I’ve used this journal before to sing the praises of the band Braids—once last March, featuring them on our monthly mixtape, then again last summer, after seeing the trio play a show at the Lyric Theatre here in Los Angeles and then again at year’s end when we named their most recent full-length, Deep in the Iris, 2015’s best album. So it likely goes without saying that I was excited at the opportunity to interview frontwoman Raphaelle Sandell-Preston recently.
The band’s just released a companion EP to Deep in the Iris—named Companion, as it happens—and, with it, Raphaelle recently penned an essay via Pitchfork—”Reclamation Through a Microphone: Braids’ Raphaelle Standell-Preston on How Songwriting Helped Her Process Sexual Abuse.” In the essay, Raphaelle talks through the inspiration for the EP’s title track and, more broadly, how her band’s music and talking about it has helped her work through personal tragedies, explaining, in part:
“The last few years I’ve found myself turning to my art to help regain a calmer and more understanding self amongst this mess. It’s been an attempt to regain control and agency over something that left me feeling powerless and confused for years. I found myself reaching to the microphone to scream, to bawl out those hidden moments in my life. In the midst of artistic exertion, I felt cleansed.”
We strongly encourage everyone to read the essay in its entirety.
Below, you can listen to the new EP in full and read on as we talked with Raphaelle about the songs, their attraction to our fair city of Los Angeles, and the reaction she’s gotten to her essay.
raven + crow: Alright, first off, thank you for taking the time to talk. Honestly, I’ve been a fan of Braids from early on, when you all were still a four-piece, but last year’s Deep in the Iris and your supporting live shows really just blew me away, honestly. Absolutely no question there, I just wanted to thank you for creating music that I very much cherish.
Raphaelle Sandell-Preston: Thank you for caring!
With that out of the way, you’ve got a new EP—what prompted that release? Was it material you’d recorded in the Iris sessions or something separate?
Three of the songs from Companion were written while writing Deep In The Iris. We couldn’t finish them for one reason or another, so we put them aside and promised to finish them when we had time. When we opened them up again in August of 2015, they just sounded like they belonged together, hence the name Companion. We then wrote the song “Companion” which became the thread that tied them all together.
I just read Carrie Brownstein’s memoir Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl and much of what she wrote about how Sleater-Kinney was treated and approached so differently than male-centric bands really made me examine how I approach interviews with people I don’t personally know. I consider myself pretty conscious of others’ points of view and don’t think I’ve ever been overly or overtly obtuse, but its also really hard for many of us to truly step out of our own existence when interacting with others. All that to say, feel free to completely disregard this request (in which case I’ll simply point to your recent essay), but can you speak to what compelled you to write “Companion” and the meaning behind it?
I would prefer that you refer to the essay as it’s all in there and is put much more thoughtfully than I can do while on little sleep in the middle of tour. Thanks!
That essay really is very moving—I know it hasn’t been out there in the public eye for long, but has most of the feedback from it been positive?
It’s been extremely positive. I was expecting there to be the unfortunate shitty internet troller, but it hasn’t happened!
That’s awesome all around. Back to the music, one thing I’ve always wondered with you all is what precipitated such a shift in the sound of the band. Sounds evolve, I know, but I feel like what Braids sounds like really changed very drastically, in a way I very, very much like. But was it attached to Katie’s departure at all or more of a deliberate move?
Depends on what record you’re talking about. I guess with every record it has been a pretty big shift sonically, but it somehow always sounds like Braids. I think with Deep In The Iris we really found our grounding as a band. Flourish Perish was a huge time of exploration and we were pretty emotionally confused, it was a hard record to write. We’ve never decided to be different with each record, it has just come with the territory of going through a lot of changes as people.
How do you describe your music to people totally unfamiliar with it or anything else close to it—say well-meaning relative that’s far-removed from current pop culture?
I often say to border guards that it’s a more feminine version of Pink Floyd.
Excellent.I know you recorded Deep In The Iris in the Arizona desert and remarker thereafter how much you liked it there. What draws you to the desert, in general and specific?
We just liked how expansive and open it was and it felt like the exact opposite from anywhere else we had recorded.
So, in press releases and the like, you all are still described as a Montreal band. But last time we saw you play, at the Lyric, you mentioned something about how you all were moving to Los Angeles. Did that come to fruition?
We did the typical snow birding this winter, where we spent a couple months there. I don’t think we will make a permanent move there as we have so many ties to Montreal, but I think we will definitely be spending a lot more time in LA. It’s my favourite city in the world, which perplexes me… but it just is. We love the weather in LA, and also the majority of our friends now live there. I had a BBQ in LA and could invite 25 people who I deeply cared for, whereas in Montreal I could probably do a BBQ with like 5 people, 2 of whom are in the band. Big exodus. Sometimes cities go through waves of being really creatively exciting and stimulated. I think LA is currently that city.
Well we were beyond thrilled to see you all play again at the Echo. Again, thanks for taking the time to talk and have a wonderful tour this summer.
Glad you enjoyed the show!
Braids is finishing up a tour of the States now, playing shows in Philly, DC, and Brooklyn in the next few days before heading overseas. Please, do everything you can to see them live—they play one of the best shows I’ve experienced, honestly. Complete tour dates on their site.
Above, video still from Braids’ “Companion” video; band photo below by Karoline Lebrun.