Mar. 30, 2011 - Issue #806 : Insidious
Braids and beauty
Native Speaker elevates shared experience into common tongue
'I had this moment in January when the album was getting a lot of reviews," Braids' vocalist/guitarist Raphaelle Standelle-Preston recalls. "Our manager sent us two he thought were good, but were actually ripping us apart! I was upset, thinking, 'Jeez, the art I'm making is making people feel like this and bringing about this kind of emotion in them, and I feel bad!' It was the first real opposition I'd gotten to the art we were making. So I went for a long winter walk and came across this beautiful skating rink in a park, this moat around a little building, and there was this little girl skating with her mother. The girl was saying: 'Mama, Mama! Je t'aime! Je t'aime!' I just looked up and the sky and went, 'Please, whatever's up there, bless me with the ability to share this beauty with other people through my art, so I can capture this moment that's affecting me so deeply, please-please-please-please!' I just clasped my hands together and talked to something out there. In the past, music was an outlet for me and my emotions, but now I'm older and I feel more wise in my ability to craft things of beauty for people, and that's really important to me now, to comment on the beauty of the world."
If the world offers pearlescent moments to Standelle-Preston, she's got her antennae up for them. As she fields questions from a porch in Los Angeles, where the Montréal-based band is recuperating from SXSW, an old mute woman on a bicycle interrupts, pointing at the sun and gesticulating. Standelle-Preston, bemused, sweetly embarks on a brief, mystifying conversation with the interloper. She gives the moment its due, with grace and open-heartedness.
You can hear that approach in Braids' debut, Native Speaker, recently released by Flemish Eye ("I feel lucky to be on that label," she notes, "to be part of that community; the fact they're from our hometown and we've been in awe of them since we were 15.") The album is a study in beauty, in all its richness and emotional fidelity, fine-graining both the ephemeral and enduring in sonic amber. The music's precisely wrought and produced, yet verges on the ecstatic. When Standelle-Preston breathes "I feel good" on the title track, you believe it.
"The lines I'll sing or play usually come about because it feels good," she laughs. "For me, it's not intellectualized in the least. It's very physical. The album is very sensual and visceral and talks about the physicalities of love and living. Writing with Braids is a collective, organic process. It's very democratic; it takes a long time. It all stems from something feeling really good and then all of us feeling that at the very same moment and then writing something."
Braids' act of creation is a thoroughly collective moment that the band attempts to broaden to the audience when playing live.
"Bringing people together to share in an experience is really important to me," Standelle-Preston offers. "There's a strong, unspoken energy there you can't get anywhere else except when you have a group of people who are all really excited, really loving the same thing." V
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