8:19 AM CDT, August 29, 2013
Purity Ring's Corin Roddick was a drummer in the Canadian indie-rock band Gobble Gobble when he began flirting with electronic music on his laptop while on tour a few years ago. He wasn't immediately thrilled with the results.
"I thought it was garbage," he says of his initial attempt at working on what would become Purity Ring's breakthrough song, "Ungirthed." "I made that track on my laptop on tour and didn't think it was any good. So I closed it and didn't open it again till I got home four months later. I was going back sifting through stuff I had done when I heard that synth line again, and I had all these ideas for it. It came together in a couple hours. I very seldom write like that. It was a rare, magic moment where something fell together quickly."
Roddick, who grew up in Edmonton, Alberta, had gone through several musical phases before discovering the independence and sonic freedom that electronic music afforded him. As a young teen, he was a self-professed indie snob who prided himself on liking only the most obscure music. He played drums in indie bands, but grew dissatisfied.
"I got into electronic music because of the possibilities of sound creation," he says. "I was getting bored with traditional instruments. There is still a lot of great music being made with them, but I got sick of being in bands with guitars and drums. I wanted the ability to create any sound by using synthesizers and warping samples, dropping in audio, making sounds no one has heard. With drums and guitar you can write a great song, but the sounds are kind of obvious. The palette for electronic music is much wider. There's a lot more mystery around it."
He asked his Gobble Gobble bandmate Megan James to add vocals. "I'd originally thought we'd do something on our primary instruments, with me playing drums and her on piano, but instead I gave her this electronic track," Roddick says. "Megan's an experienced musician and songwriter, but the idea of doing anything electronic was pretty out there for her. It was new territory for both of us, a chance thing, which made us both a little uncomfortable. I think that's why it had the impact it did."
"Ungirthed" mixes Roddick's otherworldly synths and James' vocal melody, which turns the phrase "ears ring and teeth click" into a ghostly hook. They released the song on Tumblr in January 2011 to immediate acclaim.
"The song was just intended for us to hear and our friends – we weren't really a band yet," Roddick says. "We'd all been involved in quite a few musical projects that toured and sold records, and we know how difficult it is to be noticed as a musician. It did come as a big surprise when 'Ungirthed' got noticed, and we were grateful. I was coming to things from a fresh perspective that maybe wasn't really around the Internet at time. You click through Tumblr, and there are blogs, Soundcloud, so much music out there, it's easy to listen to five seconds and click 'next.' But that song caught people's ears and made them want to come back to it."
It created a template for future collaborations, but the duo decided not to rush anything. "We had labels hitting us up from the minute we put out that first song for the next year, year and half," Roddick says. Eventually they signed with 4AD, which released "Shrines" last year. The album was a long-distance collaboration, with Roddick building tracks at his home studio in Montreal and then digitally shipping them to James in Halifax, who wrote lyrics and sang.
The album finds the sweet spot between their indie-rock background and passion for pop-friendly R&B and hip-hop, an affinity affirmed by a recent cover of Souljah Boy's "Grammy."
"The biggest influence on the album was all the hip-hop and R&B I was listening to," Roddick says. "I came to realize the music I loved when I was a kid, 7 or 8 years old, was radio pop, and that stuff still makes me feel the same way."
Whereas such blatantly mainstream music would've made the teenage Roddick want to break things, he's more than come to terms with it. "The next step of musical maturity is embracing all the music you've ever loved and opening yourself back up to it," says the producer, who's now in his early 20s. "There's amazing craftsmanship in all areas of music, but I think it's more difficult to write a great pop song than any other genre. It's not easy to connect with so many people with a melody, a chord progression. I have really come to appreciate that process. The amount of energy that goes into something that is the perfect amount of simple, of catchy, of relatable is admirable. I can't compare my music to what's going on in pop right now, but it's inspiring. We're not afraid of the pop world."
Greg Kot co-hosts "Sound Opinions" at 8 p.m. Friday and 11 a.m. Saturday on WBEZ (FM-91.5).
When: 8 p.m. Sunday
Where: North Coast Festival in Union Park, 1501 W. Randolph St.
Tickets: $55; northcoastfestival.com
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