Earlier this year, Spectrum Culture spoke to Raphaelle Standell-Preston, front woman of Montreal’s heady, pedal/effects processor-focused rock band Braids from upstairs at Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco. On tour in support of their first proper release Native Speaker the young quartet ripped and looped their way through songs like “Lemonade” and “Plath Heart” trading the knocking down of beers for the perfunctory sipping of Throat Coat. Read along as we ping pong with Standell-Preston on live set up, Tolstoy, guarana stimulants and dudes who like to slap your thighs.

Raphaelle Standell-Preston: I love cracking my fingers after I play. It feels so good.

When you guys play there are at least three M-9’s out there?

RSP: Yes, we have four and also an M-13.

And those are the Line-6 pedals that you guys use?

RSP: Yes.

Well we can start thinking about that as a footnote to this: The Braids performance is one of the most academic performances I’ve ever experienced in that everyone was kind of in their own station. It felt like impassioned memorization.

RSP: Well, that’s exactly what it is, I mean to a certain degree. It’s like everything is very memorized and everything is very step by step and it’s like we practice it the exact same way like one thousand times. Each night I try to play “Lemonade” the same way but of course I have a different kind of attitude going into it. Some nights I’m more sassy, some nights I’m more laid back but I definitely try and execute the way I play it best. The pedals I guess – um how do I put this – they offer some kind of routine to the sound so that we can always have the same effect and we can know that something sounds good but it’s with the transitions that we get to explore the pedals.

How did you find your way into the M-9’s and the M-13’s?

RSP: Well, they’re multi-effect units so they have all the different kind of models like delay, overdrive and phaser. I use one set for guitar and one set for my vocals. I have a lot of hum and things like that so I don’t have them cross-running over each other. I was running my vocals and guitar through my Boss Reverb but my guitar was humming in my vocal channel so just to make it really separate I don’t do that; especially now because we’re treating our sound with more integrity.

Let’s talk about these stations, as it were. So you have no formal bassist but the Braids togetherness achieves low end frequencies despite that.

RSP: Right. We do that with our keyboards and also with Taylor. He has a little Krueger bass amp that he runs his guitar through and that’s where we get a lot of the low end. We ask the sound guy to boost a lot of the highs so that we can get that guitar sparkle. So yeah, Taylor has a lot of low-end range to fill out which is cool. Taylor was classically trained as a stand-up bass player and used to play bass for Braids but it’s too much to take on the road, it’s too big.

Okay so you’re on tour and Braids’ first official release has been out since January 2011 and it’s been well received. Since this happened, what has it been like for the rest of the people in your life who are not in your band but in your orbit who aren’t necessarily functioning on your parallel? People who have to get up and go to work every day for instance, people you’re close to but aren’t traveling in the constant way of Braids.

RSP: It’s definitely hard on all of our relationships. We’ve had to try and balance a lot of things and learn to have two different kinds of relationships. One being like when you’re together and in the same city and another where you’re away. Sometimes it’s really hard and I’ll have really awkward phone conversations with my boyfriend and it makes me feel all weird about my identity and I’ll think, “Oh, is this really working out?” but of course it is, I love him so much but it’s hard when you’re away and you’re still trying to continue with your relationship. Everyone in Braids is romantically involved with people but everybody is very, very supportive. My boyfriend will come on tour with sometimes so it’s really wonderful I guess to have him come with me… I’m trying to explain this but it’s hard and of course something that’s really important.

Okay how do your bandmates feel when you take your boyfriend all the way with you on tour?

RSP: We all get along with him so well and that’s why we take him. He’s responsible and helpful and constantly keeping up the morale of the band. We’ve known him for a really long time. He’s one of the first people we met when we moved to Montreal. He was running a loft space that we played at and his brother runs Arbutus Records which I helped get off the ground with him. Grimes and Pop Winds, stuff like that are on that label and it’s just a really, really awesome label in Montreal.

You were saying though that there was something double, something difficult though about being on the road.

RSP: Sometimes you feel like you’re continuing your life without them and that sometimes is hard for me to stomach because it does seem really separate and I feel like when you engage in a really deep connection or relationship with somebody it’s like you’re supposed to be going through life with them and growing and experiencing things together and when you go on tour and embark on your own things it’s very much separate. And so what I’m trying to find right now how to still move forward and be parallel even though we’re doing completely different things. He’s at home right now not moving around, concentrating on music whereas I’m moving around all the time and meeting new people, performing and putting myself forward so it’s just two totally different universes that we’re exploring right now. And sometimes it’s difficult to meet eye-to-eye on it, like sometimes our conversations are a little bit rough. You just don’t feel that close to that person and you really, really want to.

How do you maintain trust?

RSP: Both him and I, at the beginning of our relationship, were pretty promiscuous. We both went into it by being like, “Hey I’ve been pretty promiscuous in the past,” or whatever and so you know we had our difficulties with that kind of thing. We worked through a lot of things so now we trust one another with being honest and good to one another but it definitely took some shaking of the boat and some quakes to really get around that. We have another band together called Blue Hawaii which has been really important for us. It’s really fun and we’re coming out with another record and we have dreams to do what I’m doing right now but to do it together. So yeah, but for that reason too I guess it’s kind of difficult because we’ve talked about how we want to do these things together but I’m doing it by myself but we’re going to release the record in the spring then tour it while Braids’ record is going into production and stuff.

