Megan James is flipping through an oversize coffee-table book filled with lush images of vampires, angels and demons. A fan gave the book to the Purity Ring vocalist and her bandmate Corin Roddick after a show in Chicago, and she’s fallen in love with it.
“That’s scary stuff,” says a member of the Purity Ring road crew who has stopped by to take a look.
“Isn’t this one nice? It’s beautiful,” says James.
It seems fitting that James likes the photos -- they exude the same mix of beauty, desire, freakiness and menace that permeates the songs on the Edmonton-based band’s stellar debut album, "Shrines," which made the Polaris Prize longlist of the 40 best Canadian albums.
According to James, though, that sexy/scary vibe wasn’t something she was aware of until the band started doing shows and hearing feedback from fans.
“Someone asked me if one of my songs was about a character in Dracula and I was like no, I’ve never read that book,” laughs James. “Sometimes people relate [the music] to not what I would at all. It’s interesting.”
James’ lyrics in songs like the SOCAN Music Prize-nominated “Fineshrines,” as well as Lofticries,” “Obedear” and “Belispeak” are cryptic, laced with breathy references to thighs, sternums, eyelids, bellies and fractured skulls. She says she’s not deliberately trying to be mysterious, it’s just the way she expresses herself.
“It’s journal entries,” says James. “That’s the way I release my energy, the way that I think about a situation, I write in metaphors. And I like bodies a lot. When I draw, I draw people and I don’t know, I like how they relate to nature or the rest of the world.”
Interview continues after video slideshow
Much of the distinctive Purity Ring aesthetic is about the music, and the trippy, stuttering, minor-key production courtesy of Roddick. He says the band’s sound happened organically in the studio.
“It didn’t come from a planned place, it’s just sort of what happens when Megan and I come together,” says Roddick. “Most the record, it felt like we were making it in a bubble, no one heard anything and we didn’t know how it would be perceived and what people would get out of it. We didn’t even know what we were getting out of it, I guess. We were just trying to make music that we wanted to listen to.”
The band does have a more playful side, too. They did an ace cover of Soulja Boy’s "Grammy," which came about because Roddick is a long-time fan.
“I always loved his music, I kind of got Megan into it,” says Roddick. “We had been thinking about doing a cover but couldn’t think of the right song and when Megan heard the song, she said, ‘That’s it.’”
“It’s the lyrics, they are excellent lyrics for what he’s trying to say,” says James. “It’s sort of egotistical but also, like, this is bullshit.”
Purity Ring has been getting some love from the hip-hop world lately. Virginia rapper Angel Haze did a remix of “Lofticries” and Detroit superstar-in-the-making Danny Brown did a verse on a “Belispeak” remix. The band’s now working with Brown on a song for his forthcoming album. James even forayed into dancehall with a verse on Dre Skull’s awesome track “First Time,” with Jamaican dancehall icon Popcaan.
Roddick says it’s feels “really satisfying” to be in demand beyond the indie music scene.
“It feels like we’re breaking through to that side a little bit, cause we’re also very much in the pop world but having a bit of that crossover,” says Roddick, who hopes to get into producing hip hop artists.
“It’s nice to know there’s different types of people listening, it’s not just one market,” adds James.
Purity Ring will be touring throughout the summer with their unique stage set-up. The duo uses a custom-designed lighting rig that features “pods” suspended around the stage. The pods light up in response to Roddick and James’ performance, creating an intimate and otherworldly ambiance.
“Before we started playing shows, we had six songs and we thought, how should we do this live show?” says James. “I hadn’t performed a lot and it was, and still is, a matter of us being comfortable on stage and transforming the room so we feel it’s the same every night. I wanted to make it feel like home.”
James and Roddick say they plan to start recording a new album at the end of festival season in September. But will the new music have that signature Purity Ring sound, or something else?
“Hopefully it will have a different sound, but…” Roddick laughs.
“We don’t know yet,” says James.
“Yeah, we have to start it before we can really claim what it sounds like,” says Roddick.
One thing they do know is that the visual component of their performances will be a big part of planning their next album, says Roddick.
“We have big aspirations,” he says, “And we’re starting to think about them now.”
Purity Ring's "Fineshrine" is one of five songs nominated for the 2013 SOCAN Songwriting Prize, honouring the best independent music by Canadian songwriters as voted by the public. Once voting closes on July 3rd, $5,000 prizes are awarded to the winning songwriters as well as a $3000 gift certificate from Roland and a Les Paul Studio guitar with Min-ETune from Gibson. All eligible voters are entered into a random draw for an iPad and Roland headphones, and recipients are announced after voting ends.