The Canadian trio talk 'Deep In The Iris', their new album for Arbutus Records.
Last spring, Braids found a home in the mountainous terrain of Prescott, Arizona, chopping firewood, cooking, and cohabitating to create a world they'd never experienced. It was part of a road trip that saw Austin Tufts, Raphaelle Standell-Preston, and Taylor Smith leave Canada behind to become nomads in the USA. Across a smattering of locations - Arizona, Vermont, Upstate New York - they stitched together the pieces that would eventually form their third album, 'Deep In The Iris'.
'Deep In The Iris' is a body of work that's rich in texture and meaning. The three leave behind every once of fear and embrace the complexities of writing, the apprehension of honesty, and the willingness to create something histrionically real. Tackling themes of sexism, self-worth, love, desire, and loneliness, 'Deep In the Iris' is one of the most poignant albums to emerge in 2015.
Where was the album recorded and written?
Austin Tufts: "It was a pretty long, continuous process over the course of March through August, but the recording and writing process took place at three different locations. One of them was Prescott, Arizona - we spent seven weeks there. That’s this really interesting area of the desert. They call it the 'High Desert'. It’s a 7,000 ft. elevation where you get pine trees and stuff, but it’s still very arid and dry like most parts of Arizona. We were there for all of March."
Raphaelle Standell-Preston: "[We were] in a little cabin. We would set up in the living room all of our gear and then just live there for seven weeks or so at each location."
Austin Tufts: "Yeah, so the first one was Prescott, Arizona, and then we went to Delancey County in Upstate New York, to a little town called Delhi."
Raphaelle Standell-Preston: "Del-high, not Delhi [laughs]."
Austin Tufts: "Yeah, spelled the exact same way, but said differently. So then we finished the writing and did all of the tracking at our friend's cabin in Putney, Vermont. It’s just a beautifully old architectural house from the late 1800s."
Raphaelle Standell-Preston: "We even got to play our friend Martin’s - it was his house, his grandmother’s. How old was the piano?"
Austin Tufts: "It was one of the first Steinways ever made, so it was about 150 years old."
Raphaelle Standell-Preston: "It even had ebony and ivory keys."
You’ve mentioned on your Facebook page that you were trying to break down barriers, to be raw and vulnerable with this album. What were the points in the record where you feel this best expressed?
Raphaelle Standell-Preston: "I think Miniskirt is the best representation of that, because it’s really raw and it’s very vulnerable. It’s very exposed and it’s very powerful and, well, that for us… we were so happy when we wrote that song. We were so excited about it."
Speaking as a woman, I was very happy you did that - I have to say thank you.
Austin Tufts: "Thank you! Yeah, a big point of that song is being able to put that stuff out into the world. To finally have a song that’s strong enough to back that kind of lyrical content. Like you said, when we were vulnerable, having [topics] like this come out pushed the music in a very different direction. When you have lyrical content of that sort, I think that it demands a lot more from the musical side of things. We spent a long time hashing out the recording, breaking down that song, working on the arrangement so that it could support those kinds of lyrics.
"In court cases when women are sexually assaulted, they’ll be asked, 'What were you wearing?', almost as if they were bringing it on themselves by what they were wearing. That’s what I was drawing on. It’s still something that I’m learning to talk about, because it feels like the lyrics are so much bigger than me." - Raphaelle Standell-Preston, Braids
I find it fascinating that you didn’t shy away from the abrasiveness of the lyrics co-ordinating with the music. That’s what these sexual assault actions are like when you’re a woman walking down the street. It is abrasive and it is raw and it is in your face - we cannot get away from it. How did this song come about?
Raphaelle Standell-Preston: "It was the last song that we wrote. The instrumentation started to be worked on in Delhi?"
Austin Tufts: "Yeah, in New York State."
Raphaelle Standell-Preston: "Right, New York State. The lyrics came out at the very end. We were in Putney, Vermont, and we were scrambling to finish the songs, but we thought, 'Holy shit, this needs to be on the record!' We were working non-stop on it for one to two-and-a-half weeks. It just kind of popped up out of nowhere."
