Braids trim lineup and expand sound

Having just finished a sound check 10 days into her band’s European tour Braids vocalist Raphaelle Standell-Preston needs to blow her nose before she can talk to me. “There was a smoke machine and I think I’m a little sensitive to it or something” she says.

It’s not just an allergic reaction however — the word “sensitive” pops up numerous times in our conversation. Standell-Preston like the precious ethereal electronic pop she makes with her Calgarian expat group (rounded out by musicians Austin Tufts and Taylor Smith) wears her heart on her sleeve.

Braids are currently touring to promote their new album Flourish // Perish their first release without founding member Katie Lee. While something definitely went sour Standell-Preston’s hesitant to comment. Then that s-word pops up again. “They haven’t really dealt with it sensitively when I’ve talked to journalists” Standell-Preston says of the split before offering a vague explanation. “It was just mainly creative differences and just a friendship that kind of went a little awry. Everyone’s in better places now including her and I know that she just wants to move on and so do we…. I think it’s much more beautifully captured on the album than in me trying to give up some sentences to sum up something that is extremely complicated and can’t really be understood.”

Released last month via Calgary imprint Flemish Eye and Montreal tastemakers Arbutus Records Flourish // Perish has been met with mostly positive reviews. Prior to its release however Standell-Preston couldn’t help but worry how it’d be received. After all it wasn’t just the debut of the band’s smaller lineup but also a new direction. For the most part the album eschews the guitar-based compositions of 2011’s breakout Native Speaker in favour of electronic drums layers upon layers of synths and more computer processing than ever before.

“You get nervous with a really sacred part of yourself being judged really harshly because music criticism is really harsh” she says of her initial fears. “I guess any kind of artistic criticism is really harsh just because it is so personal. That’s something that I fear sometimes because I’m not made of steel. I’m a pretty sensitive individual maybe more sensitive than most people.”

Further Standell-Preston explains that the pressures of a sophomore release are far from imaginary. “It’s really easy to be a band on your first record” she says. “Everybody’s excited because you’re brand new you don’t really have a history. For your second record it’s a lot scarier. There’s a lot more judgment. There’s a lot more expectation.”

To counter the pressures and handle the nerves Standell-Preston decided to let the music speak for itself. That’s a practice that’s spread across everything she’s doing with the band — on their current tour they’re not playing a single song from Native Speaker .

“We play ‘In Kind’ which is something we were touring during Native Speaker but we don’t play any old songs right now” she says. “We just want to move on. Originally I wanted to move on emotionally from it but now I just want to move on artistically from it. We just have a lot of ideas and it would be silly to spend hours trying to learn how to craft those songs in this environment when we’re really full of inspiration. We’re just using that to craft new songs.”

Standell-Preston explains that early audiences “had a feeling of alienation” at the band’s new direction but now that they’ve had some time with Flourish // Perish they’ve come on board. Plus she’s quick to admit that she doesn’t want to fall into a trap of pandering.

“I definitely want people to find some kind of solace in our music but at the end of the day I’m not really making it for other people” she says. “I think it’s important as a musician and artist to make it for yourself and for each other foremost otherwise you become involved in some kind of fakery as you try to appeal to your audience. It’s so complicated; you never know what someone is thinking. You never really know what somebody really wants. Even when you’re in a relationship you have to be yourself. Or in a friendship you have to be yourself.”