Inventiveness keeps things interesting for Purity Ring
Unlike some electronic-music acts that flesh out their in-concert appearances with live rhythm sections and backing vocalists, Purity Ring prefers to keep things, well, pure. When the Canadian duo plays shows, the only people you’ll see on-stage are Megan James (vocals) and Corin Roddick (everything else). Roddick’s live rig, however, ensures that things are always visually interesting.
“There are eight lanterns that surround me, and each one is touch-sensitive, so I can play them with mallets,” he says, reached at home in Montreal. “As I strike each one, it will connect to a synthesizer and play a specific note in a certain tone for whatever that part should be in that song. And in turn, it also lights up in a certain colour and sort of pulses to represent that sound.”
Pulsating light and shifting colours are, in fact, a perfect representation of the sonic world that Purity Ring created for its debut album, Shrines. For her part, James sweetly intones lyrics that are as inscrutable as they are evocative, replete with literally visceral imagery that would give David Cronenberg pause. (From “Lofticries”: “Let it seep through your sockets and ears/Into your precious ruptured skull.”) Roddick’s contribution is a bed of sound that blends his bandmate’s chopped-and-screwed vocals with washes of ambient synthesizer and hip-hop–inspired beats.
It’s a fully realized aesthetic, and Shrines has such a cohesive sound that you’d never guess its creators were living in different cities when they made it. They still do: although they met in Edmonton, Roddick now lives in Montreal and James in Halifax. Geographic separation is no detriment, Roddick says, noting that he and James have distinct jobs within Purity Ring, which each can accomplish in the absence of the other.
“I’m no poet, and I don’t really have a knack for vocal melodies at all, so I don’t really have any input on her position in the band,” he says. “And production is not really her thing at all, so we’re able to do our own roles separately and independently from each other, and just sort of bring them together in the end. So that works pretty well for when we’re actually writing material. It makes sense. I can’t really see it being too beneficial for us to be living in the same city. The only time it becomes inconvenient is when we actually need to rehearse before we’re going out on tour and things like that. It’s nice to be able to have a regular band practice, but often we’ll only have a chance to spend a few concentrated days together before we go, which are very stressful. But we always pull it together.”
That brings us back to that sound-and-light contraption, which, like James’s lyrics, contributes to Purity Ring’s general aura of otherworldliness. “I think what we’ve built creates quite a bit of mystery,” Roddick notes. “People often doubt it, and come up and ask us questions after the show. People think it’s just a prop, and that I’m hitting it at just the right times. And they’re always quite surprised to learn that it actually works for real, which is usually pretty funny.”
Purity Ring plays Venue on Friday (September 7).