Interview with Wintersleep
With spring in full swing and winter behind us, I’m having a hard time not writing a lazy pun involving the subject of today’s interview, the awesome Halifax indie group, Wintersleep. But here at PeteHatesMusic we strive to write better than other lazy media outlets, even though we often fail, and we are incredibly lazy ourselves. So pretend those first 2 sentences don’t exist, except for the “Wintersleep” part, which is critical to the rest of the discussion.
Hopefully you’ve heard the 3 new, excellent Wintersleep songs that we posted the past couple of months. The songs, Resuscitate, In Came the Flood, and Nothing is Anything (Without You) are off of the band’s 5th album, Hello Hum. To many, the band became a major player on the music scene with the launch of their album, Welcome to the Night Sky, which oddly won them a Juno Award in Canada for Best New Artist. Oddly, because it was their 3rd album, and to those not in the know, well, you were just playing catch up.
(Terrible segue alert: ) Speaking of catch up, PeteHatesMusic had a chance to catch up with Wintersleep singer Paul Murphy and Wintersleep drummer Loel Campbell to find out the change in song writing with each album, their thoughts on hockey star Sidney Crosby, and how alcohol and concerts mix (or shouldn’t mix).
PeteHatesMusic (PHM): I’m really impressed with the first two songs I’ve heard from Hello Hum (Resuscitate and In Came the Flood). Is there a conscience effort to change things musically with each new album?
Loel Campbell (Loel): You’re always experiencing new things in your life so that is inevitably going to drift into the music your making. The two tracks that are available right now are definitely some new sounds we have been experimenting with in the past couple of years. Definitely not completely unrecognizable but I think there is always new elements creeping into our music. You learn more from peers or books and inevitably end up applying it.
Paul Murphy (Paul): Thanks. We’re interested in lots of different music. I think it’s pretty important to keep it fresh, and to explore different types of tunings, chords & rhythms…I think a lot of good ideas come from sort of just tuning the guitar differently or playing with 4 strings instead of 6. Something about that sort of unfamiliarity that you can kinda get lost in. Just keeps us on our toes and keeps it feeling foreign enough that we don’t get too comfortable. That said, it’s not a rule. A good song is a good song. Sometimes we’ll have material for a little while and develop it later if it works in a different context. The first song on this record was a pretty heavy sounding post rocky jam once upon a time, but with the new material having a sort of different shape it shone a different light on the possibilities of what we could do with a guitar part like the one that is on that track.
PHM: Hello Hum is the fifth studio album for Wintersleep. Your last album was written on the road; what about Hello Hum? How does the song writing and recording process change from album to album?
Paul: I think we just kind of take it as it comes I guess. We write as much as we can really, so in whatever situation/condition we find ourselves in life wise we’ll be writing too, and that writing will be a response to the circumstances surrounding us at the time. It just so happened that we were pretty much full on touring during the time that New Inheritors came together. This record we made a conscious decision to be home, and craft it more in that sort of comfort zone. It was as much for sanity’s sake than an artistic “choice” though.
Loel: Always accumulating new material and then just kind of reflecting on that material and taking some ahead with you and working on it some more and doing that over and over, forever and ever.
PHM: As your career has progressed, the way in which fans consume media and music has drastically changed. The fans’ listening experience has changed, and they might not even know the name of the song or the band they are listening to because of the shuffle of songs and the pure number of songs available to them. Are you guys in favour of things like (online music streaming service) Spotify as a way to promote and stream your music?
Loel: I think its fine that artists are mainly making money from tours now. Seems to make sense. You build something, people check it out, people like it, people buy it, people come the show (hopefully). There is a ton of overhead associated with the costs of producing albums in the way that we have been for the last five years but as long as we get to the next one and no one loses their shirt, its ultimately a success.
Paul: Any way we can get our music out there is good and necessary. I think it is easier to get “lost in the shuffle” these days though. We grew up very much into full records, the sort of energy that comes along with listening to a record for 45-50 minutes of music. I think nowadays it seems more than ever that that idea is less important to people, with things like iTunes being the medium through which most people get music. But I don’t know. We just do our thing and feel lucky to be at a point where we can make records with people we want to make records with, and that we can do them in whatever way we want to do them, whether iTunes or Spotify is the medium or not.