And that record has already been written?

RSP: It’s almost written. We wrote a ton, I was only back in Montreal for August and we wrote like seven or eight songs that are pretty much there, there’s parts that we need to back to and rework.

In your room or at a studio?

RSP: Well Braids has a house together which is Austin and Taylor’s house and that’s where we recorded Native Speaker, in the back room there where the washer and dryer are. And then there’s my house that I just got with my boyfriend Alex, him and I, we have a little studio there that was just like a little bedroom but we turned it into a studio. We put a desk in with some monitors. We haven’t sound proofed it but it’s working for now. We were up so late all of August we were just like go go go go go. I got this natural stimulant called guarana. That’s what’s in energy drinks but it’s the pure form. It’s so good. It’s way better than speed or MDMA or dex or anything. It’s just so pure and it’s good for you. A lot of people use it to increase their metabolism but it just causes you to focus for a really long time. It’s good and I got into that. I went to see a nutritionist before I went on tour. She taught me some really cool organic, home grown things before I left. Her name is Mercedes

Do you find on tour it’s hard to keep up with any kind of diet or nutrition or health in general?

RSP: It is if you don’t try. I’m pretty strict about it now. Last tour I got really sick, I got bronchitis, laryngitis and sinus infections up the wazoo. I came back and I was so battered and that’s why I went to go see Mercedes and we constructed a good diet plan and I’m taking certain supplements. Katie and I did yoga this morning. We’re being really good about being healthy this time. Last tour I was just drunk and wasted and I kept getting sick.

In my research for this interview I read that you have been interested in Tolstoy.

RSP: I’m reading Anna Karenina and I’m about hundred pages in.

What’s happening?

We’ve been introduced to the characters, Anna Karenina who comes in at a very odd time. There’s a girl named Kitty who is soon to be a princess and she’s looking for her mate and she feels that she’s found her mate but this boy from her past comes to her and proposes to her and she says, “No, no, no, no, I’ve already found my mate,” who is this guy called Vronsky. Vronsky ends up meeting Anna Karenina the night before he is to propose to Kitty and they have this beautiful ball where he’s supposed to propose to her and everybody is expecting him to but he ends up spending the whole night with Anna. Anna knows though that this guy is kind of weird. She knows that something is wrong with the situation and she keeps saying that but then she keeps going with it and doing these things that are contradictory to her thought process. She has a really weird aura that everyone is attracted to.

She’s kind of this dark, elegant motherly figure. I’m really excited because I love reading about female characters and really good character development because you can get so into their minds. Literature is as close as you can get to understanding people. Because I can’t really tell what your thought process is right now. You and I can have a conversation but when an author describes it he’s going into so much depth and inner voice. I feel that this is a very beautiful way of getting to understand people.

What about Steinbeck?

RSP: East of Eden. I think that’s kind of where I came into really appreciating character development. East of Eden is magical. You get transported into this world. These characters, they’re all so complex and there’s so many affairs going on. Woooo, that was definitely the first author that showed me character development and how deep you can get into a person or describing a person. Since reading Steinbeck’s work I’ve really tried to go deeper into describing people and situations in my lyrics.

What is a lyrical moment of this? I feel like lyrically Braids can be vague but maybe I’m just distracted by the sound.

RSP: It’s not vague at all. Native Speaker is super literal, the lyrics are visceral like, “Have you fucked all those dragons yet?” Or “He just slaps my thighs.” Come on, how much more literal do I need to be? “He just slapped my thighs.”

I feel that’s abstract though.

RSP: No! He just slapped my thighs. That’s what he did. That’s what I’m talking about, he just slapped them. That’s what it is. It sounds poetic but…

It does. It does.

RSP: So many of the lyrics, people are like, “Whoa, what is she talking about?” but one, “Have you fucked all those dragons yet?” — Dragon was this guy at Cafe Beano and all these women were fucking him so I wrote about it.

Okay, okay. There must be more. I challenge you to tell me about another lyric that is more specific. While you’re doing yoga.

RSP: While I’m doing yoga. Okay, “Having you inside me, having you beside me, having you inside me.”

It’s still…

RSP: It is, it is but I think that’s the beauty of poetry. It describes something that is so literal and so real but it makes it sound so beautiful. It just takes the regularities of life and turns it into something beautiful.

That makes me think of “Soft As Snow (But Warm Inside)” by My Bloody Valentine.

RSP: Yeah, yeah that’s a good song. Moths. I killed a moth today and I felt so bad it was so cute and fuzzy. It was attacking me and I was going to call my boyfriend and I was like, “I have to focus on this phone conversation, I have to make it a good phone conversation.” So I took my shoe and I was like, “Eeeeeeeeeeek,” and “Oh my god!” And then there was this beautiful fuzzy creature on the floor.

Where were you?

RSP: Right there on that damn couch.

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