Purity Ring’s Megan James Reflects on Self-Care and Checking For The Moon In Dark Times

Purity Ring is dealing with darkness on their new album, WOMB (4AD). 

The Edmonton-born synth-pop project came to light in 2012 with shrines, followed by another eternity in 2015, but it’s been a while since we’ve heard from the duo who captured our hearts with their ethereal electronic compositions. 

When confronting troubling times, music can be a comfort. Vocalist Megan James describes a slow writing process that came together with finishing touches in the last six months. For such a holistic album, each track had a different journey to completion. “We tried to let each song become itself and fill its own feeling, space and momentum,” James says.

During this moment of social distancing, WOMB explores concepts that are timely as ever. Confined to our houses, we are forced to analyze what makes a place feel like a home, re-examining our inner dialogues and routines. As James explains, “This album is by all means about home, however one may define it.” 

Through an email exchange with James, she catches us up on what her and her bandmate Corin Roddick have been up to.

It’s been a while since we’ve heard from Purity Ring. What have you two been up to for the last few years? 

Mostly I think we had to sort of come down from all the touring we did for another eternity. A lot can happen in three or five years, but for the most part we write slowly anyway. Lots of time to ourselves and time with family.

We left the final touches on this album until we had some idea of what it looked like as a whole and I would say we are glad we did. The last six months felt like a lot came together and everything previous was necessary for that to happen. 

Can you tell us a bit about what sort of head space the two of you were in while creating WOMB

The home space. We kept it close to home and close to ourselves. In the beginning there were a few places we took our little portable studio monitors and set up to see what would happen if we got away to write, but we ended up working from home more than anything. This album is by all means about home, however one may define it. 

How did you approach the production of this album? 

Like everything on the record, every part must warrant its own existence. We tried to let each song become itself and fill its own feeling, space, and momentum. For the most part it took a lot of time for the songs to grow into what they are. There were a couple songs where we would have one part and know that we needed another, and we would keep trying for it. In the longest case, it was three years before it finally came together.

We were careful not to hurry or force anything into fruition, but other songs came together immediately. For instance, “peacefall” was was written in one day, while “sinew” took about two years for all the parts to work together. It’s more about knowing when it’s worth holding on to and sometimes it’s worth all the patience you can give. 

On another note, there were more B-sides than we’ve ever had before, so we did write a lot in the time we took, just not everything made it to the inside.

What inspired the album’s name? Is WOMB more personal or cultural? 

It’s neither and both. The first time I listened to the songs we had altogether (it was only seven at the time), I was surprised at how comforted I felt. I was taken aback because it was a solid reminder of why we make music in the first place. It’s like, oh I have all these things going on that I don’t know what to make of. For me, when there is a situation that is a real life kind of thing that is never straightforward and always complicated, the way I make myself at ease is by writing. And so I listened and was relieved and I thought, ‘oh ya, of course i needed this.’ And my second thought was that I hope other people feel it too. 

As it happens, the songs developed into a world that is a mythological representation of my past few years and ultimately paints it into a story that I can define it by. It’s like coming to terms with where you come from, defining the space you exist in, recognizing that you are not there alone, even if you are alone. 

And so the title WOMB seemed applicable in every way we could think of. What community there is among us and within us, it’s its own world that comes from my world turned into a myth; or as I like to put it, scripture. But I did that to make peace and I hope there is comfort there for those who listen.

What are some common threads you’ve followed through your albums, and what new themes do you examine?

We always explained shrines as being an album that was inside, in a cave or under a blanket, somewhere beneath the surface. With another eternity, we described it in comparison to being up in the clouds; it floats and has a sort of loftiness. Both those albums take up two very different spaces, both of which came from some buried thing I had to say at the time. They also both focus respectively on a sound that was established and expanded upon song to song.

I think WOMB is different. We left room for each song to exist wherever in space it seemed to require. It’s about family, gathered or chosen, so the songs are all about other people. It’s deeply personal, but one objective step back. I would say it’s more of a functioning world with enough going on that it sort of encapsulates everything we have made up to this point; a call back with some hope looking forward. 

You explore dark subjects, emotions surrounding fear/dread/anxiety, accompanied by bright and upbeat instrumentals and poetics. How do you work through those feelings in real time outside of music? What are your routines?

I love the darkness. I’m always searching for the eye of the storm, and there is almost always one. I suppose I would say that is my motivation to write and make things. It’s a means to provide comfort by communicating alone, or by finding the mechanisms of my own personal language, which is bright and usually sarcastic for humour, but it does not come without fear, dread and anxiety. Those experiences and their expressions are complicated and I think it takes a lifetime to sort them out.

Lately my routine has changed drastically, as with most other people I assume. I have been growing as many things as I can to eat and look at. I take showers under a heat lamp and then put tons of lotion on. I stretch while watching good movies, I try to always check for the moon, I try to make as many things as I can at home, including roasting coffee, bread, clothes and, as I said, the garden. I find a lot of comfort in my mild attempts at self sufficiency. 

WOMB is available now on Crystal Math/4AD. Read our review of the album here.