The Weekly interview: Austin Tufts (and Raphaelle Standell-Preston) of Braids

Braids opens for Purity Ring with Born Gold at Brooklyn Bowl Tuesday night.

How has tour been going? You’ve had to cancel some dates. Austin Tufts: It’s been tough. I actually had pneumonia for 10 days. I just finished my antibiotics, and I feel much better. Bassist Taylor [Smith]’s now better, too. Our sound guy is sick as a dog, and singer/guitarist Raph[aelle Standell-Preston] is just now getting over laryngitis. It’s been an interesting tour.

And you lost your passports at the border, right? AT: Yeah. That, and then we also hit a deer and totaled our car on the second day of tour. It’s been a wonderful tour but very much jam-packed.

You did a split 7-inch in with Purity Ring, who you’re playing with here. Are the bands longtime friends? ATWe met them when they were playing in a band called Gobble Gobble, which is our friend Cecil [Frena]’s project from Edmonton, Alberta. He now plays in Born Gold, and he’s also on tour with us, so it’s like a big family affair. We did months and months of touring with those guys when were like 17, 18, and we’ve been really close over the last five years.

A lot has changed for the band since you last played here in 2011. How different would you say Braids is in 2015? AT: We’re all in very different places in our lives now. We’re now doing this as a full-time job. We’re way more art-centric in our entire being. We do this all day, every day, and that’s been a huge impact on our lives, our relationships. We’ve all gone through many different loves and lost many different loves in that time period. We’re not just angsty teenagers anymore. We have a lot more perspective on things.

Musically, we’ve definitely grown a lot, too and have improved a lot as songwriters and musicians. [But] at the root of it, it’s still the essence of just trying to get together as friends and play music together and have that be a fun, meaningful experience. And even though this is our business and our band and our well-being, we always come back to that point, having it be a special creative endeavor between us as friends.

It feels like, heading into new album Deep in the Iris, your mentality was a bit different than when you made 2013’s Flourish//Perish. AT: Definitely. We just really wanted to get out of our environment. The writing and recording and touring for Flourish//Perish was a very difficult process for us. We’re very proud of that record, but it was tough. We had built up this kind of hard shell as a preservation tactic, and a lot of this record was like, “Let’s go escape somewhere and try to shed ourselves of that exterior and be really real and honest with each other and come back to the essence of why we do this.”

We had a lot of conversations while we were driving from Montreal to Arizona, which is where we first started [writing] these songs. It was like a five-day pilgrimage. Every day in the car we would get into really heated arguments about what we wanted to accomplish. In the end we were kinda like, “Look, let’s not worry about writing a record. Let’s just go and have a great time together and try and make something special.” So that was the whole concept and ideology behind these writing retreats. That really resulted in the best music we’ve ever written, and I feel very proud of it.

You also went to New York and Vermont, right? AT: Yeah. Each location was very different and beautiful in its own right, and each location had its own impact on the songs and the development of the record. We were able to absorb the surroundings and the energy from those houses and the wilderness and the swimming holes we went to. It was great.

And you’re a three-piece now. AT: Yeah. It feels definitely like the strongest incarnation of the group. Recording Deep in the Iris was our first time with a clean slate, starting a record just the three of us. It was tough—we spent the first three weeks just not making very good music, really struggling and trying to come back to, “How do we do this? What are we doing?”

It was a big challenge, but then there was kind of the breaking point where like we all got really angry and tears were shed and things were said, and then things turned around and all of a sudden we just started cutting all the bullsh*t, not trying to write a record … and just really getting down to what’s important. Now I’m able to look back, and I speak for all of us when I say this: We look back on that year as being the best year of our lives. Spending a lot of time in nature was a very fulfilling and nurturing experience. We all found the best incarnations of ourselves there in the woods, in the wilderness.

Tell me about working with producer Damian Taylor (The Killers, Björk, The Prodigy). It sounds like he brought out a lot of confidence on this record. AT: It’s funny, he’s been in Vegas quite a bit working with The Killers on their last record. He was a very interesting person to get involved with for this. We had been talking with him for the last couple of years about working on something, and finally the stars aligned and we got to work with him on this.