PHM: I saw that Tim and Paul were using Wintersleep’s Facebook page to get some votes for Yarmouth, Nova Scotia to get nominated for the Hockeyville contest for some local hockey arena upgrades. Did the band play hockey growing up? Who do you guys cheer for? (Half of PeteHatesMusic cheers for the Montreal Canadiens, the other half the Toronto Maple Leafs)
Paul: Habs all the way. Loel, Paul, Tim are Habs (note: Montreal Canadiens) fans. Though I think Loel also likes the Flyers secretly as much… Jonny Samuel is a Leafs fan. Mike likes basketball.
(note: Habs fans?! This interview just took a turn for the worse….)
PHM: I also read that the band was on a plane when Sidney Crosby scored the winning Olympic goal for Canada back in 2010. Since you’re all Nova Scotia boys, what does the band think of him? A cry baby or the talent of this generation?
Paul: Talent of his generation. A really smart guy with a lot of heart and soul and a lot guts, sticking to his guns in a pretty cutthroat sport. Hopefully hockey will change because of people like him, to one that doesn’t sensationalize violence in the way it does- with all the cheesy staged boxing matches mid action, and the violent, mean spirited head shot stuff. It’s really depressing and takes so much away from such a beautiful sport. Best sport in the world.
Loel: He can’t get hit again.
(note: Truer words have never been spoken – he’s a China doll now)
PHM: While we’re on the subject of Nova Scotia, how much did living in Nova Scotia influence your music or lyrics? Or did the music and literature you read growing up have more of an impact?
Loel: Well, it kind of controlled the access to culture and music. What was in the record stores, what’s on tv, on the radio. It was all limiting so you ended up looking to regional bands from say Halifax or Moncton that were influenced by whole fuck ton of bands that you would never hear of in our fishing/mining towns. Its kind of interesting that we received this kind of diluted influence from the regional acts. I think I heard of Eric’s Trip before I heard of Sonic Youth and so on.
Paul: I think growing up in a small rural community like Stellarton & Yarmouth was definitely a pretty unique experience.. I think it really instilled the idea that you’re really on your own if you want to do something like this. There were no places to play shows. Not a whole lot of support. As Loel mentioned, you just didn’t really hear or see the really underground influential bands of that era. I think the first time I heard Fugazi I was 20 years old. Even the Smiths. I heard them when I was 20 or 21. Halifax seemed like the end goal at some level. Like if you could get gigs there that was IT. So weird to look back on that now. One of the great things about living in such a remote place is that you can jam and rehearse as much as you want. You can be as loud as you want to be. And there is not a lot to really do in a recreational sense if you didn’t want to play sports or go to the pool hall after school, so you had all this time you could dedicate to working on writing and rehearsing.
PHM: I’ve read about some of the influences and favourite bands of some of the band members when you were growing up. Who do you listen to these days?
Loel: Arthur Russell a lot. Still listen to the Band. Listened to In Rainbows yesterday. Listened to Marquee Moon yesterday. Just kinda constantly drift around. End up hearing a lot of music in bars. Latest discovery was probably Pet Shop Boys cover of You Were Always on My Mind.
Paul: Radiohead is def a band favorite these days. Well, for the last 15 years for me…Been listening to older music a lot. A lot of Motown and 50s stuff. Marvin Gaye… Actually Isis too… and Belle & Sebastian. Tune Yards. Kate Bush. And my wife has been cranking Florence and the Machine. Some choice jams I have to say. Rihanna too.. Not her new song but that Umbrella one, and the Only Girl in the World. I’m getting old. Or I’ve never grown up.
PHM: A lot of bands are formed from the ashes of former bands and side projects, but the guys in Wintersleep seem to still have several side projects and collaborations ongoing. Are the collaborations a way to get a break from one another and reduce the number of fist fights? Or is there lots of music in your heads that you just need to get out that might not fit under the ‘Wintersleep’ moniker?
