As the crowd dwindles and their conversations wind away, Raphaelle Standell-Preston of the Montreal-based BRAIDS joins me in a late night, post-show chat at Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco to talk about the weather and riding on the backs of little motorcycles.
Did you guys know what you wanted to sound like when you first started out?
No. No idea, because we started when we were 16 or 17. And so at that time, we were just experimenting. We were still in high school. We had no idea that we wanted to be musicians. We had no idea that we wanted to be in a band seriously. We just wanted to play music together, and I don’t even know why we wanted to play music together. Like when I look back at it, it just felt like everything was aligning towards us being a band at that point, but for reasons I don’t recall or know why. So yeah, I think just because we were kids, we just we had no concept of what genre we wanted to be or anything really. We were just trying to learn to play our instruments.
What kind of music did you play back then?
A lot more like folk-pop. I wrote most of the songs back then on my acoustic guitar, and they were you know, funny haha. Very, very, very folky. Very folky songs.
All your albums have pretty unique, distinctive styles and sounds. How has your songwriting process evolved over the years?
I think that as time goes on, we’re getting a lot more concise and definitely becoming more interested in making things that are more potent. In our early material, there’s a lot more meandering and, you know, the songs are a lot longer — some of the songs are eight minutes long and go through five different sections. And I think now, we’re more confident in making decisions on which sections are the strongest and then kind of ditching the other ones, whereas we used to hold onto a lot of things before just out of fear of leaving something behind. Now we just make more confident decisions like, “okay, this is a good idea, but it’s not a great idea.” So definitely making more concise and more potent music I’d say is how we evolved.
I heard that for Deep in the Iris (2015) that you guys traveled to Arizona to “leave winter and to leave what you were familiar with.” How would you say that change in landscape or climate affected the direction of your new album?
It did a lot because the last two records were recorded in Montreal and Calgary, both in garages with no windows during winter. So there was no sun. It was just part of our regular day lives. But because it was a decision that we made beforehand and it was an adventure that we were embarking on, I feel like it just had a lot more importance, and it brought about an energy of excitement and focus because we had set out to do it. We had traveled across the whole country. We had to drive for five days in our van, bring all of our [own] gear, and rent a bunch of gear. And just being away from everything was really important too. Being in nature, away from big buses, and away from cars, and away from Twitter, and away from just all those things that are so regular-day life stuff.
Did you guys pick Arizona for any specific reason?
Just its vast landscape and just like how spacious it is. Just from the last few records, you know doing it in a space that’s extremely densely populated in Montreal and Outremont and in a room with no sunlight. Arizona is one of the sunniest places in North America so it was very, very, very sunny the whole time. It was very warm, and yeah, we just wanted a very big change.
Do you guys normally take the landscape and weather into consideration when writing music?
Never, no no no. This is the first time, and it was really interesting because it did have a huge effect. I think that people, or at least for us, we didn’t really realize how important an environment is and how much it contributes — like you just kind of think music just comes from your head and whatever source of equipment you’re using, but there’s so much output. Like there’s so much out there that’s coming inwards, and so putting yourself in the right environment will completely change whatever it is you’re trying to create. Yeah, so important.
You guys just finished touring through Asia for the first time, right?
How was it?
It was amazing. They were very, very attentive, and very appreciative of us coming all the way over there.
Have you guys been to Asia outside of touring before?
I toured with my other band, Blue Hawaii. That was my only other time. So yeah, both times on tour, but we actually got to spend five days in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, so that was really nice. [Touring]’s very different from traveling on your own and vacationing because you’re only there for like… you maybe see the city for an hour and then you’re just at the venue sound-checking and then you’re off to the hotel, the airport, or whatever — especially in Asia ’cause you’re flying everywhere. So it was really good to have five days off to just experience the food and the culture. And oh my god, we ate so well. Yeah, it’s so different. We rode on the back of little motorcycles with a friend from Montreal whose family lives out there. They didn’t speak really any English, but we just all hung out with each other.
I bet that actually kind of made it even more interesting.
You were saying how the people there were really appreciative?
They’re very appreciative. Like this audience tonight, for instance, were really appreciative. But just where English is their second language and to be listening to every word, and to have such a different culture come into theirs and to be really excited about that. It was very beautiful for us.
I’ve heard that you’ve been through a lot different artistic endeavors like dancing, painting, and acting. What did music offer you that those other artistic endeavors couldn’t?
I think it’s a combination of everything music because music really incorporates performance, which is acting. It incorporates dancing, like movement onstage or in videos, and then there’s doing the album art. It’s kind of like an amalgamation of everything. I think you can definitely see that in a project such as Grimes. It just encapsulates everything that she does, and I feel like it does for me as well. And I think the reason I stuck with it is because I had great people. I’m sort of impatient about something I work on a lot so just having Austin and Taylor push me to keep doing it. I feel like if I didn’t have them — if I didn’t have their support and guidance, I probably would have done something else, so it’s nice to have stuck with it.
Some of your lyrics talk about pretty heavy subjects. Do you think you were able to express yourself or these subjects through music better compared to if you had chosen a different creative outlet?
Yeah, though I think film would also touch upon those things. Like film is so visceral and…
Yeah, very expressive. I cry so much when I watch films, and I laugh so much when I watch films. That’s an art form that’s all encapsulating, but like I don’t know. I guess I’ve seen dance performances, like in the video we just released for “Taste.” The dancing, when I was watching it — not after the fact, not on screen, but when I was in the room — I was watching them in the room doing their thing, and I was just like “Aaaaah.” I just had shivers all over my body, and I just felt really emotional because we were instructing them to dance as though they were in an almost abusive relationship where they were feeling really angry. You could just feel that in their dance because they were so good. They’re just absolutely amazing professional dancers. So I think all art forms…
Come with their own way of expression?
Yeah, they totally do, and you just find one as an artist. You just find one that resonates with you more, and for me, it’s my voice and my lyrics. That for me is just the most natural thing that I’m inclined to use for expressing myself.
Article and photos by Joseph Choe