Purity Ring's Megan James Uses Lyrics to Find Her Identity

Megan James and I have been trying to hunt each other down for a week. The Purity Ring vocalist’s tour has been riddled by sickness, due in part to the breakneck nature of supporting her band’s sophomore release Another Eternity.

When we do finally get on the phone, James is hours away from playing a pair of homecoming shows at University of Calgary’s MacEwan Hall, the first of which all of James and Roddick’s extended family are set on attending, down to their nieces and nephews. It’s a rare moment in an otherwise hectic and international touring schedule that’s been a staple for Purity Ring since 2012, the year the duo released its acclaimed debut Shrines. James hasn’t been near her hometown of Edmonton in six months due to various Purity Ring requirements, but it doesn’t seem to phase her much.

“It’s tough to find time to write while we’re on tour, and I think that that’s something that prevented us from starting to write Another Eternity sooner,” James says. “It would be nice not to do that again, but at the same time it is so nice to not tour, to take time off and write your record.”

Purity Ring is also one of those rare bands in which production value is as critically relevant as lyrics. The duo adopted the self-ascribed “future pop” label early on in its career, and it’s been a sticking point for the press since. While naysayers may chalk such an appointment up to artistic pretension, subscribing to the genre was a way of keeping everyone else in line with their vision.

“A big part of the reason why we call it ‘future pop’ is so we don’t get pigeonholed,” she explains. “Even for ourselves, it’s important to not think of ourselves as a certain type of music or visual even, but to sort of make our own world where we’re comfortable. That’s why people create things anyway, I think, just to make a place where they feel comfortable existing.”

Within that personal realm, James has found Purity Ring to be a source of self-discovery, rather than just the simple reflection of her observations and wishes. Where she has said that she “writes herself,” in relation to her lyrics, introspection has proven to be fortuitous on a number of fronts, exemplified by the band’s two sold-out shows at Crescent Ballroom.

“It’s not like I have this thing I want to express poetically; it’s that my lyrics are the emotion I’m trying to express musically,” James says. “When I finish something I can go back and read it and then usually learn something new about myself, or realize something that I had felt or learned or experienced. It’s sort of scriptural for me, like I’m writing my own personal identity.”

For James, the musicality that best fits the identity she’s finding is Purity Ring’s brand of left-of-field, neo-New Wave pop music. With elements that range from trip-hop-esque percussion to loops and atmospheric vocals, it’s hard for the layman to not label James and Roddick’s work as pop, but the reaction to the three-letter genre is more akin to that of a four-letter word. It’s an irksome, narrow-minded reception for some people, but for those who appreciate the nuances of Purity Ring’s music, there’s nothing else quite like them.

“I the most frustrating thing is to make something and have everybody else see something totally different,” she says. “Lately a lot of people ask, ‘Why did you start making pop music?’ I just don’t even understand that because I think we made we different record, and that was our goal all along. We didn’t want to make the same record twice, but it’s definitely still Purity Ring. We’ve always made pop music, and there’s this weird sort of vendetta.”

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Kristian C. Libman

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