An album named Angel makes me think of a one of few things: An alt-rock band that has found the Lord, a Nordic pop group's debut album, or Mariah Carey. Pure X's third album is (thankfully) neither of those things.
Breaking out in 2010 with the melodic lo-fi Pleasure, Pure X quickly became my favorite seemingly-unknown band (if that phrase can still be used un-ironically in the Internet age). Two years after Pleasure, the band released their second album, Crawling Up the Stairs, a deeper, darker, more situated LP that somewhat dismantled a lot of the vibes I loved about Pure X.
The release of 2014's Angel had the Austin band transform once again: Four white dudes from Austin turn their psych-pop into a soul. Angel is so damn soulful, so heavenly, so perfectly pop-y but not a note strikes you as cheesy or bubblegum-y. Pure X just recently became a quartet with Matty Tommy Davidson on guitar and synth, the addition of which is critical in fleshing out such sensual, amorous tracks.
The sincerity in songs like "Wishing on the Same Star" is hard to believe, song-unheard, but the crooning vocals convince you anyway. Having had the...pleasure of seeing Pure X live, I've seen the passion that the whole band puts into their performance. I was beyond excited to talk to guitarist Nate Grace ahead of Pure X's June 28th show at Brick & Mortar Music Hall.
TBB: Angel is so light and whimsical, where your last album was dark and brooding. What changed in between the recording of the two albums for you?
Grace: For me, personally, a lot [changed]. My whole life changed, I guess. During the recording of Crawling up the Stairs, I was on crutches and I was kind of in a weird purgatory period where I didn’t know what the future was going to hold and I didn’t know if I could get surgery and I was completely flat-fucking broke. It was pretty shitty. But I got surgery and learned how to walk again and from there it was like, my life got pretty fucking good. So for me, everything changed. My girlfriend moved from New York to Austin and we got a place together. And I’ve also gotten into yoga and meditation and I also started eating healthily, which was another thing. So it was a combination of a whole life change and kind of like a lifestyle change that resulted in an overall, better, healthier wellbeing. For me, my shit flipped 100%. It changed my world from unknowing fear.
TBB: Is Angel a concept album? Was it inspired by your girlfriend?
Grace: Partly, yes. I wouldn’t say entirely. Well there are three songwriters and two singers [in Pure X]. A lot of people for some reason don’t understand that there are two singers and three songwriters. We’ve all got different things going on in our lives. But when it came to the album, we did kind of cut out songs that didn’t fit with the theme.
TBB: Tell me more about Pure X’s songwriting process.
Grace: The band kind of started off as my project, I guess at the very beginning stages. But over time, pretty quick, actually, it kind of morphed into a collaborative stage. And with Crawling up the Stairs, it morphed into more collaboration with Jessie [Jenkins, bassist] bringing songs. With Pleasure, it was pretty much me bringing all the songs. And then on this new album, our friend Matty Tommy, who has been touring with us pretty much the whole time, he started bringing songs too. He brought the song “Starlight” and he brought the song “Angel.” And so now it’s all 100% full-on collaboration between all four members. It’s cool, yeah, it makes for more variety, I really like that. I feel like Angel definitely has one solid feel. One of us will bring a song and generally, we all work on it together. And we’ll add our own little things to it.
TBB: Tell me more about the sound on Angel.
Grace: We’re all really proud of the sound of the new album.I think with each album, we’ve all learned like studio tricks and gotten more and more, just better in the studio. Because we’ve worked with one engineer throughout the band’s career, we’ve all had to grow together which is awesome. And I’m so stoked on the way this album sounds, and the room that we were in. People don’t really understand what a big role the room sound has in how a record sounds. Because we recorded in an old dance hall that had these really high wooden ceilings and wood floors that was over a hundred years old. And that, for me, soaks the records with this like, I don’t know, it’s hard to explain the vibes. To me, that is where the sound of the record came from, from the room.
TBB: What inspired the different vocals on Angel?
