Interviews — August 30, 2016 at 12:28 pm

Interview: BRAIDS drummer Austin Tufts was held against his will and extorted in Vietnam, still loves the country


Young, accomplished and incredibly talented Canadian art rock band BRAIDS were originally slated to traverse the Pacific Ocean to perform just three shows in Japan last month. Luckily for the rest of Asia, that three date run turned into a ten date mini tour that saw them play everywhere from Shanghai to Singapore across 16 days, giving Asian audiences the ability to experience their dreamy electro tinged indie pop for the first time. It didn’t go without its share of excitement for the band though.


With their third album Deep In The Iris behind them, the group have refined their sound into their most mature release to date, no small accomplishment when the band’s debut album Native Speaker earned them a nomination for the prestigious Polaris Music Prize. In fact, the only reason they didn’t claim the top prize is likely that they had the misfortune of releasing it in 2011, the same year Arcade Fire released their seminal album ‘The Suburbs.’


Their performance in Bangkok saw the band visiting Thailand for the first time and Andrew Amatavivadhana was there on the night with his assessment of the show (spoiler alert: he loved it). A faulty audio recording meant that an earlier interview with all three band members was lost but in the spirits of turning lemons into lemonade, we had a chat with BRAIDS drummer Austin Tufts shortly before their Bangkok performance over some some delicious green curry. He was gracious enough to hash over what we’d already talked about thirty minutes earlier but luckily, he was saving the juicy stuff, like when he was effectively kidnapped in Vietnam, for last. Here’s what he had to tell us:


What was your favorite city to play in Asia?

There’s a difference between favorite city and best show. The first show we played in Tokyo was potentially the best show we ever played musically. Tiny little intimate venue, you step on stage and everyone is immediately silent. Very Japanese. Not a white person in the room – the entire crowd was Japanese which I thought was really cool. The rest of Asia has been a lot of expats, a lot of white people, which is also great obviously, but it’s just different. And every song, whenever we’d mellow out, people would be really rapturous in their applause and be really excited. We’d start playing the tiniest little note of a guitar to indicate the next song and everyone would just shut right up.


You’ve just had a sequence of shows across Canada with Purity Ring where you had over a month and a half of flat out shows. Tell us about that.

We did 30 shows. It was a super tough tour. We all got super sick. I got pneumonia. I had a couple of shows cancelled because of weather so we had to reschedule the shows so we lost a couple of days off because of rescheduling. It was a very intensive tour. They ended up selling so many tickets that they ended up adding double shows. So 2 shows a night. It was incredibly hard work but such a great payoff. We were playing to so many people, like 2,000 – 4,000 people a night.


So quite a difference to the performances you’ve been doing over here. How many people are showing up each night throughout this tour?

In between 100 – 250 people which is pretty comparable to many of our non major market shows around the rest of the world. I try not to think about numbers, all of us try not to think about numbers. We try to just be in the moment whether there’s 6 people at the show or 600 people at the show.


Explain the difference in terms of the intimacy between playing a small show and a large scale show.

I like playing the small shows, the audience. I like it when there’s this moment when you step on stage and there’s this energy that you can feel. And it’s happened maybe 15 or 20 times in the last string of shows where I walk on stage and people are appreciative and I HAVE to reciprocate. It’s this weird thing that happens where I get so excited because of the energy in the room and I know it’s going to be a fucking great show when that happens. Vietnam was one of those moments. There was this amazing Irishman that we’d met a couple of days earlier who was standing there in the front row and he was so excited. Seeing him with some friends that he’d made over the course of these five days, everyone had such a vibe. The first note of the first song and we just knew this was going to be amazing. If we step up and if we are committed to being there from an energy perspective it’s going to be a great show no matter how many people are there.


This is your first tour in Asia. How would you describe playing shows here versus playing in North America or Europe?

