You know that whole thing about being careful for what you wish for? Well, Taylor Smith and the rest of experimental pop act Braids would be advised to take that cliché to heart in the future. In a 2009 interview with Toronto's AWmusic.ca, the bassist/vocalist said, "I feel like we should be compared to Animal Collective. I feel like that's who we sound like."
Intentional or otherwise, that quote led to a massive wave of references to Animal Collective and their 2005 record, Feels, in the majority of critical evaluations of Braids and their recently released Native Speaker. These links have become so unavoidable that "braids animal collective" is now a Google AutoFill result. While several of those comparisons have been used in unflattering ways, Braids' steady flow of press hasn't halted.
Keyboardist/vocalist Katie Lee estimates that the band has done an interview for every second city of this tour. On Thursday night, the Montreal four-piece comes to Detroit Bar in Costa Mesa for a show with Asobi Seksu and Useless Keys, so it's time for OC Weekly to join the flurry of interviewees via a quick convo with Lee.
OC Weekly (Reyan Ali):You guys have received an incredible amount of press attention since Native Speaker. Any idea why it's you guys in particular?
Katie Lee: Uh, why? I guess 'cause we have a good press agent. [Laughs] No, I think maybe because in this day and age, it's really easy for people to jump up on a band--a hyped band--and that sort of thing. Maybe because [we have] a sound that has been around but we do it differently? We're young? I'm not sure. I guess people like our album. I don't know. [Laughs]
Do you ever worry that someone will peg you as a buzz band and that's it?
I don't worry so much about it, but it is definitely a difficulty and a challenge to try and be a band and make music that is more than just what is popular right now. We've a band for the last three and a half years and it has been a steady growth. The amount of press we are getting now is something that we've been working toward for three and a half years. A lot of people mistake us for being a band for over just a year, but that's not true. We've been around for a really long time. It's something we've looked forward to, and it's happening.
In all of those interviews, what's something you've wanted to talk about that you've never had a chance to or no one has brought up?
Um... oh, man, we've done so many. I guess, [no one has asked] what is so amazing about being a touring musician, not so much what we like on tour, but why do people play music. The reason we play music is not just because we want to share ideas with each other and because we like music but to be able to share our music with people that might not be neccesarily able to listen to us through the Internet because there's so many bands out there. Being able to play music in front of people that haven't heard of us is definitely something that we really enjoy.
One time, we were playing in Montreal and there was this security guy. He looks like a rock dad with long hair, and he came up to us afterwards and said, 'Wow, your music is like walking on clouds.' Having someone that isn't just a young 20-year-old who would like your music anyways come up to you and say that definitely touches us. Stuff like that on tour definitely makes us really happy.
Back when Braids was known as The Neighborhood Council, you guys played a battle of the bands and lost to a Red Hot Chili Peppers tribute act. What do you remember of that experience?
I remember us being a little bit frustrated because the Red Hot Chili Peppers band [and us] had very similar scores. The reason we lost was because they had points for costumes and we didn't have costumes. That's all I remember from it.
Technical proficiency aside, was the sound then similar to what Braids is now?
Nope, it was very different. The pop influence is still there, but we were definitely more of a folk band. Raphaelle [Standell-Preston, singer/guitarist,] had played a lot of banjos and acoustic guitar. I didn't have my noise then. I was playing more pure synth, piano-style. We also had another member when we first started out. It was more of a folk-pop thing. It wasn't very experimental at all.
Native Speakerwas written "live" and done two and a half years before the actual recording. You are planning on using computers to set up the next record, right?
Yeah, because Native Speaker was written in a live setting, for the next album, we wanted to write songs on the computer and then translate that into the live setting, which is something we'd never done before, so we're always trying to find new ways to challenge ourselves.
In reading about Braids and Native Speaker, phrases like "meticulously crafted" and "skillfully constructed" have been used to describe your songs. How much effort do you pour into them?
Would you consider them to be meticulously crafted? These songs did take a very, very long time to write. Usually when we write songs, we all come up with an idea, and it's like a big cluster of sounds and very chaotic. One of the songs took over a year to write. Definitely the time that we put into it is quite extensive and we do rip apart those songs as much as we can and then construct something out of it. Maybe the reason why people say that is because our songs are 10 minutes long. Actually, I don't know. Someone the other day in Madison came up to me and said that we needed to challenge ourselves more instrumentally. I don't know, I guess there are some people out there who don't think we challenge ourselves enough. [Laughs]
Was this a total stranger who said it?
He looked like a father figure of some sort and when he was talking to me, he was talking to me as if I was his child almost. It was very bizarre. I just looked at him and said, 'I don't know what to say to you.' [Laughs] He then compared us to another band that he saw but this other band had taken their music further or something. It was in like a lighthearted mood but also very weird.
From The Neighborhood Council days until Braids today, where have you seen the biggest source of development within the band?
[It's] definitely with the way in which each of us writes our parts. I know that before we wrote songs, everything would sort of sit together. It was sort of predictable. I would write the melody line and then Raphy would write the nice vocal part that would go on top of it, but I think these days, we've ventured more. I wasn't aggressive as I [am] now. Now, I feel like I definitely would take a stance in bringing a part that I would have been scared in bringing maybe two years ago [Laughs], so perhaps that aggressiveness brings the music into a different way.
Braids opens for Asobi Seksu at Detroit Bar, 843 W. 19th St., Costa Mesa on Thursday.