When Raphaelle Standell-Preston moved from Calgary to Montreal around six or seven years ago to pursue music, she roomed for a time with Claire Boucher, or Grimes, who has since gone on to become a star in the new wave of Canadian indie, but Standell-Preston is also making her mark.
As roomies, both women were around 20 years old and diving into an experimental indie scene based around a venue called Lab Synthese, which Standell-Preston, interviewed for this article by e-mail, described as “a hub for the undiscovered community there.” In 2009. that Montreal scene, fueled in part by arty student types from McGill University, gave rise to the music label Artbus Records, which helped a new wave of bedroom-produced glitchy electronica develop more ambitious but still DIY ideas about pop and rock songwriting. Artbus has so far produced a small but notable catalog, including Grimes’ first album as well as multiple releases by two bands fronted by Standell-Preston: Blue Hawaii and Braids.
Blue Hawaii first made it to Taipei last year, playing an intimate show at Legacy Mini. Next weekend, Standell-Preston brings her other band Braids — actually her first band — to The Wall.
Braids is a trio, featuring Standell-Preston on vocals and keyboards, Austin Tufts on drums and Taylor Smith switching between bass, guitar and other instruments. All Calgary natives, they feel themselves to be part of a more general “Canadian scene” and come from a generation where using computers to make music is as integrated into the process as using instruments. It’s a place where genres like shoegaze, laptop pop, dream pop, glitch, chillwave and others all sort of spill into each other.
A couple of the labels that have been tossed at Braids include “natural electronica” and “dream pop,” which Standell-Preston has embraced.
“To a degree, labels help sell records,” she says. “People like deciding what genre they’re into, and it helps in the sharing and discovery of music. Unless you’re differentiating between metal or jazz, labels within indie rock are just fun adjectives that people can get behind, and I can get behind ‘natural’ and ‘dream!’”
So who are their peers? Braids has performed with (and deeply impressed) Deerhunter, and also Asobi Seksu and Toro y Moi. Lately, Standell-Preston claims they’re really into Caribou, both for his music, his humble attitude and the way he tours. They also love other Calgary bands like Azeda Booth and Viet Cong.
Standell-Preston’s voice is a major part of Braid’s defining character. Her vocal delivery has been compared to Bjork’s, and can certainly also be compared to Grimes’ — all these women deliver their own perversions of lyrical beauty, with pristine high notes soaring over dirty beats and beautiful, dynamic vocal passages giving way to the quirky, broken meters that bring everything crashing down to reality. Her singing also reminds me of Lizzi Bougatsos from Gang Gang Dance in the way it leaps out of a normal rock song to become something almost (but not really) operatic.
Standell-Preston says her singing style is self-taught. “I haven’t really trained my voice, at least not properly. I’m learning how to train it so that I don’t injure it. The tone that I have grown into is hard on my vocal chords, so I’m currently learning how to be safe in singing the way I do.”