Braids Montreal band interview

Braids are back with Euphoric Recall, an album about love and green-light energy

An interview with Braids singer Raphaelle Standell-Preston.

Braids are nothing if not resilient. The Calgary-bred, Montreal-based trio are back with their fifth album, Euphoric Recall. This comes after its predecessor, Shadow Offering, was released during the pandemic’s onset, preventing them from being able to properly promote and tour off it. 

Released on April 28 via Secret City and self-produced by the band (with mixing from Damian Taylor, who’s worked with Björk and the Prodigy), Euphoric Recall boasts much of the experimental approach that has long been the band’s trademark, as well as swirling orchestral string flourishes and some more dance-oriented sounds sprinkled in the mix. Across eight songs, the album is as gorgeous and stirring as you’d expect from any Braids project, plus a greater sense of relaxation and artistic spontaneity.

Though Braids leader Raphaelle Standell-Preston has been spending a lot of time in Berlin off and on lately (where she’s been working on her other project, Blue Hawaii), she’s still based in Montreal, with bandmate Taylor Smith living just down the street. Drummer Austin Tufts, meanwhile, has relocated to the other side of the country, in Victoria, B.C.

We spoke with Standell-Preston about the album’s overarching theme of love, its musically freewheeling nature and its big “green-light energy”.

Dave MacIntyre: How are you feeling about the release of your new album, Euphoric Recall?

Raphaelle Standell-Preston: Good! It’s a big, emotional record for me. I’m feeling excited for it. Braids has really changed over the last year and a half. Austin, our drummer, has moved to Victoria to be with his partner. It feels different. He’s not here, and I’ve been spending quite a lot of time in Berlin working on my (other) project, Blue Hawaii. I actually just got back last night. We’re a little bit sprawled out. We spent the majority of our lives always in the same city, seeing each other every single day. That’s really not the case anymore.

I’m really excited. I’m feeling a lot of change in the air. A lot changed with this record, too. This is definitely our most expensive record, our most easygoing record and our most loving record. It’s super hard for me to listen to, because it’s about an individual who I’m no longer with. It was a really, really, really big falling-in-love moment during the pandemic. We were like living in this home together. We were in such a bubble, and we were just so, so, so in love. I’ve really tapped into this emotion — I’ve just never really fallen in love like that, and especially while writing a record. 

It’s hard for me to listen to. It’s hard for me to sing. I’m definitely trying to figure out how I’m going to be able to do these shows. I’m starting to listen to the record gradually, piece by piece. There’s some songs on there that I absolutely can’t listen to. There are a ton of emotions tied up into it. I’m definitely proud of us for going into experimentalism again. I think that was something that took a lot of intention. With Shadow Offering, we had built up a lot of expectation with that record, and had worked on it for four or five years. When it came out during the pandemic, and we weren’t able to tour it, it just kind of passed by. 

We had this real moment of gut-wrenching sadness that we couldn’t tour, because that’s such a big deal for us as a band. So it took a hot second for us to get our excitement and energy back, and for us to dig out of the sad. Then we were like, “Fuck it — let’s just go and experiment.” And we did that. We were just playing again, kind of like our first record. Maybe you can hear that on the record, the ease that is there. It very much feels like a record where you’re painting — just painting and painting away! (laughs)

DM: What have the last three years of the pandemic been like for you?

RSP: It’s hard to answer for the three of us. It was definitely a lot of change, and going through loss. There was a lot of grief. I had a lot of struggles with mental health, especially during the initial lockdown and isolation. I just went into anxiety overload — like, really crippling anxiety. I was unable to work for a bit. Then, I was able to come out of it, and we were able to come out of the loss of having an album that we had worked on for five years feel like it just whisked by. 

I guess I would say (it’s been) challenging and then triumphant in the face of great difficulty. It was like, “Do you want to keep doing this? You have absolutely no money. You’ve sunk all your money into a record that you worked on for five years.” There’s not adequate funding for artists. There also was not adequate funding for the studio, which we owned. We were just hemorrhaging our own money. We had negative, negative, negative dollars. I think that recommitment to finishing this record — or to even making another record during that time period — was very triumphant, and also us saying yes to continuing to make music together, being friends and supporting each other.

DM: What do you think most separates this album from your previous one, Shadow Offering?

RSP: Definitely the experimentalism on it. With the former record, it was very calculated and very precise. It was also co-produced by Chris Walla — thank God he was there. He saved us. I don’t think we’d be a band without him. (laughs) It was a hard record to write, and this one was an easy record to write. The whole intention behind this record was to have it be fun, to have it feel playful and to experiment and genre-bend, or just not even think about genre. Just two completely different mindsets. Even if you’re going in on a sad topic, (the intention was) still having that process of joy in the room exist. We would take breaks whenever things felt too uphill, whereas with the other record, we would just put our heads down and push through.

DM: With the pandemic clashing with the Shadow Offering album rollout, this obviously meant you went a long time without playing live shows. While making Euphoric Recall, you seemed to try to recreate the feeling of euphoria and kinetic energy you get from playing live while in the studio. How did all of that manifest itself?

RSP: While making the record, we held live YouTube events that we coined “WWWORLD TOUR.” We would try to make it feel as intense as a tour would feel. We would stay up for 24 hours and do — I think — seven shows in different time zones, just so we got that feeling of exhaustion and intensity touring gives. That was definitely really helpful in terms of channeling that live energy, and also just being excited and playing together.

