want to grow before starting the next full length.
What was behind the decision to record Deep In The Iris in the States, we assume the Arizona desert couldn’t be more different from Montreal?
That’s largely it really. We needed a change of pace. We have a studio space in Montreal that we make lots of our music in but the thought of making another album in a small windowless box in the winter was very uninspiring. Expansive space and sunlight were what we were after and the best place to go for that in March is Arizona. Its such a beautiful place with very exciting landscapes.
Released in April, you’ve had sometime to live with the album, how happy are you with it and the response to the tracks live?
This is the first time that I’ve been been seven months into a release and still been totally stoked about it. That’s largely in part because we made a point of having fun making this album. The last two records were long and intense recording periods, so this time we needed to actually enjoy the process more.
Deep in the Iris is by far the funnest album to play live. It’s so aggressive and intense and cathartic. We have made a point of leaving lots of space for improvisation and expansion in the set so it’s still a joy to play these songs after 100 shows. Definitively positive feedback about the live show these days which is very rewarding for us.
Were there any particular influences with Deep In The Iris? What sort of things were you listening around the time you recorded it?
Biggest influences were nature and Joni Mitchell
You’ve got a history of trying out brand new non-recorded stuff live, will there be any surprises for the Brighton show?
We’ve been playing a brand new song called ‘Companion’ live this past month or two. Its a very emotional song for us and people so far have been very receptive. Also dipped into our back catalogue for the first time ever and have re-imagined ‘Plath Heart’ from Native Speaker.
You play the ATP Nightmare Before Christmas event with a really exciting bill just before arriving in Brighton, how did that come about, and are there any acts you are especially excited about seeing there?
Such a great festival this year. I’m most excited to see Viet Cong, Empty Set, Andy Stott, Holly Herndon and Blank Mass.
ATP has been friends of ours for years. They do all of our London shows and have been kind enough to have us at a few of their festivals in the past. They are always amazing.
You’ve been regular visitors to Brighton since first coming here for The Great Escape in 2011 (playing at Horatio’s!) Any particular memories of the city?
Fondest – getting drunk by a fire on the beach with Mike Wallace from Viet Cong.
Worst – Parking a sprinter van
The centrepiece of the new album is undoubtedly ‘Miniskirt’. Did you realise what a powerful song that was as soon as it was written or did it take sometime to sink in? What’s the reaction been to it live? Is it a subject matter you plan to return to in such stark terms again?
We all knew that it was something special when we were working on it. As soon as I heard the lyrics through the crazy synths I was like “WOW Raph (singer Raphaelle Standell-Preston) people need to hear these words”. That’s what lead to such minimal instrumentation in the front half of the song.
It’s been wonderful to see such a positive response from people about that song. It’s the first time we’ve gotten so much fan mail and personal messages about how one of our songs has impacted people lives.
Live, it’s a beast of a song, asking to be tamed. We usually don’t tame it though.
What does the future hold for Braids. Are you already writing album four?
First some much needed rest. But yes, new music is in the works. It’s early days, and we all want to first take some time to discover something new to say, and a new direction to strive for.