Words: Rob Leedham | Photos: Mike Massaro
“In hindsight, it was like starting a new band.” Megan James is reminiscing over Another Eternity. An album that Purity Ring recorded together in the same room. Amazing, right? For those of you not still reeling in shock, it’s time to get acquainted with the Canadian duo. Megan and her bandmate, Corin Roddick, joined forces in 2010 while living 750 miles apart. They were a bedroom project that blew up via Tumblr, created a whole record over email and now count Jon Hopkins and Danny Brown amongst their biggest fans. None of this was supposed to happen.
“Even when we started Purity Ring we hardly knew each other,” explains Corin. The pair had played in the same band before, Gobble Gobble, but were more acquaintances than anything else. When it came to piecing together their debut album, Shrines, Corin provided the fizzing, hip-hop indebted electronica and Megan her esoteric coo. There was next-to-no collaboration between the two members with each of their parts being ring-fenced from the other’s interference.
“If I knew I’d be building a career with Corin when we first met. I’d be like, ‘What the fuck?’” reflects James. “It would make zero sense.” And yet genre-hopping pop has brought the pair together. They now live down the street from each other in Los Angeles and have spent the past year learning how to function in unison.
Although Purity Ring formed while living in Halifax and Montreal, both members grew up in Edmonton, Alberta – a mid-sized city with not much of an arts scene. It’s the kind of place where everyone in a band gravitates towards the same hubbub, and it was here that Megan and Corin returned to throughout last year when creating the bulk of their second LP. Instead of recording late at night while bathed in LCD screen light, the band went so far as to hire out a studio for themselves. Fear not, they haven’t completely changed.
“There were piles of vintage gear and a giant mixing board that I’d just set my laptop on top of and we’d use one mic,” recalls Corin. In truth, Another Eternity doesn’t sound all that different from Shrines. The chopped vocals, cataclysmic synth lines and trigger finger percussion you’d associate with Purity Ring are all present and correct. What separates the two records is a sense of cohesion. You can hear it in the new single ‘begin again’, where Megan’s esoteric lyrics are firmly handed centre stage amidst a thunderous swirl of bass and sampled piano. There’s no more fighting to be heard amidst the tumult, although this took took some time to perfect.
“There was a lot more communicating and that’s always a process for everybody,”says Megan. “Especially when it’s about something that you feel is yours.But we both know that Purity Ring wouldn’t exist without each other.” When writing the album, Corin would mostly fly down from Montreal for a week to visit James at home in Edmonton. Neither of the pair wrote whole tracks for their sessions, instead they brought fragments that could be completed together. Their only real goal was to not make a Shrines II.
When we wrote ‘bodyache’ there was a big moment where I was like, ‘Oh wow. This is what I’ve been trying to do all along.’
“Some songs started with lyrics or vocal melodies,” says Roddick. “Some songs started with a loop that I would have or a melody, and a lot of songs went through a transformation along the way.” Album opener ‘heartsigh’ is symbolic of this process. Written during Another Eternity’s very first sessions, its Carly Rae Jepsen-meets-Rustie convulsions only came together when the record was due to be submitted to 4AD – about twelve or so months after work had started on the song. If you hadn’t guessed already, Roddick is a perfectionist. “We tried twenty different choruses,I changed the music around countless times and it only came together at the very last minute,” he says.
As much as Purity Ring have changed, Megan’s lyrics remain an eternal fascination. Perennially uncluttered with their emphasis placed on lingering syllables, they flit unsettlingly between the earthly and metaphysical. “Watching me is like watching a fire take your eyes from you,” she sings on the slinking kiss off ‘repetition’. As though true love and torture are one and the same thing.
Megan would pluck her lyrics for Shrines from recent journal entries, lending them an air of confessional squalor. Body parts would collide and she’d unpick the wreckage. Since then the sometime designer, has grown in confidence and now publishes delectably twisted poetry to Purity Ring’s blog. “If I cut off the tips of my fingers / Maybe I’d see what ran through me,” she wrote in an entry last August.
Press Megan on her often brutal outpourings and she’s hesitant to elaborate. Even her bandmate Roddick is still in the dark as to what their songs actually mean. The two never talk about lyrics, only atmosphere. “Obviously you can tell that I struggle to be happy all the time, but that’s a part of my life that I appreciate,” explains Megan. While Purity Ring revel in chaos and misfortune, the duo themselves have never been closer. They’re audibly excited about Another Eternity, an album that’s seen their relationship evolve well beyond coexistence. Corin is particularly enamoured with the band’s step up from Shrines. Not least on the dizzying ‘bodyache’, a booming, theatrical track that nails the timbre ‘Ungirthed’ was aiming for four years ago. “At the time I was happy with what I did,” he explains. “But when we wrote ‘bodyache’ there was a big moment where I was like, ‘Oh wow. This is what I’ve been trying to do all along.’”
That moment had been a long time coming for Purity Ring, but listen to their story and you feel it was inevitable from the moment they first met. Months before this Corin had been blown away by his future bandmate when he stumbled upon her playing piano at a local bar. “I was like, ‘Woah! Who’s that person with the amazing voice? What’s going on?’” he recalls. “At that moment I thought she was someone I’d like to work with 100 percent.” When they finally came face-to-face, Megan had exactly the same reaction. “My boyfriend was looking for a drummer for his band in Edmonton,” she remembers. “Corin tried out and I was like, ‘Woah! He’s 15 this is amazing.’ I thought he was this phenomenal drummer, like a prodigy.” How Purity Ring took so long to become friends is beyond us. Listen to Another Eternity and you’ll be left with one thought: better late than never.