Bernice Transform Themselves to Make 'Puff LP' Into a Full Band Experience

Bernice Transform Themselves to Make 'Puff LP' Into a Full Band Experience
Photo: Claire Harvie
Toronto's Bernice have released the musical sibling to 2017's Puff EP. Puff LP: In the air without a shape is a wondrous and curious reworking of songs from their EP, as well as other tracks culled from the same sessions, recorded with a focus on the band's live playfulness. Exclaim! spoke with primary singer and songwriter Robin Dann about bringing their live sound to the fore, transcending genre and retaining community in an ever-fractured industry.
Dann explains how the Neapolitan Novels of Italian author Elena Ferrante, which feature themes of identity and a sense of self, provided Dann with a striking passage: "One of the characters says that she feels like she's 'in the air without a shape,' and it — I don't know why — just resonated with me," Dann laughs. "I think also, for me, it was a little bit reassuring, in that I think it's okay to be a little bit formless sometimes, and it's alright to realize that we're always changing. It's not necessary to always be defining yourself. Sometimes you can just be in flux and that's okay too."
These thoughts are translated through the band's full-length, featuring arrangements that change shape in a way that is both smooth and unexpected. Dann is pointed with her lyrics on songs like "David," an ode to sadness, while the music expands and wavers. She describes this as a "sound painting of the feeling that the song was trying to target.
"I think expansive production is nice," she elaborates. "It feels freeing to open up a world of sound and dig into it, and create lots of sonic texture to go around what is otherwise a pretty simple melody and a simple form."
Working with engineer and co-producer Matt Smith over a brief, three-day recording session at Montreal's Breakglass Studios allowed the band to lay down the bulk of the album "all in, or surrounding, one central room."
"It was great to be able to actually play takes together, you know; we weren't overdubbing on top of beds and we only really added overdubs and edits in the months after that initial recording," Dann says. Performing the songs live in the studio allowed Bernice to take a different approach from the "maximal production style" of their EP. "It just felt like the most logical thing to do, 'cause recording now is so crazy. You can do anything you want at home, and that can be a little bit overwhelming."
Dann cherishes the process of working with her bandmates to find new meaning in her songs: "I always bring the songs to them and as we arrange them and find sounds and just create the live version of the song, they always open up in a really great way and it's almost like the story of the song kind of changes for me. It becomes about a whole lot more than that initial seed that I might have created around."
In the air without a shape combines pop, jazz and R&B — and the lack of straight categorization for Bernice's music sometimes worries Dann. "I go to Thanksgiving dinner, and I'm talking to my cousin's new girlfriend, and they're like, 'Oh, what kind of music do you make?' And it's like… There's that question, and I always… What am I going to say? It is a weird one and for me, it's related to ego. I have a hard time even calling myself a singer sometimes, because it just feels odd to identify as that. I definitely feel like a musician, and to put the band in a genre, I know it's really necessary for a lot of reasons."
Bernice's work and their primary role as a live band exists within a close-knit music community. "It's all about the community, for sure, always, and I feel like I've always come back to Toronto and the people who live and play music here, because those are people that I know."
With plans to tour In the air without a shape at summer festivals, combined with label support ensuring that the band have "supportive people around [them]," Dann affirms her belief in live music. "I believe that people crave it, so that won't go away, no matter what happens. I keep reminding myself, and the people that I love continually remind me, that we just have to keep making music that we like and the rest will fall into place. If we're lucky," she laughs.
Puff LP: In the air without a shape is out May 25 via Arts & Crafts.