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Desert landscapes inspire Calgary art-pop band

By Jason Herring, June 4 2015 —

Montreal-based art-pop band Braids underwent a lot of change before constructing their new album, Deep in the Iris. After parting ways with keyboardist Katie Lee during recording sessions for their previous record, Flourish//Perish, the group altered their approach to writing and creating music.

And it worked. Braids, now a trio consisting of Raphaelle Standell-Preston, Austin Tufts and Taylor Smith, are crafting music with more energy and warmth than ever before, a huge contrast from the cold electronic sound of their previous albums. Vocalist Standell-Preston credits the shift in style to a change in atmosphere.

“Our second album was done in our windowless garage in Montreal in the dead of winter, and we just needed something completely different,” she says. “We were just becoming really interested in the idea of environment impacting art and impacting one’s general feelings.”

Standell-Preston says the desire for a more welcoming environment than the Canadian winter prompted the band to take to the desert for early recording sessions. The band’s new surroundings gave them freedom to construct Deep in the Iris at their own pace.

“We went to Preston, Arizona because we wanted a vast amount of space and we wanted to record somewhere that we could wake up in the morning and just decide whether or not we wanted to record,” Standell-Preston says. “We wanted to eat and breathe the album we were making.”

Though Braids are now based in Montreal, the band originated in Calgary and formed when the members were students at Western Canada High School in 2006. Standell-Preston says the fact that the group stayed together after high school should prove to fans they aren’t going anywhere.

“We’ve gone through so much shit together, and the fact that we’re still a band after parting ways with a member is such a surprise to me,” she says. “I think it just shows our staying power and dedication as a band.”

Braids are bringing their new album Deep in the Iris to MacEwan Hall on June 12. // Landon Speers

Braids are bringing their new album Deep in the Iris to MacEwan Hall on June 12. // Landon Speers

When Braids toured following the release of their previous album, the group ran into difficulties performing songs live. They had issues bringing the dominantly electronic sound of the record to stage, as well as dealing with the sudden departure of one of their members.

But that hasn’t been a problem with this tour. Songs on Deep in the Iris translate fluidly to a live setting. Standell-Preston says it’s nice to get back behind traditional instruments and play a show where the band can “be open and be free on stage.”

In addition to the more liberated sound of Deep in the Iris, the record also sees Standell-Preston stepping forward lyrically and writing personal, narrative-driven songs. This is most apparent on their single, “Miniskirt,” an emotional song that offers harsh criticism of double-standards relating to sex. Standell-Preston says moving towards personal lyricism felt natural on the record.

“I just found myself more drawn to that narrative approach. I was trying to write poems, and I think that my lyrics can stand on their own as poetry, if you were to just read it,” she says.

The lyricism is also reminiscent of iconic Canadian musicians Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell, two artists Standell-Preston cites as influences on her songwriting.

Braids will open for Purity Ring at Macewan Hall on Friday, June 12 at 7:00 p.m. Tickets can be bought online at unionevents.com.

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