All photos by Cheng Vue for Musefy
Braids has been receiving critical acclaim for their newest album, “Native Speaker” from the press power houses that most musicians can only dream of. The New York Times and Rolling Stones to Stereogum.com and the various other blogs out there have had their share of this group of 20 and 21 year olds from Montreal and the U.S. fans are having their fill for the first time during Braids’ first U.S. tour. The collective instrumental voices pulled through synthesizers, mum glottal stops and reverberating high hats and electric guitar collectively fashion a calming ambiance of an almost new age genre that soothes the soul.
Musebox caught up with Austin Tufts in the middle of their U.S. tour to talk about forming Braids, their group dynamic, their equipment and the reason behind a one year delay on releasing “Native Speaker.”
Musebox: Who are the Braids?
Austin Tufts: Braids are four different people, Raphaelle Standell-Preston, she sings and plays guitar. There’s Taylor Smith. He plays guitar and drums and base and sings. There’s Katie Lee, she plays keyboards and also sings. There’s myself, Austin Tufts, and I sing and play drums and we’ve been together for four years.
MB: How old are you and your band mates?
AT: I’m twenty and the rest of the band is twenty-one.
MB: How did you meet and what compelled you to form the Braids?
AT: We met in high school. Raphaelle and myself met in grade seven and the rest of us met in grade ten and eleven and I guess the biggest compelling thing was that Raphaelle really wanted to make music together. We really wanted to make music together because Raph had been playing clarinet and trumpet in the high school band and I played the drums.
At the time we were dating each other and we had been really close friends and we wanted to start expressing in music together so we decided to take a bit more of a conventional pop approach to it and Raph took up the guitar and learned how to sing. Then shortly after that she was doing folk stuff and just singing and playing guitar and I was just playing drums and producing really bad garage band beats behind her. Then we met up with Taylor and Katie and we all decided to come together and have some fun and play music.
MB: Why did you settle on the name Braids?
AT: Well I first had the idea of the band name Neighborhood Council when we were living in Calgary, Alberta and then we decided to change the name when we moved to Montreal. The Neighborhood Council really didn’t carry an emotional or physical merit at all. It was just a name that was randomly selected out of a magazine to be honest. It really didn’t mean anything, so that when we decided we were reforming the band in Montreal, we wanted to get a little deeper with our music and with our presentation of the band. So we decided to call ourselves Braids because the braiding and intertwining of our four musical personalities and of our friendships and I guess a braid is a very strong unit and together we’re very, very close and very strong and wonderful friends with one another, and so it was the braiding of our four friendships and personalities that formed Braids.
MB: How is the music scene in Canada?
AT: The music scene in Canada. It really varies from city to city but it’s very, very vibrant and Canadians really support Canadian music because they like to see other fellow Canadians going out there on the international level and getting recognized. It’s vibrant in certain cities and like really nothing in the other cities. I guess that can be said for other countries because there’s very large cities and very small towns.
But the first thing that comes to mind is community. Canadians love Canadian music and we’re always trying to hold on against the all the large American bands that come to Canada. The American press machine is so much more powerful than the Canadian press machines so it’s very easy for Canadian bands to get lost in that so there’s rules and stuff like that on radio stations to just play 35% Canadian content and stuff like that. So we’re very supportive other Canadians.
MB: If you had the opportunity to acquire an American passport, would you take it?
AT: I’m very glad that I have a Canadian passport. I’m very proud to be Canadian, I love what Canada stands for. I love having an American work visa which is what we have so that we can go in the states, work and play as much music as we want without having to get arrested for that. But I’m very, very proud of being Canadian. I mean Canadians do make stupid decisions too but overall I love being Canadian.
MB: Do you live together?
AT: Some of us do. There was one point where we all lived together for a few months in the summer and that was super fun. But then just in terms of certain people having different financial necessities and wanting different homes and whatever. Taylor and I live together. Raphie and Katie used to live together as well for an year but now Raphie live with her boyfriend and Katie lives with some friends.
MB: What type of a dynamic or relationship is important for you when making music with other individuals?
AT: I think any kind of a relationship. That’s what makes different kinds of music. I can’t say that ours is the best because ours is the result of just making music that we do. Definitely I encourage everybody to just explore the relationship with each other to the fullest extent possible, because that results in the most honest and true music. But definitely one thing that has to be there is the open sense of communication and a trust – everyone has to trust each other in order to really commit and open yourself musically to one another.
MB: Your music is honest. Have you been tempted to conform to the current trends in music?
AT: We normally don’t concern ourselves with trying to pop it up or anything like that. We’ve always been 100% making music that’s in our heads and that’s I guess one of the prime reps of Braids is really not trying to give into any conformity or anything – just make music that we think sounds really good and then try to find a cool way to market it afterwards.
MB: What does the Braids listen to and where does inspiration come from?
AT: There’s a lot and one of the most interesting things about working with four individuals in a group is that everyone listens to different kinds of music and brings something different kinds of things to the table. That’s one of my favorite things about working in a four piece as opposed to a solo project.
It’s really inspiring because people are bringing new things to each other and are like, “Oh you should check out this, oh you should check out this.” One of the first bands that we all came together on and just said that this was just amazing was the Animal Collective and their record, Seals. That one was a really big one for us.
