Calgary Folk Music Festival: Juno-winning, Calgary-born act Braids return having grown personally, musically

Posted by Mike Bell on 21 July 2016

Raphaelle Standell-Preston is looking at it as something of a do-over.

The last time she and her locally born, Montreal-based band Braids returned home to perform at the Calgary Folk Music Festival they were on small side stage, early in the day, playing to a small audience in the rain.

This year, the forecast is a good one, and the art pop trio have a much-deserved, primetime spot Saturday night on the Twilight Stage — something that the musician is thrilled by.

“I’m very happy to be playing it again,” Standell-Preston says from her adopted home. “I like the folk fest, I grew up going to the folk fest.”

And she’s coming back having grown more, personally, artistically and in stature.

Braids, of course, took home the Juno this year for Alternative Album of the Year on the strength of their third and latest full-length release Deep In the Iris. Or rather, Standell-Preston’s two bandmates — Austin Tufts and Taylor Smith — took home the award, as the singer was absent from the gala dinner.

Standell-Preston admits she was “sad” that she missed her hometown Juno win and jokes, “My dad says the reason we won was because I wasn’t there.”

She does have a good excuse, though, as she was actually down in California shooting a pair of videos for a couple of tracks on Braids’ appropriately titled four-song EP Companion, which was released in May. 

The tunes were actually written and recorded during the Deep In the Iris sessions — hence the title — and act as something of the end of a chapter for the band and, more importantly for Standell-Preston.

“It felt like that. Just naturally I ended up having closure with it through writing the song Companion,” she says.

“And we just knew that we wanted to release the remaining songs that we had from the Deep In the Iris sessions. It was a very natural progression.”

The closure to which she refers is a traumatic, extremely personal one that inspired the acclaimed song Miniskirt, which is the emotional heart of Deep In the Iris.

Standell-Preston revealed in an astoundingly brave essay on Pitchfork that it was about being sexually abused by her stepfather when she was a child and her inability to fully come to terms with it. The posting was her way of sharing her experience with others who may have been affected by something similar while also attempting to understand it, herself, and put it behind her.

“It was very scary putting it out. I felt really crazy that day,” she says with a laugh.

“I was like, ‘Oh, my God, this is so weird — everybody knows.’ But it was a really important thing for me to do. Now, after releasing it and sitting with it I just feel like I feel OK. I don’t feel like I’m fighting it any more. And I’ve just had such a positive response from people, who have come and thanked me for the essay and have talked with me about the essay and I’ve gotten a lot of emails.

“Surprisingly, luckily, I haven’t had any crappy Internet trolls. That makes me really happy. It’s only been positivity. I haven’t had to deal with any a—holes.”

That positivity extends to Braids’ career, which, right now is at an artistic and profile high, with Iris not only getting that Juno nod but putting them on the Polaris Music Prize Shortlist last year.

It’s also meant their time has been much in demand, with the trio having toured constantly the past year-and-a-half since the album’s release, throwing themselves into it further to capitalize on the release and acclaim for the 19-minute Companion.

“We’re hustling,” Standell-Preston says. “It’s really go time for us.

“We’ve just been doing it for long enough and we’re at that age where we’re starting to be aware that the energy in five years is going to go down a bit. We’re not going to be able to do 14-day tours with one day off — and I don’t like doing them, but we’re doing them.

“We’ve just been doing this for so long that we know what we want. We have goals in mind and we know what kind of music we want to write and we know how we want to be as performers, so we’re really, really trying to perfect that right now.

“And really lay down a really solid foundation for the next record, which I think we did with this record.”

She says she’s noticed it in Braids’ audiences of late, with their fans being very “receptive” and “involved and … open and vulnerable and more affected by the music.”

The folk fest show, however, will be among the last live dates for the trio as they’re finally winding down — the travel, not the creativity. Standell-Preston says she already has her poet’s hat on and is exploring new ideas, ready to continue the journey.

She’s looking forward to getting back to recording in September, with the bandmates having taken over the lease of a Montreal studio that their mix engineer had built from the ground up, but is abandoning in order to pursue more work in L.A.

For her part, Standell-Preston is happy to be more focussed this time and switch up the process, which for Deep In the Iris featured three different sessions in three different locales in the U.S. — Vermont, Arizona and New York State.

“We just need to make some roots,” she says sunnily.

“So it’s going to be a little bit of a different process. I think that we’ll still be as vulnerable and as explorative. But I think we’re going in with a bit more of a, ‘We know what we want’, whereas with Deep In the Iris it was like, ‘Let’s just feel and whatever happens happens.’

“Now we’re like, ‘OK, we want to write these kinds of songs and be inspired by these kinds of people and we want it to sound this way.’ I think it’s going to be more like,” she says and pauses. “I think it’s going to be more Braids curated.”

Braids perform Saturday at the Calgary Folk Music Festival.