Megan James from Purity Ring: “Power to girls in music”
If somebody asks you to interview Megan from Purity Ring you say yes, even if it’s at 8am on a Monday morning when you’re completely delirious and she – being in Bristol, UK where it’s 11:30pm – is a little bit drunk. Given the rapid success of Purity Ring’s first album Shrines and the hype surrounding their upcoming Australian tour in July (a second Melbourne show has been added due to demand) the strange hour is just a symptom of her success.
Along with her band mate Corin Roddick, Megan has recently released a new album called Another Eternity which seeks to further develop the sound that made them so popular into something cleaner, crisper and, some would say, easier to digest. While critics have alleged the album moves further into ‘pop’ territory fans of the band (myself included) are enthusiastic about the way Purity Ring have grown since the release of Shrines in 2012.
So you are coming to Australia in July what’s on the schedule before you get here?
I think we’re doing a few more festivals than are announced so far in the US this summer but basically we’re just about finished the European/ UK tour and then we go to the US and do like forty-five dates there. We just announced another show in London in October which we will tour around– basically we’re touring for the next two years probably.
Did you have a big break between the albums though? Did you get a lot of down time?
Yeah, we took like a year off where we didn’t write or tour, that was nice.
Yeah, it’s not always great to take a lot of time off because we definitely felt out of it when we started up again. But yeah, it was nice to have the time because Shrines was a total surprise in a lot of ways.
Yeah, just to take stock of it all.
Before we talk about the new album I’m actually interesting in finding out how you really got started? What made you decide to make Shrines?
We didn’t really decide to make an album, we made a song. Corin had just started learning to produce while he was on tour with Born Gold – who are on tour with us right now and they will be in the States as well – but yeah, me and Corin used to be in his live show so we’d been mutual friends for a long time because we were both in the same city and both play music.
[Corin] had started to learn how to produce and asked if I was interested in singing. We were both in Edmonton for Christmas and wrote ‘Ungirthed’ and then put it out and it went really well so we were like ‘Oh we should write another one’ and then the second one went really well so we just kept going and then quickly after that we were like ‘We should make an album, we should tour’ and that pretty quickly turned into making an album because the first two songs were so successful and in a way we could tour. We both always wanted to do that I think.
Because Shrines was so popular was that a really fast process and how did you deal with feeling like ‘oh God we’re famous, how did this happen?’
I actually don’t really think of us that way but at the same time I think that everyday: just like ‘how did this happen?’ I can look back and try to guess how it actually happened but you never really know so it always feels like such a fluke. I think when we were doing the first Shrines tours it was just a whirlwind and it was something we had to do. There wasn’t that much time to even enjoy it, I think it was like ‘Okay now we gotta do this’ and there wasn’t much time to think about what it meant to someone who wasn’t in the band we just functioned in the way we had to at the time to get it finished and tour.
What about the songs you did with Danny Brown? How did that come about?
That was Twitter! He got at us on Twitter and then we wrote back and just arranged this trade where he would do ‘Belispeak’ for us and then we would do a song on his new album which ended up being Old. And we obviously had an appreciation for one another and so it made sense.
What about doing the Lady Gaga remix, how did that happen?
That was not on Twitter. It wasn’t a message exchange but stuff like that comes up, infrequently, but it comes up and I just think Lady Gaga is someone that it totally worth doing a remix for and she’s rad and respectable she’s done a lot of amazing things so yeah that was a worthwhile sensible thing to do too.
Moving on to Another Eternity I guess the main thing I’ve been reading is that it’s ‘different’ and the words ‘more mainstream’ have been used. Personally I loved Shrines and when ‘Push Pull’ came through my Facebook feed I knew it was different but I’m not sure whether mainstream is necessarily the word. Could you describe how this is different to the first album?
Honestly that’s really hard for me to say because as far as I’m concerned we are the same band and we made something that we wanted to make based on ourselves and based on not making the same thing twice and based on trying to progress. So it’s definitely a critical voice that is saying it sounds mainstream. I would never say that about any band. I think people think Another Eternity sounds mainstream because it sounds produced. A huge focus for us in the writing process was writing songs instead of ‘whatever happened when it happened’. A lot of Shrines I think now was a fluke. We didn’t communicate a lot about the things we were trying to do or go for and honestly I don’t think we could make it again even if we wanted to – we definitely don’t though – but yeah with Shrines– there’s so much up against the word mainstream like people are afraid of that.
Well I guess what you said about it being more produced is definitely true and I don’t think that that’s a bad thing.
No and we love how it sounds and we wanted the vocals to be louder and we wanted the production to be cleaner and it’s like– we could have made any of the Shrines songs with louder vocals and cleaner production and it would sound more like Another Eternity and people probably would have said that was mainstream. So to me that doesn’t really mean anything because it’s like, ‘well are you listening to the song?’ Or plural: the songs. It just tells me that people are listening to how it sounds rather than what it is.
It was written quite differently too; with Shrines didn’t you do it by correspondence?
