The body of work we may eventually call the "Book of Megan James" is now two chapters long. This week, James and Corin Roddick, her partner in the spellbinding Canadian synth-pop duo Purity Ring, release another eternity, the follow-up to their brilliant 2012 debut, Shrines. James has referred to her lyrics on that first record as "personal scriptures," and with this latest offering, she's still preaching the gospel. "I'm attempting to write myself," James says via Skype from L.A., where she and Roddick are putting the finishing touches on the elaborate light show they'll unveil next month, as they begin a tour of Europe and North America. If that makes James sound like another self-absorbed millennial, the Edmonton native isn't setting diary entries to music — not explicitly. She's a self-described "parabolic" songwriter, and whether she's drawing on grotesque anatomical imagery, as she did on Shrines, or evoking earth's elemental forces, as she does throughout another eternity, James is more biblical prophet than TMI tweeter. "I adore parables," she says. "I don't necessarily adore Jesus, or the scriptures as they exist in religion. I'm much more interested in writing my own. Self-discovery and revelation: That definitely happens for me in writing." In discovering herself, James may be shepherding others toward enlightenment. Hayley Williams is among her avowed disciples, and recently, when the Paramore frontwoman tweeted about how excited she was for the new Purity Ring record, none other than Katy Perry retweeted her. "I listen to Paramore and Katy Perry, so I'm pretty stoked," says Roddick, also on the Skype chat.
Roddick isn't as big a fan of Mötley Crüe, but he sure digs Tommy Lee. That's because the infamous drummer and reality-TV fixture has also tweeted about Purity Ring — and what's more, he did so after buying tickets for one of their L.A. shows. That night ended with Lee going backstage and singing "Happy Birthday" to Roddick. The only thing missing is a Taylor Swift cosign, and it's not for lack of effort. "We've given her props a few times, hoping one day, it will come back our way," says Roddick. "She’s a songwriting genius — just to give her some more props." Roddick's genuine, non-ironic love for Swiftian pop music permeates Purity Ring's new album. Whereas Shrines enveloped listeners in a purple fog of disembodied robot voices and vapory keyboards, the new songs feature sharper hooks and more blank space. The simmering single "push pull" and strangely beautiful standout "repetition" aren't a million light years from something like Sia's "Chandelier" — the success of which suggests the time may be right for Purity Ring to make the leap from critics darlings and festival favorites to Top 40 hitmakers. "The pop landscape is constantly changing," James says. "We've always made our own idea of pop music. It's cool that it's changing in a way people can see us fitting in. It'd be amazing if we did get there."
Roddick agrees, so long as he doesn't have to compromise his music. Even though another eternity represents a conscious effort to declutter his arrangements and push James' melodies into the foreground, tunes like "dust hymn," with its fright-flick synths and sinister trap beat, retain the warped dreaminess that's also a big part of Purity Ring’s appeal."Those types of characteristics — things being immediate or dark or atmospheric or bright or whatever, all the words people use to describe our music — it applies to us consistently through Shrines and another eternity," he says. "Just in different ways." One major difference between the two records is how they came together. When James and Roddick wrote Shrines, they lived in different cities and sent files back and forth over email, never expecting the fusion of his "future-pop" compositions and her opaque lyrics would prove so popular. This time, they were together in Edmonton, working in the same room. At first, Roddick experimented with some of the vocal manipulations and synth tones he'd used the first time around, but he ultimately decided they were taking away more than they were adding. "We wanted the songs themselves to create the mood, melodically and lyrically, as opposed to using heavy effects to create the mood," he says. "It's letting the song breathe more for what it really is without dressing it up with a lot of stuff." "We're accepting our presence," James adds.
Even describing something as technical as Purity Ring's slight shift in musical direction, James has a way of speaking poetically. She sometimes daydreams about amassing a collection of writings (albums, books, etc.) that will years from now tell the story of her existence. It'll be a compelling read, but it won't be an easy one. On another eternity, James shifts her vocabulary from body talk — sliced-open sternums and "toothpicks in my dirt-filled heart" — to metaphors involving wind and water. The songs deal with "traveling and changing and renewal and shifting space," she says, and yet they're every bit as oblique as the ones on Shrines. Fans, critics, and perhaps even psychotherapists are going to have a field day. Asked whether outside scrutiny of her innermost thoughts constitutes an occupational hazard, James says no. There may be things that suck about getting to be a famous songwriter, but as far as she's concerned, ripping your guts out and inviting complete strangers to find meaning in the gore isn't one of them. "If you look at it as a gift, I can be grateful that people appreciate it and do relate to it," James says. "To bring it back to scriptures, that's what they’re for. You can take whatever you want out of my writing, or anyone's writing. It doesn't even have to be cryptic or secretive or vague. That's just what people do. It's a normal thing with lyrics. I'm totally content with that."