Purity Ring's Corin Roddick on the unlikely impact of Janet Jackson and Destiny's Child
See also: Purity Ring at Larimer Lounge, 8/29
Purity Ring came together when Megan James and Corin Roddick started writing electronic songs together after having served as touring members of experimental pop band Born Gold. Rather than rushing to put out material, this duo has spent the last couple of years meticulously crafting R&B-inflected, electro pop songs with layers of rhythm and atmosphere.
After periodic releases of singles and a string of live performances, Purity Ring released its debut album, Shrines, last month on the 4AD imprint. The band's live shows have an air of the ritualistic due to its unique lighting rig and ethereal sound anchored by masterfully-composed low end and percussion.
We recently spoke with the band's producer and beat creator, the friendly and unpretentious Corin Roddick, about "The Instrument," Cadence Weapon and the musical community of his hometown of Edmonton.
Westword: What is it about the production and music of hip-hop and R&B that you've found interesting and inspiring in creating your own music?
Corin Roddick: Mostly just the way the rhythms feel and the sound of the drum production, just sort of the arrangement of the drums; it's always sort of spacious but incredibly groovy. I was on to that style of drumming even when I played in bands that did completely different genres of music. So, naturally, when I started trying to produce electronic beats, the drums completely went back in that direction.
The song "Belispeak" showcases some interesting uses of breaks and production reminiscent of '80s hip-hop, R&B and synthpop. Was there anyone from that era that you found interesting?
I'm not very influenced by anything from the '80s at all. I'm a '90s baby -- pretty much everything on the radio. I grew in a big family and we always listened to the radio. So I heard everything that was Top 40 in the '90s. Some of it maybe didn't stick with me, but some of it did. You don't really notice if it had an impact until a long time later when you actually try to make music and some of those elements come back.
When you look back, is there anyone you realize made a big impact on you?
All sorts of stuff. Probably old Janet Jackson to like Destiny's Child to Biggie Smalls. Pretty much whatever was the more hip-hop and R&B stuff that was on the radio at the time. It was just always there so I got into it.
Did you grow up in Edmonton?
I did. I was born living in the country, but I moved to Edmonton when I was ten or eleven years old.
Did you get exposed to live music pretty early on?
Yeah! There was a very good local music scene in Edmonton. There were a lot of young bands putting on basement shows or halls and stuff like that. I started getting involved in all of that starting at fifteen.
What was the first live show that you saw?
My family is super into music, so I went to music festivals since I was about one. So live music wasn't something I saw one day and went, "Whoa, can be performed live!" I saw it all the time. But in Edmonton, at that time, is when I realized that people could make music happen for themselves very easily on a small scale. They could get together and put on these really cool small shows.
Was there the equivalent of a DIY space in Edmonton when you were a teenager?
Oh yeah. There were a few, actually. The best one was just someone's basement, and it was called Castle Awesome. There would just be mostly kind of hardcore or post-punk shows. It was just more appropriate for that kind of thing. It was a basement that could safely hold about 45 or fifty people but had held up to about two hundred people. It's gone now.
I've heard that there are some more basement, house venues going. There's this one bar called the Wunderbar, which has become the only bar that's cool. Same deal, you can fit maybe a hundred people in there, tops. It has an easy vibe and really welcoming. It's cheap to rent, too.
Is that the same place called Wunderbar Hofbrauhaus? That was the place where you supposedly had your first Purity Ring show?
Yes. We played our very first show and invited everyone and it was really nice. I went there all the time.
Is that why you wanted to have your first show there?
We had decided last minute to do a show a few days beforehand and that was the only place to put on the show and it was the only place people knew and went to all the time so it was sort of the only option. It's a great place.
How did you get involved in playing music early on?
My whole family is very musical, so growing up there were always instruments around the house. I started playing drums, definitely. It's kind of all I've ever really played.
What is that device you have that you play and use to do visuals?
We usually just refer to it as "The Instrument." It was the only sort of instrument we use.
Did you build it yourself?
Yes, I did.
Did you build it to do something you wanted an instrument or a device to be able to do that didn't exist in a way that worked for you?
Yeah, totally. I wanted something I could control percussively, like I could play it kind of the way you would a drum set, but it would be able to trigger synth sounds and melodies. But I also wanted strong visual feedback when those melodies are being played. So the branches light up in different colors to respond to synth sounds being played. I wanted to play a melody but also to have a clear visual representation of that melody while it's being played. I didn't know of any instrument that did that.
Does having the visuals make it easier for you to play? Especially considering the layers of sound you have in your music.
It's easier to play for sure. But it's also strongly for the audience, too. When you play electronic [music], it's challenging to put on a show that's actually engaging. It's music that's created on a laptop. You don't just want to have your laptop on a table and nothing else. We wanted to make a show that people could get a little more pulled into. I like hearing a sound and seeing visual feedback with that. Like when someone's playing a drum set you see their arms swing and you see the cymbals move. But if I just have a keyboard, you don't have that effect. I was just trying to get that idea to translate.
Did you ever rub shoulders with Rollie Pemberton of Cadence Weapon in Edmonton?
Yeah. He's a friend of mine, actually. He lives in Montreal now, and I run into him fairly often. Everyone knows him. Everyone from Edmonton that makes music knows each other. Rollie is a very social guy. Everyone interested in music is like that and I probably run into Rollie at least a couple of times a month.
How has living in separate cities helped with the band, your creativity or maybe life in general?
I don't know if it makes things easier, but it doesn't affect us too much because our writing process is so separate from each other. I kind of work exclusively on the instrumental aspect of things, and Megan works on vocals and lyrics, and we're really able to do that in different places. Then get back together for a short time and combine them. It works pretty well. Being in a band you spend a lot of time together on tour and we see a lot of each other, so we can get away with living in different cities.
You were both in Gobble Gobble or Born Gold, right?
I was in the band for more like two years, but Megan was in the band for a month for one Canadian tour. I was the percussionist, so I played drums and things, but I didn't write any of the music, and I wasn't on any of the recordings. I was just on the live edition of it. My friend Cecil Frena is the mastermind behind Born Gold.
How did you come to be an engineer at Riverdale Recorders?
Oh, you've been digging deep. I came to be an engineer there because I was super interested in recording bands and stuff as a teen. I had bought some recording gear and was recording all my friends. I was doing it all through high school. I ended up getting hooked up with the studio Riverdale Recorders because they had an availability as an engineer. I had sort of got to know one of the guys who worked there. They had that opening and I was hoping to move up from recording in my mom's basement. I turned that into a job when I was eighteen.
What do you feel you learned there beyond your earlier experiences with recording?
I was comfortable with recording bands and even though it wasn't really electronic music or anything, I learned a lot about how music is composed and how sounds should be layered together, and how to create space for certain sounds and how they interlock and make sense.
Purity Ring, with Cousins (early show), Headaches (later show), 6 p.m. and 9:15 p.m. Wednesday, August 29, 2721 Larimer Lounge, $13, (later show sold out), 303-291-1007, 16+ (early show), 21+ later show.
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