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The PV Q&A: Purity Ring Talk Origins, "Ungirthed," and Their Fashion-Forward Live Shows

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Interview by Tom Lanham

When lissome-voiced singer Megan James first teamed up with inventive keyboardist/percussionist Corin Roddick in their native Edmonton, Alberta two years ago to form a cutting-edge electronic duo, they settled on a somewhat controversial band name: Purity Ring. Ask James why they chose such an odd — and kind of creepy — moniker, and she chuckles wickedly. “I’m glad you think it’s creepy — I don’t think most people do,” she says. “But we never really talked about why we chose it — we just both agreed that we liked it, like ‘Yeah, this sounds like a good band name! Let’s do it!’” But wouldn’t this make an online search for the group decidedly difficult, with fans being bombarded with info on chastity-vowing jewelry instead? “Not any more!” declares Roddick. Ever since their dazzling new 4AD debut Shrines caught on, he says, “We’re overtaking the Google ‘Purity Ring’ search — we’re winning the battle against the Jonas Brothers!” That Google balance should shift even further, thanks to pulsating new single “Fineshrine,” with a surreal video that resembles Jean Cocteau directing The English Patient.

PureVolume: So you guys met in Edmonton?
Megan James: Yeah — a long time ago. We just knew each other through playing music and through mutual friends. We knew what each other did, and then eventually we started working together.
PV: And you were both in a band called Gobble Gobble?
MJ: Yeah. Which is now called Born Gold. But neither of us ever wrote music for it — it was our friend’s project and we just helped with the live show.

Corin Roddick: I played drums for them for a couple of years, but Megan was only in the band for about a month. But it was during that time that we definitely got to know each other better and decided that we wanted to play music together some day.
PV: What were you imagining, sound-wise?
CR: I wasn’t really picturing anything — I was just picturing good music. I wondered what would happen if I tried my hand at producing music on my own. And then after that, I was like, "You know, this would probably sound quite a bit better with vocals. What would happen if Megan sang over it?" And then it was like, "How are we gonna fit Megan’s voice with this?" We didn’t have a set plan, so we were just pleasantly surprised by everything along the way.
PV: The first song you worked on together, “Ungirthed,” sounds like vintage OMD.
CR: I don’t really know what that means.
PV: Orchestral Manouevres in the Dark?
CR: Oh, okay. I’ve heard of them, but I’m not familiar with their work. But they kind of sound like “Ungirthed”? Wow! I’ll have to check them out. I’ve never heard that reference before – that’s cool.
PV: Megan, as a fashion-school grad, weren’t you launching your own clothing line when Purity Ring started?
MJ: Yeah. That’s what I try and do the most when I’m at home. I mean, you can’t just be one thing — you’ve gotta have a few projects, right? Or just another passion. So I do sort of have my own line. It’s not an established company or anything yet, but I do have a name for myself among friends and acquaintances, at least. And lately. I’ve been making a lot of jeans, which I’m getting better at. I’m not quite there yet, but I’m really excited about that right now.
PV: What sets one of your designs apart?
MJ: Uhhh…. It looks shitty! Or really scrappy!

CR: That’s not the truth, actually. She’s made a lot of cardigan sweaters that are really cool. Her stuff is just comforting to be around.
PV: Why haven’t you ended up on “Project Runway” yet?
MJ: I hope that never happens. I want to just build a fan base of people who know of my work, and who can appreciate it. But I do not wanna go on TV for it — I don’t like competition, you know? That’s not what I’m doing it for. Fashion on TV? That doesn’t make any sense!
PV: But you do design Purity Ring’s stage wear and concert backdrops, right?
MJ: Yeah, I make clothes for both of us, and we do wear them often when we play. But usually it’s something we can wear anywhere, and I put on a dress — I actually dress up.

CR: The clothes Megan makes for me to wear onstage are not just for the stage — I’ll wear the outfit all day and then wear it onstage, too. They’re just interesting day-to-day clothes that also are very comfortable to wear onstage.
PV: Speaking of design, Corin, you created your own Christmas-tree like instrument with lights, right?
CR: Yes. We used to call it The Canary, but I often just refer to it as The Instrument. It’s a series of lanterns that are all touch-sensitive, and I play them percussively, with mallets. Each one connects to a synthesizer, so I can perform all the melodies to the songs by hitting them, and that also causes the lantern to glow in a certain way. I’m not really comfortable playing keyboards – I’m much more of a drummer, so it’s a lot easier for me to be hitting things with sticks. And we also think it’s really important to have a visual connection with the sound we make, so it’s really nice to play a melody and see these lights light up and glow with the sound.
PV: Are there nights when The Instrument gets uppity?
CR: Oh yeah. It’s an ongoing battle with that thing. And since I built it myself, it’s very DIY and sketchy. So before most shows, I’m always testing it and changing things a little bit, or repairing little bits of it.

MJ: That’s the nightmare of electronic music. He’s always like, "Oh no! It’s not working!" And then I’ll play with it a little bit, or he’ll mess with it, and he’ll go, "I don’t know what I did. But it’s working again!"
 

 

 
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