With their 2011 debut album Native Speaker, Canadian electronicists Braids arrived in a shower of synths and looping vocals that recalled the sounds of Animal Collective before them. The band bade farewell to their Montreal roots and set off on a world tour that had them playing alongside the likes of Moby, Portishead, and Battles. Armed with these new influences, Braids returned to the studio to record their second studio album.
The result of those efforts is the majestic and sculptural Flourish // Perish, due out August 20. The drum-circle yelps of Animal Collective have been tempered and refined into a more melodic atmosphere. The album is still experimental and innovative in its sonic reach, but it's a patient album that breezes through 10 steadily pulsing tracks, exploring the infinite variations in one idea. We sat down with Braids last week, braving bums and sirens to discuss Flourish // Perish and how they got there.
Welcome back to New York. Welcome back, probably, right? So what's the occasion?
Austin: The main occasion is Raphaelle was doing a photo shoot with New York Times Style this morning, so we're just sort've here doing some press and stuff.
Raphaelle: That's why I look kinda like a doll right now.
Tell us about the beginnings of the band.
Austin: Raphaelle and I met when we were 12 and 13. That was a long-ass time ago. [Laughs.] Yeah, so we were just hanging out. Not really playing any music together but then I guess Raph started playing singer-songwriter guitar stuff and then we got into high school and met Taylor and another girl Katie—who used to be in the band as well—and our other friend Vince as well, and we started playing music together. It just sort of clicked. There was a really strong connection and it was really just like light and really light and fun and we were rehearsing as much as we could; covering a lot of musical ground really quickly; changing our sound a lot and discovering what we liked.
Well that's what's nice about playing with your friends, right? There's no pressure.
Austin: Yeah, of course. And then we all moved to Montreal together, and at that point it was just the four of us, and then we were the four of us for four years or something. And we wrote our entire first record, Native Speaker, and put that out and did a full year of touring behind that.
Were you Braids at that point?
Raphaelle: Yeah, we were only not Braids for about a year and a half. We were the Neighborhood Council.
Austin: At the very beginning.
What led to that change?
Raphaelle: The name change? It just happened. I don't know. It was a stupid name and we were just fooling around before and then we wanted to be a band and decided to choose a name that we were passionate about.
So you started more singer-songwriter, folksy stuff?
Raphaelle: Yeah, at the very beginning.
Well this latest album is definitely a shift away from that.
Austin: Yeah, I mean, so was our first record. We put out a little EP when we were called the Neighborhood Council and we very quickly turned electric guitars and pretty heavy experimentation and lots of effects and vocal processing. Definitely breaking away from the form.
What factors influenced the move toward a more electronic sound?
Raphaelle: We were just listening to a lot of it. Some of the bands that we toured over Native Speaker, they're super into electronic music and they really turned us onto that.
Who were you touring with?
Raphaelle: Baths. Born Gold was another one. And then just on our own we started venturing into that genre more.
Austin: We started hearing things that we didn't even really know were possible, and it was like, "Oh!"
Raphaelle: We had never heard Aphex Twin, and that's such an important artist for any musician.. And that was really mind-blowing, being introduced to him. It was like, 'Wow! This is the Mozart of our time that I haven't heard and I'm 21.' Or however old I was when I listened to it. So yeah, that's pretty big. I think that was why we changed over.
Were you guys listening to anyone else new as you were recording Flourish?
Raphaelle: A lot of Portishead. I was kind of realizing we haven't talked about that.
Austin: We all really got into Radiohead too. We got really into Radiohead a year before, during the tour. I discovered Kid A, King of Limbs, In Rainbows like when we were touring with Baths around our first record. I think that for me was a huge, 'Wow.' It was just a totally new dynamic of band and a totally new way of writing and they're just really good band, like just being a band altogether and they create really beautiful music.
A lot more composition, and very carefully orchestrated pieces.
Austin: Exactly. And I don't know much about their approach or anything but just the way it sounds is amazing. So I guess coming into that and starting to listen to a lot more Portishead. Yeah, just tons of electronic music. Taylor got really into Autechre, and we started listening to a lot of Aphex Twin and Max Cooper and Stephen Bodsen...
Raphaelle: A lot of Pantha du Prince.
Austin: Yeah. We just started changing our palette; changing the music that we were hearing in our heads, and we decided that we needed to come up with a way of getting into our heads to get that music out.
How was international touring?
Austin: Yeah, we did three European tours on the last record, even got to play a random festival in Slovakia. It was really cool. It was this abandoned airbase, like military airbase in this valley. I think Portishead played that, and Moby played it. I got to see Battles to play for the first time there.
Raphaelle: I saw them in Calgary when they were a four-piece. I cried that concert. It was so amazing. Such a phenomenal concert.
Have you listened their record Gloss Drop, that came out last year?
Austin: Yeah, I haven't gotten listening to that one, but Mirrors was a really important record for me. It really changed a lot of things for me.