Taylor Smith: "The song structure - the drums and the synths, these monstrous synths - began as a cathartic, aggressive jam between us. As a drummer, I’ve never felt that kind of power come from us as a group. It started as a completely different song. Just all about directness of energy and aggressiveness. We had the PA as loud as it could possibly go. We were just blowing our heads off. It was incredible. It was one of the first times we had gotten that kind of..."
Raphaelle Standell-Preston: "...yeah, that kind of energy."
Taylor Smith: "We were really capturing the essence of what we would channel live, but we were finally doing that in the writing environment. It was a big moment for us where we broke down a lot of personal barriers. In doing so, we took the song to the next location in Putney [Vermont] and workshopped it. And that’s where the lyrics came about."
Was there a specific reason why you chose the miniskirt? What was it about that piece of clothing that spoke to you?
Raphaelle Standell-Preston: "I guess, culturally, the miniskirt is so prominent. Within pornography or with Sailor Moon even, it’s a symbol of sexuality. In court cases when women are sexually assaulted, a lot of the time they’ll be asked, 'What were you wearing?', almost as if they were bringing it on themselves by what they were wearing. That’s what I was drawing on. It’s funny, talking about this I get so nervous. It’s still something that I’m learning to talk about, because it feels like the lyrics are so much bigger than me.
Looking back on the recording process between your previous 'Flourish//Parish' and 'Deep In The Iris', how were they different?
Taylor Smith: "On 'Flourish//Parish', we really wanted to write an album that sounded a certain way and pushed ourselves in that certain direction. Whereas on 'Deep In The Iris', we wanted to have a positive experience with each other, and an album came out of that experience - that was a beautiful bonus to it. Of course, as the process continued and the songs were being written, we began to see where an album could fall. But really, the genesis point of us going on these retreats was that we told each other that if we wrote no songs on this thing then that’s totally fine. Then we’ll have swung and missed, and try again."
Austin Tufts: "We had a purging process for leaving Montreal. When we left, it was the first week of March. We had just lived through the entire winter, or most of the winter. We spent six days driving to Arizona. It’s really far from Montreal."
Raphaelle Standell-Preston: "Really far…"
Austin Tufts: "Constantly driving through the grossest interstate highways all around Middle America. It was really bleak at that time of year; no color or anything. We went to the desert in dreams of sunshine, warmth, and finding an environment that could be conducive to really connecting with one another again. We had a lot of really amazing conversations over the course of that drive."
What was the drive across the US like, and how did that affect the album?
Taylor Smith: "Being able to talk with each other about what our goals were was great. We got in fights on the drive. We argued about what we were trying to get across, what we were trying to accomplish on the trip. We really made a point of being there to make that pilgrimage together - that sense of trying to wash ourselves clean of that previous life. Well, maybe that sounds too big..."
Taylor Smith: "We have a really small recording and practice space in Montreal, but the drive was a sense of departure from that. It enforced that sense of isolation and really tried to remove anything outside of our lives that would get in the way of the creative process that we were embarking upon. So relationships with other people, or stresses about the music industry, stresses about putting out records, stresses about shows anything that gets in the way of diving deep into the creative flow."
"Being able to talk with each other about what our goals were was great. We got in fights on the drive. We argued about what we were trying to get across, what we were trying to accomplish on the trip. We really made a point of being there to make that pilgrimage together." - Taylor Smith, Braids
What was it like coming back to Montreal after all of this?
Austin Tufts: "We actually went back to Upstate New York, and then went on tour to support our friend Wye Oak before going back to Montreal. I remember we went to Phoenix to go see our good friend Baths play. We hadn’t seen anybody play in four weeks by that point, and we were just living in this small town, and we drove to Phoenix. Pulling off of the interstate to the first exit in Phoenix - we were in awe. Everything was moving so fast, cars were ripping around everywhere, tons of people on the street. It was like this must be what it’s like to go to New York City for the first time from a small town. We got to experience that stark difference in page and lifestyle. Coming back to Montreal was like that - people immediately wanted to go and do things, but I needed a minute to readjust."
Arbutus Records released 'Deep In the Iris' on April 27th 2015 (buy).