Captivating lyrics and transfixing rhythms, combined with introspective lyrics and advanced conceptual writing, is what Wintersleep radiates throughout Rough Trade as they perform for a full house.
Wintersleep, hailing from Halifax, Nova Scotia, started creating beautiful music together in 2001. For the first couple of years of their existence, Wintersleep was more of a recording project playing locally around Halifax and focusing more on developing their sound.
“We started really taking it seriously in terms of a touring band probably in 2004,” Paul Murphy, the band’s lead vocalist and guitarist, said mentioning that was around the first time the band ventured to the states around the east coast.
Throughout all of their experimentation with recording, trying to find what worked best for them as a band, Wintersleep discovered that the best way to emit the vibe they were going for was to record live-off-the-floor.
Live-off-the-floor recording is a form of recording where the entire band is in a room together, everything connected to a mic, and they play “live” as a unit while recording is in progress. Typical studio recording usually involves first recording the drums, bass, guitar and vocals – all played at different times, listening to the others’ performances in headphones – then mixing it together to create one cohesive piece of music.
“The first record was kind of done in bits and pieces, there’s a few tracks that were done live and then the second record was kind of primarily live-off-the-floor,” Loel Campbell, the band’s drummer, explained.
Having done some records in between not using that process, they wanted to go back to live-off-the-floor recording with their recently released album The Great Detachment. Before recording the songs, they booked a month long tour where they played the new songs every night, fleshing out the sound and putting a lot of pressure on creating the live experience that they wanted. Because of all of the preparation they put into creating this album and practicing the songs, they were assured that these songs would work well recorded live-off-the-floor.
“We were really confident with them and we had fleshed them out so we didn’t really have a lot of work to do on the songs in the studio so we just kind of went for performances and since we knew them so well, we limited ourselves to a few takes per song just to kind of not beat the energy to death, to keep them vibrant,” Loel said.
As Loel describes it, they try to use the recording process like a camera, capturing the energy that they put into every performance. It’s very common now for a band to add different textures and layers of sound to their songs during the recording process and then having to play a track of those sounds while on stage performing; Wintersleep steered clear of that approach. Their goal was to record songs that would work in a live setting and not just in a studio.
“If you can’t visualize someone playing it in our band then it’s not that necessary to have some weird, ambient noise and some syncopated thing in the background if you really don’t have to have it,” Paul said. “Yeah it’s like a dry cake or something that you eat and just put more icing on top of,” Loel adds. “We’re really proud of everything that we’ve done but this is just where we thrive I think, this kind of process.”
While writing their music, they feed off each other’s energy, much like when they’re performing. Usually they come to each other with a melody and then the words just naturally come to them along with a theme. Ideas will get thrown around and other people in the band will interpret things differently, which adds a new way of feeling the song.
“It’s cool to be kind of open to that chaos that kind of happens, kind of be able to pull things down from wherever you know,” Loel said. “Getting a line because one of the other guys interpreted it the wrong way, you know heard something else, and it’s like, oh that sounds cool and often times it has an emotive quality.”
This exact thing happened while they were working on the song “Lifting Cure.” “There’s that line in “Lifting Cure,” ‘welcome to the decay’ and [Loel was] like it’d be cool if it was a place, if decay is some place, so the next line was like, ‘have you been here before,’” Paul explained. “It was just a cool way to think of it that I never would have thought of bringing it into that territory.”
Picking favorites on this album us hard for them because they just love them all and usually their favorite song changes from day to day. Lately, Loel has been leaning towards “Who Are You” the supposed “black sheep of the family,” because it’s a different sound for them, having the feel of a “Jeff Lynne production with some spaghetti western references.”
Paul has a strong appreciation for “Lifting Cure” and “Amerika” because those were the hardest to record.
“We just had all the amps in the same room, which is kind of like a really shitty way to do it because no one likes it and everything’s bleeding into all the other microphones and so when we were trying to mix, those songs were a problem when mixing but it was great vibe-wise,” Paul said. “I guess I’m just happy with how they turned out considering they were the first couple of songs and sort of a bit of a mess up in terms of engineering that track but they both turned out cool.”
“Amerika” is also the first song off the album that they made a music video for. They chose to work with Scott Cudmore, who has also directed music videos for Belle and Sebastion, Spoon, Alt-J and Great Lake Swimmers.
The music video for “Amerika” is a chilling vision of how people see the future of America, a place that was once looked highly upon as a place of hope. The people in this video are fighting their greatest struggles, watching their home burn down, experiencing deadly illness and threats of natural disaster. Throughout the video a comet is heading towards Earth, a metaphor for the disaster that is soon to come America.
A clip from one of Donald Trump’s infamous “make America great again” speeches interrupts the song with a ominous silence as his voice booms, “So we have an incredible country but we better be damn careful because we’re not going to have a great country for much longer.” It’s up to the viewer to determine what he means by that and the approach of the comet at the end of the video greatens the threat of danger.
The guys in Wintersleep are storytellers, thinkers, dreamers, and incredible performers. They enjoy seeing an idea go from that idea stage to the performance stage where they feel confident in what they do. Music is as much a passion as it is a hobby for them and, as Loel said, “it’s just part of life.”
Article: Merissa Blitz