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Purity Ring on Their Long-Distance Songwriting: 'I'm Amazed at How Well It Works'

The Canadian pop duo talk about recording their first album, 'Shrines'

July 24, 2012 2:00 PM ET
purity ring
Corrin Roddick and Megan James of Purity Ring.
Roger Kisby/Getty Images

Purity Ring's debut electro-pop album, Shrines, was created in a non-traditional way: in two entirely different cities. Between January 2011 and April of this year, Corin Roddick composed beats in Montreal, Canada, and then sent them across the country to Halifax, where bandmate Megan James added her elegant soprano and wondrous yet skin-crawling lyrics. When James was finished, she bounced the track back to Roddick, who tinkered with it until he was satisfied. The only time Purity Ring worked on Shrines in the same room was when they added its final touches.

Despite the mileage, James and Roddick can't imagine crafting Shrines – out today on 4AD – any other way. "I think it works really well for us," James tells Rolling Stone. "We have very different goals in writing a song and it allows us to be isolated in those goals."

Purity Ring "don't get together in a room and jam it out," as Roddick points out. Rather, the longtime friends' working relationship more closely resembles the expedited model of a producer and MC building cuts via e-mail (i.e. Clams Casino and Lil B or Lex Luger and Waka Flocka Flame). Through the method, Roddick and James flourished in their own spheres and created an intricate, intimate record rife with fantasy yet grounded in the corporeal.

However, neither member of the band predicted the sound they would create together. A few years ago, Roddick (then a member of electro group Gobble Gobble) started making his own beats, and James was the first vocalist he sent them to. "Ungirthed," the band's first and only track, tumbled seemingly out of nowhere in January 2011; it was a blippy pop gem that had the Internet clamoring for more.

"I felt a little bit of pressure after our first song because it was the only song I'd ever really written or finished before," says Roddick. "Then we were sort of expected to make more, and that's always tough."

"We didn't have any plans to build on it at all until we got that response," adds James.

Though demand was high, Purity Ring took their time with the follow-up. Roddick built beats by twisting knobs, plucking synth lines or toying with samples of James' vocals until he hit something exciting. He laced the top with rat-a-tat trap snares and ticking hi-hats and, at the core, placed a bass that expanded like a bubble before it popped – a technique known as side-chaining, which creates big dips in volume. "It's like using negative space to create feeling and movement," Roddick explains. "I'm always a fan of taking away to create feeling instead of adding."  

Simultaneously, James penned music and lyrics in journals. Her verses tended towards the surreal, even creepy, though always with a fantastical beauty. When James received a track from Roddick, she'd listen to it and scour her pages for complementary verses; what she laid down were usually fully intact passages, complete with their original corresponding melodies--a few tweaks here and there. "I'm kind of writing constantly and it's really just for myself; I'm not thinking about what it will turn into," she says.

Despite approximately 770 miles between them, the members of Purity Ring combine their different skills into something wonderful. It is a union that still baffles James.

"I'm kind of amazed at how well it works and how far we've gotten," she says. "It doesn't really make sense to me. We're so vastly different, we work differently, yet it works so well. I could think over that for a long time and I still don't know what's going on."

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