‘We’re not a party band’

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Braids reach for k.d. lang-esque emotional connection on their North American tour

Sean Trembath
Contributor

Although her band Braids is known for starting slow and letting things build, Raphaelle Standell-Preston is high energy from the get-go.

“We were on the road at 6 a.m. this morning, so I’m really talkative,” said the vocalist/guitarist, speaking on the phone from Columbia, S.C. Despite the early start, her voice was full of excitement. With a week of their current tour behind them and a roundabout route around North America ahead, the positive attitude is a must.

After a few more gigs in the American South, Braids will return to Regina to play at the Exchange. After that, it’s west to Vancouver, south to California, and east to Texas, before finally heading back home to Montreal. Despite the daunting distance to cover, Standell-Preston feels healthier than ever.

“Everyone on tour is feeling really good right now,” she said, crediting the band’s high spirits to a concerted effort on everyone’s part to be healthy after their last tour left them “feeling like battered soldiers”. When the band returned to Montreal, Standell-Preston sought out a dietician, whom she credits for her current positive attitude.

Of course, that’s not the only reason she was in a good mood. The previous day had been spent playing a festival in Raleigh, N.C., and Standell-Preston still had good vibes from the performance.

“It was a very excitable audience. There were people who were actually there to see us. That feels great,” she said.

Having people come to shows specifically for them has become more and more common since the release of their debut album, Native Speaker. The album’s seven dream-poppy tracks, ranging from four- to eight-minutes long, use layers of effects-heavy guitar and keyboard along with Standell-Preston’s distinctive vocals to create musical soundscapes that build to shoegazing crescendos.

Native Speaker has gained Braids significant critical recognition in Canada, culminating with their inclusion on the 2011 Polaris Music Prize shortlist alongside artists such as Arcade Fire, Hey Rosetta! and Ron Sexsmith. The annual award – and its $30,000 cash prize – goes to the best Canadian album based solely on artistic merit as selected by a jury of Canadian media luminaries.

On Sept. 19, Braids will pause their tour for a day in order to fly to Toronto to attend the Polaris Gala, where the winner will be announced. Talking about the nomination, Standell-Preston was humble.

“It’s really an honour,” she said. She also singled out one of the other nominees as a favourite of hers and the rest of Braids.

“We’re all big fans of Colin Stetson. I’m very excited to see what Colin Stetson does for the Canadian music scene.”

Despite the nomination, Standell-Preston said the band hasn’t seen a huge change in the composition of their crowds, especially in the U.S., where the Polaris is relatively unknown. As much as they like having fans come to see them, they still enjoy the challenge presented by fresh ears.

“We actually had a conversation about this the other day. We enjoy doing opening slots, because you have to work really hard to win them over. It’s a really big treat when you do win them over. When you’re playing for a brand new audience, it’s really exciting,” Standell-Preston said. She admitted it doesn’t always work out so well, as was the case on the band’s first trip to Regina, where they met a tough crowd at O’Hanlon’s.

“I just remember a lot of drunk people. I don’t remember seeing so many drunk people in one building. I think there was one bartender who wasn’t drunk, but that’s it. We’re not a party band. We can be, but that’s not how our music is intended to be heard,” she said with a laugh.

She still enjoys coming to the prairies, though. The band actually formed in Calgary before moving to Montreal after completing high school.

“It’s what I associate my upbringing with: the open plains,” Standell-Preston said.

Her latest memory of Regina is extremely positive and occurred during this summer’s Folk Fest, where Braids played a set.

“I remember k.d. lang. I remember crying in the audience while watching her sing [Leonard Cohen’s] ‘Hallelujah’. And it wasn’t a light cry either. It was a bawl,” she said. “It’s an emotional connection all artists strive to reach with their audiences.”   

Braids will be playing the Exchange on Saturday, Sept. 17, at 8 p.m., with guests Pepper Rabbit and Painted Palms.

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