With the celebration of success comes the pressure to follow it up. From the word go, Megan James and Corin Roddick faced this conflict as Purity Ring’s first single made immediate inroads across the internet in early 2011.
Although still in the early years of their career, the synthpop/R&B duo have answered the bell time and time again: backing up that debut single, “Ungirthed,” with a run of superb trip-hop-tinged bangers, and culminating in their airtight debut LP, Shrines, released the following year. What started out as a long-distance experiment, in which they both set aside instruments and roles they’d previously mastered, had become their main gig.
Roddick and James originally met and had conversations about working together as members of Edmonton’s fledgling music scene in the ’00s. Roddick ended up as Gobble Gobble’s (currently Born Gold) touring drummer while slowly developing his beat-making, while James wrote and played piano. By 2010 they had settled in different cities—James in Halifax and Roddick in Montreal—before they started on that promise of doing something as a duo, releasing “Ungirthed” on Tumblr. Shrines eventually ended up on numerous year-end lists and was shortlisted for the Polaris Music Prize. Their stunning live show, adorning venues with sound-triggered light cocoons, only elevated their darling status. The whirlwind finally died down at the end of 2013; 2014 went by with a handful of guest appearances and DJ sets to hold fans.
Now, just weeks before their sophomore effort Another Eternity drops, the duo is undaunted in the face of a new album cycle and the looming press, video shoots, and touring attached to it. “It’s not as exasperating as people think it would be, James says. “It’s a weird job but it’s a good one.” Roddick says he’s simply “excited to tour again because it’s been a year and a half since we’ve played a show at this point.” They downplay how much they have riding on this record. Although they’ve validated themselves before, can they do it again?
“We never start out with any goal other than finishing a song that we like,” James explains, a very art-first approach that keeps the pair from getting in their own way. In essence, this is what got them to where they are now, but in making Another Eternity, it might have been the only carry over as they overhauled their processes in a few ways.
James, who sings and also writes the duo’s cryptic lyrics, moved back to their hometown of Edmonton after the band had finished touring Shrines, and it ended up being where most of Another Eternity was written and recorded. “It’s definitely an Edmonton record,” she says. “Edmonton winter. It’s a cold sounding album,” adds Roddick. Shrines was created Postal Service-style, with Roddick in Montreal and James in Halifax, and that’s how they promoted Purity Ring—a Montreal/Halifax project, a distinction of circumstance that Roddick now realizes might have been harmful.
“All those other cities don’t need you to say that you’re from there, especially if you’re not. If everyone starts owning Edmonton, it would be a lot more meaningful for Edmonton and the artists from there.”
Roddick interjects, “Really, we’re from Edmonton, and that’s what shaped us. That’s how we grew up.”
“And it’s how we met,” James continues. “The community in Edmonton is the only reason we’re a band. That’s just another dimension of pride. It’s a really incredible place for art. I moved back there and I feel a lot more of the pride that I had. And I’ve realized that that pride is actually worth something in terms of how we present this project.”
As a producer, Roddick found his footing early on, honing in on and developing a sound before venturing out. His work for hire over the last two years on tracks by Danny Brown and Ab-Soul demonstrate his quick evolution. “On Shrines, we constrained ourselves a little bit more,” he explains. “We kept working with certain sonic signatures that we established on the first couple tracks to create a very consistent overall piece. One major difference on Another Eternity is that we allowed a bit more expansion and we didn’t worry as much about trying to use the same type of synth sound in every song or the same type of drum sounds or the same vocal effects. We wanted to let each song find its own sound. I think that there’s more of a variation and dynamic across the record. It shows more range.”
So why fuck up the formula? “We wanted to fuck up the formula,” James says. The duo boldly refuses to get hung up on the magic of how the first record was done in contrast to the more traditional approach to Another Eternity. “It’s so hard to talk about all the things that go into a song without being in the same room,” James says. “It just made sense. But it was an entirely new process.”
Between their artistic development and how and where they recorded the album, it’s as if, James says, they’re starting a new band—and that’s where they’re comfortable. From the consistency of Shrines’ hybrid sound—somewhere in the crosshairs of Kate Bush, The-Dream, Massive Attack, and Mýa—they,went back to the cold, industrial Edmonton air to make a feistier, fuller, freer album, more accessible and more expressive than the last. It’s incredible what a little bit of pressure can do.
Some enthusiasm sneaks out as Roddick imagines how the new record will be received. “Another Eternity isn’t number two in a trilogy. It’s a stand-alone body of work. But people should be able to see the progression. That’s what we’re hoping for.”
[magazine month=”March” year=”2015″]