Grace: I’d say a big part of that is Jessie. I don’t know what inspired it. I think we just listened to a lot of soul music, a lot a lot of older soul music. And I would say more that’s Jessie’s range and I mean, I sing on some of the soul stuff too but my voice is kind of low, on the low register, you know. But Jessie kind of has like a soulful kind of like high thing going. Yeah, I don’t know, I think that just kind of happened with time. It’s just the beginning of it, we’ve always kind of had a soul tilt, or leaning towards that direction. Never quite going all the way there. On this record we never quite went all the way there. We have a b-side called “Crazy Lust” but that one to me was the most soulful we’ve ever recorded. And that’s one of Jessie’s songs.
TBB: What are the challenges of bringing your songs to life on stage?
Grace: For Pleasure, that album was 100% live, all vocals, everything. And then, for Crawling up the Stairs, we decided to go for the opposite approach. We went for 25% live. And that was like an all-studio album. And that one was really hard to translate live, I think. We’ve had a lot of trouble. Nowadays, we only play one or two songs live [off Crawling up the Stairs]. Angel is about 75% live [recorded], so it’s a little easier to translate live. Our records have a lot of textural stuff and a lot of that stuff is hard to translate. Especially trying to play the Pleasure songs…Pleasure was so of-the-moment. The sound of that album is totally specific to the time, the place, and the gear we were using. I was just using like a little shitty amp. And I was using the sound of this really shitty wall pedal that I had that was like falling apart and it gave this really cool sound. But then it totally fell apart, and I couldn’t recreate that sound again which is kind of unfortunate.
TBB: What is touring like for you guys?
Grace: I mean, I love touring. Well after, Pleasure, we couldn’t tour because I was on crutches and my knee was locked up, which was a huge bummer. The album did really [well], so it was the perfect time to tour but then I got hurt. We’ve been trying to tour as much as we can, it’s just like the business side of it has--I don’t know how to explain it. We love touring, we want to tour the entire world, it just hasn’t worked out as much as I would like personally.
TBB: Who are some artists and bands that you would like to tour with or have inspired you guys?
Grace: I would say, mostly, bands from Austin. Like this band called Trollers. They’re probably like the best fucking band. They have a weird name but their like super dark and it’s kind of like trap beats on an MPC and they have a girl singer who plays distorted bass and kind of like scream-sings. They’re this weird, dark band—they’re cool. Most of our influence has come from bands in Austin. Nobody really outside of Austin really knows these bands. Everything on Holodeck Records, all the stuff on there. We toured with Real Estate, that was cool. They’re nice guys. But I can’t think of any bands outside of Austin that I would care to tour with…That’s just how I feel. Like personally, as far as bands going now, there is very little that inspires me. I do really like the dude Elvis Depressedly. I would tour with him.
TBB: Austin is filled with lots of bands - do you ever feel jaded by the scene?
Grace: Well I don’t know, I think every band is dealing with it too. Me, personally, I don’t resonate with a lot of stuff that’s happening. Like I like the stuff that’s happening in Austin because a lot of it’s darker and it’s about sound. Like the scene [in Austin] is all about textural audio stuff. Like having new, weird, cool, kinda dark sounds. Which I feel like most everywhere else it doesn’t resonate for me. And it’s kind of like frustrating being from Austin because I feel like the media concentrates a lot on bands from New York and bands from L.A. To me it’s bullshit because I think that most of that stuff sucks. It just frustrates being from the South, being from Austin. You’re automatically like having to work a little bit harder, you’re already at a disadvantage.
TBB: What are the members of Pure X up to in your free time? Day jobs?
Grace: None of us have day jobs, right now. It’s looking like we’re all going to have to get them after this tour which fucking sucks. But c’est la vie. Well we all used to skateboard, but then I got hurt so now I can’t skateboard anymore. That was pretty hard for me, now I’m like into the yoga and meditation and all that type of stuff because that kind of filled the gap for me without skateboarding. Because skateboarding was my Zen time or whatever. My girlfriend and I do yoga at our house and I’ll play live music for the yoga. We do all kinds of shit. I play music everyday, go swimming at all the Texas river spots, drink juice.
TBB: Any plans for a fourth album?
Grace: Yeah, I mean we’ve already started writing. And you know, we just keep doing it. We’ve all been writing and recording for years. And me and Jessie have been in bands together for like 10 years now. We’ve been writing and recording together for a long time. We’re getting close to like having a complete studio done. Which will be cool, we could even start producing other bands which would be cool.Pure X