“Somebody spilled Kool-Aid on Katie’s keyboard... or was it cocaine?”

Illustration by Peter Komierowski
Illustration by Peter Komierowski

Raphaelle Standell-Preston, the singer/guitarist for Montreal-based electronic art rockers Braids, is a real charmer. Caught on her cell phone at a tour stop in Florida, the charismatic young woman exudes intelligence and insight while discussing her band’s highly acclaimed debut disc Native Speaker.

Reached in the middle of an extensive North American trek, Standell-Preston sounds excited and a little awestruck at the magnitude of their current tour schedule. The band—which also includes keyboardist Katie Lee, drummer Austin Tufts and multi-instrumentalist Taylor Smith—have been on the road non-stop since releasing Native Speaker this past January. “It’s just hitting me we’re out on the road for three months,” Standell-Preston admits. “It’s good. We’ve gotten into the rhythm of it. We’re getting very little sleep, but staying cheerful.”

When asked about Braids’ upcoming Vancouver pit stop, March 28 at the Biltmore, Standell-Preston expresses fond memories of playing here last summer. “I’ve always liked Vancouver, it’s a very beautiful city,” she says.

“We played at the Goody Warehouse and that was a very interesting night. Somebody spilled Kool-Aid on Katie’s keyboard,” she remembers of the event, “or was it cocaine? Yes, somebody was doing cocaine off Katie’s keyboard. That’s a very ingrained, fond memory. Good ol’ Vancouver.”

Before Braids became critical darlings, however, the quartet lived in Calgary and performed under the name The Neighbourhood Council. The young group released their first EP Set Pieces in 2008. The band ended up catching the ear of Deerhunter main man Bradford Cox, who gave the band a standing ovation at their Sled Island performance the same year. Soon after, however, the foursome changed their name and headed for Montreal. There were a few key reasons why they made the move.

“It was the time to move, being the ripe young age of 17 and 18,” says Standell-Preston. “Montreal has a wonderful, flourishing music scene and it’s very close to New York. For the other three members, it was a dream for them to attend McGill. [Moving to Montreal] was a good choice.”

A great deal of attention has been placed on the band’s dynamic use of reverb, effects pedals and layers upon layers of sound. Listening to “Glass Deers,” for example, is the musical equivalent of falling through the sky in slow motion, with looping chimes and guitar lines interweaving and soaring together ethereally. Standell-Preston uses her impressive range, which alternates between a coo and a cracked scream, to make her reverberated refrain of “I’m fucked up” sound positively dreamy. Opening track “Lemonade” likewise feels deep, with slow-burn keyboards and guitar lines washing over you like a warm, fuzzy wave. While The Neighbourhood Council’s elaborate pop numbers were hardly facile, the group’s experimental period began once they landed in Montreal. Standell-Preston also credits celebrated sonic explorers Animal Collective for stoking their imaginations.

“We discovered the record Fields by Animal Collective,” says Standell-Preston. “It turned on another part of my brain for understanding new sonic textures, sounds and creating environments. We were all very keen on figuring out exactly how we could do that. That led into reverb delays and it flourished into the band obtaining multi-effects pedals and playing with tremolo. We got really into creating textural environments and one of the best ways to accomplish that was through vocal processors and guitar pedals.”

Along with their rich sound, many critics have made note of Standell-Preston’s direct and at-times sensual lyrics. While the playful giddyness of Native Speaker’s vivid soundscapes make like an electronic Disneyland for the ears, the singer’s sometimes salacious wordplay will make you consider leaving the kids at home.

When asked if she finds it challenging to put herself out there in such a direct manner, Standell-Preston responds: “Yes. Very much so, actually. I’ve found, as I’ve gotten older I’ve begun retreating more into myself. My poetry and lyrics have taken more of a softened turn. Sometimes it’s difficult to stand on stage and talk about things I experienced when I was just figuring out my sexuality at 17. The lyrics aren’t all about sexuality; they’re about people and growing up. You have to stand behind everything you make and your art. You can’t condescend a form of self.”

A repeated refrain in the swirling stunner “Lemonade” is, “we’re all just sleeping around.” At its core, this song is about a lack of intimacy. “That’s exactly it,” Standell-Preston confirms before discussing the song’s roots. “I’d been working in more of an artsy café and there was a lot of incest going on. It was quite peculiar so I decided to write about it. There’s definitely a lack of intimacy, especially in the art world.”

Braids have been highly praised by the arts community. Every major music blog has gushed about the band. This is fantastic for increasing exposure and knowledge of their music, but what happens when a site like Pitchfork doesn’t like your record? When asked if she thought some sites have too much sway when it comes to determining a band’s success, Standell-Preston agreed.

“It is very definite when they give you a bad review,” she says. “You have to live with that for the rest of the year and so many people are going to read it. At the same time, Pitchfork is always going to be there. You just have to toughen up and shake it off your shoulders [if you get a bad review]. ”

Regardless of what the press says, be it good or bad, Braids want you to experience their music yourself and to draw your own conclusions on what they’re about. With a
band so varied and out there as Braids, it’s best to just sit back and soak in their sound.

“You have to let the music stand for itself and the music will explain itself,” Standell-Preston asserts. “The definition is up to the listener.”

Braids will be in Vancouver on March 28 with Toro Y Moi.