So with Another Enternity you were actually together for the whole process.
We would get together for a week of every month of the year and write together so we didn’t do every little bit of it together but we would come together with our ideas and talk about how we were going to formulate and make the songs. So yeah, there’s been a lot more communication, which I think is normal for most bands.
Was there any scary second album pressure that you had to deal with or did you just approach it as a completely new thing and didn’t think about that?
Before we wrote the first song there was. There was a scary sort of diving board or cliff to jump off of where we didn’t know what we wanted to make and it was hard to talk about. I think the most comfortable place for both of us is to just be throwing stuff out and experimenting so that pressure was definitely there in the beginning but it was before we had even started then once we wrote the first song it was like ‘oh okay so this is our natural state we just write and see what happens’ and it’s relaxing and easy and satisfying and that’s what we’re supposed to do and get out of this so it went away quickly but it definitely had a place but not in the writing process, thankfully.
I’ve also really wanted to talk to you about your lyrics because reviewers always talk about them and I’ve definitely seen the word ‘impenetrable’ used. My own experience is when I’m singing along to one of the songs and then I think to myself ‘What the fuck am I saying?’
Haha that’s a good trick! They don’t change much from the time I write them the first time to when they get put into a song. For example all of the Shrines songs are pretty much direct pieces from my journals. I keep a journal and it’s not really like ‘dear diary’ it’s more poems and drawings. So I feel like they start poetically then end up in songs rather than me planning to have people sing along to fucked up words (haha) and they’re actually about sort of terrifying experiences or something, not all of them are but yeah I think it’s more of a subconscious or unconscious process than it ends up seeming when it is a song.
How about when you sit down to write it, or when you’re putting it together do you decide I’m gonna write about this and then you pick out the things which match that topic or is the writing in the journal coming to a conclusion about what you’re going to write about?
It’s like me flipping through books thinking ‘What will fit into this track’ and then sometimes it’s listening to the track and just singing whatever comes to mind and that ends up being it. ‘Bodyache’ was like that, the track wasn’t actually a track yet but Corin had written the harp chords so I put them on repeat in the studio for like three hours and sang whatever melody and whatever words so it’s kind of therapeutic and singing whatever comes out is what I want to have sung about but I’m not really aware of it. It’s actually a really satisfying process for me. I can’t plan and be satisfied in the end. I usually end up disappointed if I plan something.
In the past you’ve talked about being a feminist and being open to the feminine in your song writing, which is great and I think is really encouraging for women wanting to get into music, but you said to DIY Magazine “I’m definitely a feminist, I’d have to be or I would lose too much”, can you tell me a little bit about what that meant?
Well I mean, definitively the way I exist and how I feel I sit in my world is and has to be feminist, because I am a woman, and I am aware of the way the industry exists around me and I’m aware of how I’m treated, and it’s more like awareness is the reason I’m a feminist. I can’t ignore what goes on around me and how I’m treated whether it be positively or negatively because of my gender. I think it’s such a loaded question so I’m sorry if I’m being vague and I’m also really happy to talk about it but there is just so much to say… I’m definitely aware of what it means to be a female in the music industry, let alone in a boy/ girl electronic band where the boy does the producing and I do the singing.
Like a visible situation?
It looks like a divide but it’s like I know there isn’t actually that much of a divide so I feel like it’s my duty to be like, yes, I depend on Corin to have this band exist, but he’s just as dependent on me, which isn’t always clear because of how the world works, and that’s a very simple way of putting it but when it comes down to it that is, like, the reason I have to make sure that I am more than just ‘the voice’ in the band but also a voice that is present otherwise, and it comes down to the difference between what you are in a band and what you are in the public eye. Just because that’s important for other women or girls to see who think about making music.
I would support 100% anyone who already does make music or wants to and who feels like they can’t because it’s just them or they don’t have help or something and I have felt that before just because of my position in society and I strive to get away from that and I know it’s not necessarily how I exist but it’s something I have to think about because if I didn’t it would take over.
Finally, I just wanted to ask you about your influences and whether there are any women in your field who you think are just killing it at the moment?
There are so many female musicians and producers coming up that come to mind and that have been getting so much deserved attention and that’s one of the most exciting things about music right now. There’s always been women in music throughout history like Joni Mitchell and Barbara Streisand and Kate Bush. People who have struggled to exist in the music industry and don’t have as much credit or the credit was always given to somebody else and I feel like that has always happened, and it still happens today, but I think it’s shifting and women are actually getting credit for what they do.
And I believe in credit being given where it’s due in a non gendered way but it’s just exciting now having like– Empress Of is a female producer that does everything herself and is amazing and there was that interview with Bjork a while back that I think Jess Hopper did and it’s so wonderful to hear someone female who’s been making music for 20+ years saying, yeah, there have been times when I didn’t do anything about other people getting credit but I have to because power to girls in music and people who wanna make music and feel like it’s too scary or something. It’s just an exciting time for people being called out for not getting what they deserve and I think that’s really exciting.