Megan James and Corin Roddick are both in the same house in L.A., but they're speaking to me on the phone from separate rooms. This is like a lesser version of how the two were positioned for the making of Purity Ring's first album, 2012's Shrines: James and Roddick were living in different cities at the time and communicating with each other mostly over email, recording whenever they found themselves in the same place.
For their sophomore album, another eternity, Purity Ring wrote and recorded together in person, mostly in their hometown of Edmonton, a city in Alberta, Canada. The result of that collaboration is something still rooted in the '90s R&B and dream pop of Shrines only bigger, with Roddick's dark MIDI creations and James' childlike vocal sounding more expansive as they're pushed in a brighter direction. James' lyrics follow suit with this openness, dealing less in body metaphors and more in matters of "you" and "I," though the words are all still vague enough to distance themselves from those found in more traditional love or heartbreak songs.
James and Roddick have been in L.A. for the last few months putting the finishing touches on the album. Before they set off on tour and release their second full-length record March 3 through 4AD, we caught up with Purity Ring to talk about the making of another eternity, the importance of keeping ties to Edmonton, and the Texas ranch where they learned the importance of having a plan for the zombie apocalypse.
Interview by Christine Werthman (@cwerthman)
How often do you guys get back to Edmonton?
Megan James: We’ve been in L.A. working on the record, but our home base is Edmonton. We tour a lot, and for work we’ve been in L.A., but we’re adamant about maintaining our home base as Edmonton. We take a lot of pride in it. It’s important for us to stay from there. But yeah, we’ve been in L.A. working on the record for six months, and we’ll leave for tour from here.
Where did you start writing the record?
MJ: There’s a big chunk of it that we did at a friend’s studio in Edmonton.
Corin Roddick: We made a couple trips there. Some of the main songs on the record were entirely written and produced there.
When did that writing process actually begin?
MJ: October 2013 in Texas. It was the week between ACL. We went to this family ranch that we found out about through our lighting tech. It was a weird place, but it was rad.
Where was the ranch based?
MJ: It was north of San Antonio in Texas.
CR: Pretty much in the middle of nowhere. It’s a crazy place. The whole thing is completely self-sustained and set up for the zombie apocalypse. It’s all on solar power, and has stockpiles of food for decades...
MJ:—and like chickens and greenhouses and stuff.
CR: It’s one family that has, I think there's maybe 10 houses there. They kind of built their own little town almost.
MJ: So each kid has their own house. And then there’s this studio, and an ATV for each person. We got an ATV for the week to drive around.
we’re adamant about maintaining our home base as Edmonton. —Megan James
I’ve never driven an ATV before, but I've always wanted to try. Was that your first ATV experience?
MJ: I’ve been on them before. Alberta is kind of similar to Texas.
CR: It’s the Texas of the north.
MJ: There was one night around the fire where they were actually talking about who they’d let in in the zombie apocalypse. It was like this weird non-joke. It was really strange.
Who were these people?
CR: It’s just like a wealthy family, and the sons have a band.
Can you tell me who the band is?
MJ: They’re called the Wheeler Brothers, and they’re kind of like strange country. We didn’t know anyone in the band. We met them through their hired sound engineer who our lighting tech knew.
CR: They built this whole facility basically just for themselves, and it’s this incredible studio. We were the first other artists to really be in there. They’re planning on renting it out to people, but we were sort of the trial for that.
How do you think you did? Did you pass?
CR: I think we made the cut for the zombie apocalypse.
MJ: That’s definitely where we’re driving first. I’m saving tanks and tanks of gas to go there.
You two have been working together for a couple of years now. Do you guys have a pretty solidified process when it comes to songwriting?
MJ: No. [Laughs.] The first record, we were in different cities, and we did everything by email, and then we’d just record what we had when we got together. And this one, we wrote all of it while we were in the same room.
How did that change things?
MJ: There was a lot more conversation about what we were doing. It made the songs more song-y and less atmospheric. There’s still an emotion and an atmosphere to this record, but there’s a lot more focus on the songs.
CR: It’s like all the individual parts have more purpose now.
MJ: They all tie together in a different way.
CR: Everything was composed with everything else in mind, so every individual little melody or drum hit or vocal part was thought out to fit into everything else. Every section has a strong purpose within the structure, whereas before, I would make a piece of music and we would try and write vocals over top of it.
There’s still an emotion and an atmosphere to this record, but there’s a lot more focus on the songs. —Megan James
another eternity has a much brighter, bigger sound than Shrines. Was that something that you guys were aiming for, to get out of the darkness of Shrines?
CR: It happened mostly naturally. A big part of it sounding bigger is that we’re more experienced now. When we were writing Shrines, that was my first attempt at producing, so it was very trial and error. This time around, I wrote a ton of music just to hone my skills and feel better as a producer. I think that might’ve lent itself to why things are sounding bigger on this record. For the brightness thing, I feel like we’ve always had a two different sides: a bright side and a dark side. Like on Shrines, “Lofticries” is darker and “Fineshrine” is brighter. I still feel like there’s that balance on the new record.
One other thing I noticed is that the lyrics on Shrines focus on the body, while the lyrics on another eternity focus on the heart, are sung in first person, and mention “you” a lot. Is there a particular “you” or relationship that those lyrics are referencing?
MJ: There are a few people. I often say “you” or “me,” but I’ll use that term in regards to someone totally different because it flows nicer. I take all of my writing from my journals, and the lyrics for [the new album] all came from more recent things in my life, and you can see how it’s shifted. And it’s sort of in an impersonal way—I hope people can relate—because there are no details.
I know you guys self-produced and created the songs as a duo, so there weren’t other people physically in the room with you. But were there any particular artists you were listening to a lot during the writing and recording process?
MJ: Honestly, for me, not really at all. I listen to a mishmash of old music. I don’t really like that question. I feel like the things I’ve listened to over the past couple of years don’t really have that much to do with what I wrote. It was more of an exploration of what we were doing next.
CR: I honestly didn’t listen to a lot of music in 2014. There were a couple good pop albums. But usually at the end of the year, there’s like a handful of stuff that I’m looking back on and I’m like, “Oh what a great year for music.” But this was one of the years where I did not really feel that.
Well, you’re not alone there. The consensus is that 2014 kind of sucked.
MJ: [Laughs.] That’s another part of it too.
CR: The other side of that is, it was almost inspiring because we were creating the music we wanted to hear. It’s sort of frustrating when you’re trying to find new music that you’re interested in or that could give you inspiration and you can’t find any, so you sit down and say, “Oh, I’ll make something I guess."