Driving down an Arizona highway, Austin Tufts has become accustomed to the novelty of tumbleweeds weaving across his path to the melody of the desert breeze. He, however, along with the three other members of Braids, have yet to tire of their own aggressively subtle melodies. Raphaelle Standell-Preston, Katie Lee, Taylor Smith and Tufts joined forces in high school as the Neighbourhood Council with one modest goal -- to share the simple pleasure of playing music together. That all changed in 2007, when Sled Island gave them the opening slot for Deerhunter. The quartet changed their name and got serious with their talent.
Tufts explains the experience over a crackly connection.
"It's a classic example of Sled Island doing exactly what it's supposed to," he reflects. "Pairing local talent with international musicians whom have a lot more status in the industry."
The quartet gained a lot from their first big outing -- Deerhunter invited them on tour. After their move to Montreal, Braids cemented themselves as an up-and-coming band to watch. Tufts also confirmed they are playing Sled Island this year, their fifth year in a row performing at the festival.
Braids have spent the time since perfecting their unique form of aggressive, groove-based textural pop. The sound is hard to describe or pin down and the band frequently garners comparisons to Animal Collective, Grizzly Bear and even Joanna Newsom. Though the comparisons are close, they don't ever fully encapsulate Braids's music.
"It has very aggressive natures in it," says Tufts. "A lot of the rhythms are very groove-based and it's more than just the sort of dreamy, textural pop music. It's a little bit darker and a little bit more rhythmically complex."
Dreamy textural pop or not, Braids is doing something right. The band is currently touring North America on the strength of their recent release Native Speaker, which attracted plenty of positive press. Their songwriting process could be the reason for this success -- as their name suggests, they work as a collective.
"[The songs] come from a concept, an idea or even just an effect that they really want to start incorporating," says Tufts. "Usually we'll hash it out at the start of a rehearsal and start playing an idea and we'll just jam and build on that. It is really collective, but it stems from an idea and we try to stay within that idea to some extent while still making sure the music sounds good."
When asked about their lyrical process, he praises vocalist Standell-Preston for her prolific skill.
"She has books upon books of really incredible poetry and often we'll be playing and a vocal line or melody will come into her head," he says. "She'll be able to mash it up with a poem that she'd written previously or an emotion will be triggered which she's felt before in a poem."
"A couple weeks ago [she said], 'Hey I just finished all the lyrics for the new record.' "
It's not just a spontaneous spur-of-the-moment process either. Though Native Speaker was released at the beginning of March, Standell-Preston is one step ahead.Though the lyrics are done, Tufts says there is change and exploration in the band's future. Morgan Greenwood of Azeda Booth inspired them to expand electronically. After touring Native Speaker extensively, the four decided to push themselves "a little bit harder and incorporate the computer a little bit more," Tufts says.
"[Our aim is] not just do what we're used to and not just explore the emotions we're comfortable with, but new emotions that we've never explored before."
He promises the public will reap the benefits of Braids' exploration sooner or later.
"The songs will be released one way or another."