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Katie Lee (of Braids) Interview

Published in Blog Archive, Culture Bully. Tags: , , .

As support for Braids‘ debut release began to gain momentum last year, the group received substantial coverage from a number of key outlets ranging from Canada’s National Post to Stereogum; later mentioned in the latter’s “Most Anticipated Albums Of 2011” and “Best New Bands Of 2010” lists. And if early Native Speaker feedback is any indication, the group is in for what is sure to be their most successful year; Pitchfork‘s Ian Cohen writing, “The quartet’s bracing debut Native Speaker is almost Inception-like in its warping of reality, equally tactile and dissolute, cerebral and surreal and ultimately haunting for its refusal to answer questions the same way twice.” But if there’s one thing that has served as bit of a hindrance early on for the group, it’s simply been the band’s aural proximity to Animal Collective.

A quick scan of online reviews returns a startling number of these comparisons: “Braids can seem like blindly rigorous grad students in Animal Collectivism” (SPIN), “Reminiscent of a quick spin through the past four Animal Collective albums” (The Phoenix), “They have the freewheeling experimental spirit of a New York outfit such as Animal Collective” (The Guardian), and “Braids draws from sources as boldly percussive as Gang Gang Dance and Animal Collective. The latter’s influence is inescapable here” (AV Club) being just a few. I recently caught up with keyboardist and vocalist Katie Lee via email, discussing, amongst other subjects, this constant slew of comparison and whether or not it wears on the band. Later this week Braids will be kicking off a whopping 44 date North American tour which will see the band performing alongside the likes of Baths, Star Slinger, Toro Y Moi and Asobi Seksu. A complete listing of dates is available here.

I lived in Calgary for the first six months of the year last year, and when I first found out about you guys I thought to myself “Dammit! Missed the train on that one.” Raphaelle [Standell-Preston, guitarist] has said that the move away from the Neighborhood Council [the group’s name prior to Braids] was because the band had also changed musically, but what was the first spark that eventually spurred the band to relocate east?

Katie Lee: We had just taken a year off from high school to play music and see what would come out of it. By that point, Austin and Taylor had set their eyes on Montreal for university. It wasn’t until part way through the year, from all the support we received from Calgary that we decided to commit ourselves to the music that we were making. Many of our friends at that point were also considering on moving to Montreal and so it was inevitable that we would all end up here sooner or later.

This isn’t to say that you didn’t find success in Calgary—you most certainly did—but Montreal is where it appears that the band really started to take off in terms of getting recognized on a wider scale. In the year or two that followed first moving there were there any significant moments that stand out which helped lead the band in the direction you’ve pursued?

KL: The most significant moment was also the most embarrassing moment for us. This was during our show at Pop Montreal 2009, where we were relocated to another venue because the scheduled one had shut down a week beforehand. We played in a very interesting venue called Sapphir and the sound was definitely a life of its own; meaning, we had no control over how our music was translating over the set of speakers in the room. We were playing blindly to sounds that we didn’t know our instruments could make and I’m pretty sure all of us at some point said “fuck it.” But it wasn’t until after the show and after the festival that we started to get interest to help release the album that we were writing at the time.

Though not the first music released from the band, Native Speaker is the group’s first full-length album. I believe the lead track “Lemonade” dates back to at least 2008, but when was the bulk of the material first written and how does it feel to finally be compiling these songs onto a formal album?

KL: The bulk of the material was written in early to mid 2009. There is a relief to finally have these songs on an album. A relief to finally share the music in a formal setting—also a time to start challenging ourselves into composing music in a different way than how we did with Native Speaker.

Flemish Eye’s press release says Native Speaker “captures a period of innocence and a period of change.” How so, in your opinion?

KL: This was when we were learning how to write collectively and to be able to share amongst each other. This was also a time for growth and change in our personal lives—being straight out of school and having time to seriously think about who we are and how we interact with those around us. That year we took after high school was definitely the hardest and most enlightening year for each of us.

There is a lot of vocal experimentation that is heard through the album—is there a balance between voice and instrument that the band consistently strives for, or does everything sort of come together differently on a song-by-song basis?

KL: I would say the song comes together differently, depending on the mood of the song. Native Speaker was written during a time when we were all trying to find our own voice. There was definitely a lot of experimentations with harmonies and ranges that we never explored previously.

Much of Native Speaker is very thoughtfully orchestrated—three of the album’s seven tracks are around seven minutes in length or longer. One of the first critiques of your live set noted “There was plenty of impressive musicianship and four-part vocal chorals, but little in the way of structure.” How have you been able to develop your live show to translate the delicacy and patience of your recorded songs, and do you feel like you’ve grown as a live act this past year?

KL: Native Speaker was written completely in a live setting, so it’s interesting that it could be perceived that way. The difficult part for us was to bring the live setting into the recorded environment and not the other way around. However, I do believe that we have grown exponentially as a live act in the past couple of months. It wasn’t after the album was finished that we realized that there were plenty of problems with the live set; we were not approaching it in the right manner. To us we want to be able to have a live set without any musical flaws, and having that goals is a real wonderful challenge for us.

Since first reading about you guys last summer, it’s been a rarity to make it through a profile or review without someone comparing you to a band like Animal Collective. Do the comparisons grow old, or do you sort of find them complimentary still? Is there a band that you’re surprised that you haven’t been compared to yet?

KL: At first the comparisons were tiresome, but like any question that has been asked over and over again it is natural to grow impatient with them. We think it’s a huge compliment to be compared to bands or musicians that we had at one point or still look up to. It’s hard to answer that question because when we write music we don’t reach for a specific band to encompass. Though we have been surprised with being compared to bands that we have never listened to or heard about; example being Cocteau Twins—I have yet to listen to them.

What other acts are out there right now that have left an impression on you musically?

KL: Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Debussey, Women, Azeda Booth, Morgan Greenwood, Long Long Long, Aphex Twin, and Talking Heads have influenced us.