There are just certain things that always seem to be very textural, really dense groups of music and musicians that we really agree upon. And there’s certain composers like Steve Wright that we all really love as well. It’s really a vast inspirational playing field for us because we’re four different people.
I listen to a lot of Jazz music and Katie and Raph listens to a lot more pop music and Taylor listens to all over the place and it’s really cool. So it’s nice to draw from all these different places.
MB: What equipment and instruments are in your arsenal?
AT: I guess it sort of developed over the years. In the last two and half years, I guess maybe three years, we’ve really gotten into the use of loop pedals and delay pedals.
So I mean in the band, I have a drum set and I also have a little mixer beside me with the two delay pedals and loop pedal that I can run certain drums and stuff. I have a high hat microphone that I run into a bunch of effects so I check my vocals and my drums sometimes.
Raphie’s got a plethora of pedals – one for sort of rigged for her guitar, one rigged for her vocals as well.
Katie’s got the delay pedals for her vocals and a Nord Synthesizer, which is really incredible and really flexible.
Taylor’s got this sort of crazy set up. He’s got a mixer and a big effect pedal and a guitar but he also plays and he runs a lot of vocals into effects making them very textural and instrumental almost. Not so much the vocal part but the very atmospheric and stuff like that which is nice.
I guess we don’t have a set instrumentation. We’re always adding things and taking things out and trying little toys just to, like I said, trying to create the music that’s in our heads.
MB: Would you say that Braids is in their experimental stages?
AT: I think we’ll always be in our experimental stages. I don’t think we’re ever going to just settle. With Native Speaker there was this big long writing process where we experimented with tons of different things and eventually came up with something that still sounds holistic, while pushing boundaries on every different song and trying to push ourselves.
But then right now just as we finished that, we’re writing a bunch of new stuff and trying to push ourselves and experiment in new ways. I think that’s one my favorite parts about Braids, is that we’re always moving forward and always experimenting. So I think we’ll forever be in the experimental stage.
MB: If you weren’t making music what would you be doing?
AT: We’d all be at school, studying different things. Katie would be doing some architecture, Taylor would be doing philosophy. Raph just does a ton of music and I study music at school so I really don’t know what else there would be. I probably would be cooking. I probably would get my culinary arts degree or something. I’m sure Raph would be a writer or a poet of some sort. She’d probably studying philosophy or literature as well.
MB: Have you graduated or are you taking time off from college?
AT: Three of us were going to college. I was studying music, Katie was studying architecture and Taylor was doing philosophy. We all finished three years of our degree at McGill, then got hit in the face with the opportunity to really take some time off and tour. And we said, “Ah, school can wait, it will always be there.”
MB: You’re touring nearly every day until April. How are you holding up? Is there anything that you miss from Canada?
AT: There are a lot of things we miss. Girlfriends or boyfriends back home which is the toughest part about being on the road and not being able to see the person you love. We all miss having our own place, at least I really miss having my own place. A kitchen I can cook in, and having my own bedroom and knowing I at least have my own bed to go back to but, all that it’s just trivial little things that being a musician and getting to play every single night, music that you love to play is just a triviality against that you know?
We miss Tim Hortons being in the States. Tim Hortons is so great when you’re on the road. You can just pick up breakfast on the road real quick. There’s not really good breakfast places or drive through in the states. The way they have the McDonalds drive through, which is not very good.
MB: Is there a name for your tour?
AT: I wish we would have a name for it. That would be fun. I guess it’s really our first North American tour, but we’re touring with Baths right now. There’s a lot of different sections of the tour, in support of the record we just released. We don’t have a whole kitschy name or anything for the tour, but it’s nice to know that you have a record out and that you’re supporting that and that finally you get to sell something that shows that we’re super proud of and love.
MB: Who usually updates the social media?
AT: Usually Katie. She usually does a lot of that. I think Taylor does post pictures and videos onto our Tumblr. Other than that it’s usually Katie who does all the social media stuff along with a little bit of work from our label and our manager.
MB: Do you have examples of any social media strategies?
AT: There’s always a vein for your music no matter what you do. Especially today’s thing is where there’s niche blogs for everything and people are really into checking out their music.
Interesting social media things that we’ve done? Not too much. The best marketing thing that we’ve done is finding our manager and publicist and they’ve been fantastic with putting our music into the right hands. Be sure of what you’re doing with your music and where you’re putting it.
MB: Do you have any advice for aspiring musicians?
AT: When you’re finding the group of people you want to work with like a label or manager or stuff like that, don’t jump into anything. As soon as you have something that you think is special, there’s going to be other people who also think it’s special and you’re going to get tons of different people coming up to you and saying, “Hey do this, do this, do this. I wanna work with you on this.” But just take the time and have the maturity to step back and look at exactly do these people care about what you’re doing you know?
That’s why it took so long for our record to come out. We finished recording it last February and it didn’t come out until this January because it took a long time finding the people who care about us in the right way and then put out your record with those people because it will get the attention that it deserves when you finally find that team of people.
On a more musical note. Don’t sacrifice anything for trying to become famous or anything like that or trying to get tons of blog hype. Just do what you do and then find the niche that you’re marketing to afterwards.