I always find, from the minute where we drive into a city until when we’re on stage, performing (here) is so different from when we’re performing anywhere else in the world. Normally we drive ourselves around in a van. The three of us and our sound guy, we’re best friends. Eating great food and laughing – it’s joyous for the most part but also really tough. Because doing everything ourselves when we arrive we’re already exhausted, and then our work day starts. Here, we get pampered a little bit. We show up at the airport and the promoter turns up in a Sprinter and is like “Let’s go to the hotel and you guys can have a nap, and then you can eat and walk around.” We’re exploring more culture on a day to day basis and seeing a lot of things that are really eye opening, that are so different to anywhere else in the world. Seeing things that are so different to anything in the Western world. Basically trying to take in as much as possible and then when you step on stage you have way more to express because I’ve seen so many cool things on a day to day basis.


Has there been any differences between travelling as a band in Asia versus other places?

Actually, yeah. This is the first time I’ve gone on a bunch of solo adventures over here. Whenever we’re on tour we always travel as a unit wherever we go. We all say “Ok, lets go out for dinner and we all go out for dinner. Let’s go to another show or lets go to the park or lets go swimming at the beach. We’ve always travelled together unless we’re in a city like New York where we all have a bunch of different friends.

When I was in Ho Chi Minh I don’t know anyone here so I’ll just go on the back of a scooter and just go around. I actually got like robbed in Ho Chi Minh. It was kinda crazy. It didn’t turn out to be that bad but just one of the guys on the back of the scooter was just driving me around. He took me to temple and went to a local beer spot. We ended up at district 12 which is pretty far out and it starts pouring rain and he pulls the scooter out into this house. Right at the end of the house. I got off the bike, and was like great, I’m finally dry and we just walk up this set of stairs and there’s these people just sitting on the stairs. I’m thinking “where are we, this is a little weird” at this point.

So this guy says “let’s just go inside and have a drink.” So he takes me into this empty room with 5 couches and no windows. Now I’m really thinking this is weird and I say, “let’s go, lets just go have a drink at a bar.” But he was insistent and said “It’s okay, this is where my friends drink, I’ll grab us some local beers.” I was just like fuck it and sat down. He brings us some Tiger, which isn’t a local beer and we cheers, but soon I was like, this is actually a bit fucked up and wanted to go. This guy gets up, closes the door and locks the door and says “Why are you going? Sit down, we’ll bring girls.” I was like “Dude I don’t want to be here, I want to go.” Eventually he says okay fine but you have to pay for the beer. So I put down 50,000 dong and he was like “No, no, I’s 170,000 each beer.” Which is ridiculous. It’s way too much money.

So I go to leave and say I’m going to go and I’ll just pay you 50,000 and they’re like, “No, you’re not leaving. You need to pay for this.” I had 300,000 dong on me, which is nothing, it’s like $15 and that’s all I had on me. Basically I was able to put down 200,000 which left me 100,000 to get back to my hotel. You obviously cheated me out of my ride so I’m not going to pay you. I need this just so I can take a taxi back home. This guy was like, “no, give me the rest of your money.” I say, “Look this is all I have.” He says I don’t care, give it to me now.” I can see that he was a little unsure about intimidating me and so I stood up and went to the door and started flipping out a little bit and I saw an opening where I was able to be stern enough but not aggressive. I just need to get out this door now. He says “No you’re going to give it to me now.” I say, “No look listen, I’ll give you the 100,000 once you let me downstairs.” He opened the door and I just took off running and luckily I had just enough money to get home.


Wow, where did you meet this guy?

Out the front of my hotel. He was a guy on a scooter. I’d just taken like 5 or 6 scooters before. That’s what you do over there. And like, For the most part I was just renting scooters from people I liked.


It’s good to have that sense of….

Naivety. I always try to have my eyes wide enough to assess any risks, but assume that people are innately good. I don’t want to be jaded and a cynical person.


Has this changed your world view?

That experience ewas shocking, because these guys had me locked in this room and I’m thinking I’m going to wake up… I had to stop drinking the beer because I’m thinking they’ve probably drugged this beer and I was like, holy shit. This is probably where I lose my kidneys but luckily I was able to negotiate my way out of the situation and I was fine. In the end I had a great time in Vietnam.


Are you excited to be heading back home?

Yeah, I’m really excited actually. It’s been a great tour but it’ll be great to head back home for the summer. We have some festivals in Canada to play which we’re really looking forward to.