We basically got the mix to what we felt was the best of our abilities over the course of a month and a half after finishing writing the songs. We took it to Damian, and we kind of just wanted him not so much to re-envision the mixes, because we didn’t have enough time to do that, and we’ve always mixed our own records and been controlling with that whole process. We wanted him to just sort of expand on what we had done. He did that, but he also went above and beyond that, and helped us shift the focus of the album, helped us get out of our shell.

The first thing he did, every song he just turned up the vocals significantly from where our mixes were and really brought a lot of aggression to the percussion tracks and he made the record have a whole lot more impact. It was a great experience. We’re all really happy with how the mixes turned out on that.

“Miniskirt” really speaks to women’s shared experiences and the universal feeling that comes from being viewed as an object. What was the impetus for that song? Raphaelle Standell-Preston gets on the phone: I think it was mainly impacted by the instrumental intensity of the song. We had been playing it for a few weeks and it was really the strongest, most aggressive music we had ever created as a group. It brought up in me something confrontational and something kind of aggressive and forward and strong.

I guess just as a woman and also reflecting for so many years and performing and dealing with different little things on social media, things getting under my skin and things making me feel belittled, I just wanted to speak about it. Culturally, too, right now it’s quite prevalent; there’s a lot of discussion about it. It just felt like the right platform for me to get my ideas out. I think as you get older, especially as a woman and if you’re performing, you experience the hardship of being discriminated for your gender and nothing else. It’s a very strange thing that happens to women, and I just wanted to write about it.

“Sore Eyes” is more of a dancey track, but the lyrics deals with watching porn and feeling dirty and guilty afterward. That’s such a loaded topic to bring to the forefront, especially in music. RSP: It’s cool that you recognize that, ’cause I feel like not a lot of people have really brought it up and sometimes I wonder if people really listen to the lyrics at all. It is kind of an interesting topic that isn’t really discussed within pop culture right now. Pornography is a huge thing in our culture—it’s just so dominant. It’s just an honest reflection on how I felt watching pornography, not that I have anything super against it.

Most pornography I find to be very demeaning towards women, and that kind of stuff I don’t like. That’s the kind of stuff that is very much on the Internet, and if you’re cruising or something that’s what you’ll find and I think that’s what a lot of people consume. I get afraid, I guess, of—and the song isn’t really about this—but how little discussion there is in schools about what people are viewing. I think it’s that fear that kind of makes the whole thing feel really gross and dirty.

But speaking of the song, it’s just about watching it and also feeling pressured to behave in that way. There’s a lyric, “Make believe that I’m in touch with myself, do the kind of things I watch from someone else.” So, thinking that you are in touch with yourself if you’re sexually active or if you’re explorative, being like “Oh yeah, I really get myself,” but it’s like, oh, actually I’m just trying to re-enact this image that I’ve seen over and over and over again. So I was just re-evaluating, like, “Am I actually being honest and true with what it is that I want to do?” Or is this me just trying to be sexy and be this image that I’ve seen?

You played the Bunkhouse during a music festival called Neon Reverb in 2011. Did you like Vegas? AT: That was the only time I’ve ever been there, but it was pretty wild. We stayed in a hotel, like, right on the Strip, and there was a casino in our hotel. There were so many lights and so many drunk people. It was kind of like New Orleans on steroids with a lot more money and gambling. It was weird, because then you get one block off the Strip and everything is completely quiet and dead—it was intriguing. The little bar that we played at was pretty weird. I actually got approached by the head recruiter of the Blue Man Group and he was like, “I like the way you play drums man, you’re very charismatic, here’s my card if you ever want a job as a Blue Man.” (laughs) I actually have that card still. If this doesn’t work out for me, I could move to Vegas and play boomwhackers for a living.

Braids opening for Purity Ring, with Born Gold. June 23, 8 p.m., $22-$24. Brooklyn Bowl, 702-862-2695.

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Leslie Ventura is a staff writer at Las Vegas Weekly and Industry Weekly. She’s picked the brains of rock stars ...

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