(Recapturing our live energy) was definitely not the intention with this record. It’s very much a studio record. On “Retriever,” that was definitely live off the floor. That was one where we needed to rehearse it multiple times and play it live. Then, we did a live capture of it. That, in a sense, was us playing live and really feeling like a band. But the rest of the record was like painting. It wasn’t to feel like we were onstage or something. It was just like painting and layering and having a lot of ease with it.

DM: You wrote, produced, mixed and recorded the album yourselves. The process appears to have been very free-flowing. What I understand is that you decided, “We’re just gonna say yes to any idea that just feels good,” you know?

RSP: Yeah, exactly. It was a lot of green light energy.

DM: At what point did you decide “green light energy” was the way to go?

RSP: I guess near the very beginning! We had just had our (previous) record do a big flopsy. We were feeling really bummed about it. We were like, “Let’s just go. Let’s just be positive.” In Braids, we talk to each other a lot, and things are very intentional. There was a (sense of) “Let’s say yes to each other’s ideas, and let’s be supportive.” So, right from the get-go.

DM: What’s the story behind the album artwork? We see hands hovering over flowers in a garden. What does that kind of imagery represent to you?

RSP: That was actually taken in my backyard. It’s like the world in my hands — I have it all, but I don’t feel anything. That’s the first line in the record, for “Supernova.” The record was very much about getting your hands dirty, and playing. To me, the record feels very earthy. It’s just hands and dirt. It’s also sculpting this world that we’ve created for the record. Especially with us being in isolation, we very much created our own little world in the studio. It’s pretty simple: getting our hands dirty, feeling like a very, very rooted, grounded record.

DM: This album’s central theme appears to be love, and everything that comes from it. What have the last few years taught you about the importance of love?

RSP: I think that lovers can come and go, but love is always present if you allow it to be, and if you let it in. That’s what I’ve experienced over the past three years. Love is the most powerful force in the world, and should absolutely be more utilized by individuals on every level — whether it’s within your relationships, or with how you move through the day, or within politics or anything. I think love as an action is the best thing in the universe. The fact that human beings can experience it, I think that’s overlooked too often.

DM: Now that you’ve had so many years since you’ve moved to Montreal to look back on, how much do you think moving from Calgary to Montreal has opened doors for you and for Braids in ways staying home wouldn’t have?

RSP: I think that we’d just be starved for culture if we had stayed in Calgary. I also think with where Calgary’s located geographically, it’s a difficult place to have a career progress from, and to also have more input coming in culturally. Living in Montreal, I think, was hugely essential for us as a band and as creators. When we came here, there was such a scene. I’m sure you remember it — the Arbutus scene at the time, with Grimes; Mac DeMarco; Pop Winds; my other project Blue Hawaii, which I’m still doing; TOPS — or Silly Kissers, who are now TOPS. They’re still very good friends of mine. 

There was so much going on. It was crazy. There’s so much to see and to learn from, and people just talking to each other about their art, as opposed to it being insular or in a bubble. That’s definitely something that I miss. I don’t really know of that existing in Montreal currently. I’m sure that it is, but all of my friends who I originally met in Montreal are all over the world right now. I think there’s definitely a burgeoning DJ scene here — especially in the franco community with Pascale Project and Esther Côté — that’s happening right now. But in terms of indie rock, I don’t really know what’s going down.

DM: What do you think Euphoric Recall says about where the three of you are at in your lives and careers?

RSP: It’s very much like we’re working out how to be geographically apart, and to still feel connected. But I think this record is a testament to our commitment to staying curious with one another, even while things are shifting within the dynamic, in a way that is more suitable for everybody as individuals now.

DM: What inspired this album musically in ways that fans might not expect? Because I definitely hear a dancier groove to this album at times, like on “Evolution,” for example.

RSP: Austin and Taylor are huge, huge Caribou fans. That was definitely a big intention for Austin with “Evolution” — he really wanted something dancey on the record. I had just finished writing a record with Blue Hawaii that has been shelved, that nobody knows about! (laughs) I don’t know if we’ll release it. I had just finished that record — that’s very dancey. Also, the majority of the music I listen to is dance music. Taylor’s super obsessed with this artist called Barker. Taylor and I specifically really, really like dance and house music. I’m a huge fan of gabber and techno. 

For me, a big influence was actually Young Thug. Beautiful Thugger Girls is a super important record for me. Gunna’s Drip or Drown 2, as well. There’s also a constant obsession from all of us with anything from Burial and Caribou, and Marie Davidson.

DM: On the track “Retriever,” you and Austin duet for the first time. What did that teach you about the dynamic of working with each other that you didn’t already know, even though you’ve known each other and played music together for years and years?

RSP: We’ve sung together a lot. He’s always singing onstage. But I don’t think we’d ever recorded vocals at the same time. Austin has a ridiculously louder voice than I do — it’s amazing, he has pipes! (laughs) I think it would be nice to sing more with Austin. It was really nice for him to step into that role. We definitely channeled Animal Collective for that one. We sing a lot together, but we recorded on the same mic at the same time. We felt like one of the Beach Boys, or something.

DM: What does Braids have planned for the remainder of 2023?

RSP: We have some string shows coming up, which we’re really excited about. It’ll be Braids in its most fully realized version. We’re going to also have very beautiful visuals with it from Nima Navab, who we’ve been working with for the moving visuals of this project. We have that in some major market cities. Then we’re hopefully getting out on the road in late fall/early winter for a full North American tour. If we can afford it, we’ll go over to the U.K. and maybe (mainland) Europe, we’ll see. That’s on the horizon for us. Hopefully recording a little bit more music together, if we can find the time to all come together in Montreal from different corners of the world. ■

Braids plays SAT (1201 St-Laurent) with opener Tess Roby on Friday, June 2, 8 p.m., $31.74

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