Loel: I wouldn’t say there is a large amount of collaboration outside. We are writing independently outside being in a room together, playing our favorite instruments, just being daily musician, staying sharp. Sometimes we can lend a hand to friends but there really isn’t time to commit to any major projects outside the band. It’s harder as you get a bit older to fall in with whomever as easy musically. We’ve been lucky to still get excited about what we are all coming up with and to work on new stuff at fulfilling rate constantly.
Paul: There is only so much you can do if you want to make a record and promote that record properly / tour. We recorded 14 tunes for this last record, which was essentially a document of 2-3 years of writing tunes, the best tunes from that period that sort of fit each other, or worked with each other. But yeah, that is taken from a way larger body of work. It’s really an excerpt considering the work that everyone puts in over that amount of time trying to write songs and parts. So it makes sense that there can be “side” things and probably best to do those things when you can to keep busy and expressive and sane.
PHM: With a new album comes the inevitable tour that follows. Do you get excited to hit the road, or do you find it a grueling but necessary evil?
Loel: I like touring a lot. So lucky to get to do it. It is just the best playing for people that want to see your band. So lucky. It can be frustrating when you have something ailing you and you’re not able to load out so quickly or be your regular hard working self, the weak part of the herd. That’s about the worst feeling of it though. You never want to let any body in the room down. Before and after the show.
Paul: Wonderful and totally the right thing to do for the most part, but yeah, being away from home and loved ones outside the band is tough too. It can be hard to be away for too long, but it’s also a real opportunity you only get for so long maybe, and I think we all feel really lucky that that is our job at this point in our lives. It is really fulfilling to be able to create something and tour that, to express that in a live format night after night. It’s pretty special, and we’ve certainly never lost sight of how special it is.
PHM: You’ve opened for Paul McCartney and Pearl Jam, played on David Letterman, and won a Juno – do you guys have your eyes on big career goals or do you just take events and accolades as they come?
Paul: I think the goal is just to play music and write music and play it some more. These things just happened to fall in place as we were working hard and doing our thing. I don’t know if they would have happened if these were actually goals we set out to accomplish. I think the goal is just to make music and play it and get better at what we’re doing.
PHM: We’ll end on a lighter question – we here at PeteHatesMusic love our beer, and we hear folks in Nova Scotia do, too (note: definitely no stereotyping going on here). On average, how many drinks are consumed before going on stage? How many AFTER?
Paul: I try and stay off the booze before shows. I get all flustered and I have like zero tolerance for some reason, so I’m drunk too soon and then I get sleepy, and if anything goes wrong my hands get clammy and I forget how to operate. After depends on the night and what is around. If Lagavulin is an option you’ll find one silly Murphy in a few hours.
Loel: I’ll usually have a glass of whisky before playing. Maybe red wine. Perhaps two. Water during show. I think its weird to watch a band that plays music like we do get wasted on stage. It works for some bands, GBV, hell yeah, get shit faced… Its part of the show. I certainly can’t operate like that however… Just doesn’t work out.
The first time we started getting our rider was in Fredricton, New Brunswick, it was Halloween of ’04, ’05? We were playing with some friends at the universities cafeteria, it was a big production for us, there was a barrier, it was wet and dry so all ages could attend. Big lights big sound system. We had sound checked, and even though the room sounds like garbage we were ready to put on a show, so we went to scramble to dress up in costumes to honor the holiday basically just smeared white and black paint on our faces, we looked awful. So upon returning to the venue we discovered that we had been provided with our demands…. something like 80 beers, a massive bottle of gin, some wine… a shit load of booze. We had an hour or so before the first band went on, we opted to take this time to dig into as much of this “free” booze we could handle. By the time our set came around, at least I had been drinking heavily for a good 3 hours, beer after beer, swig after swig. Such excitement filled our conference room backstage with the buzz of the show and the access to all of this booze for the drinking. I brought the large bottle of gin on stage with us, it was promptly dusted, loads of beers were there to join us for the rest of the show, digging into them between songs, in rests, whenever you could fit a swill, it must have looked disgusting. At one point, I blacked out, fallen from my stool and came to somewhere near the end of us covering Enjoy the Silence. What an awful feeling.
I don’t know if I can say anything to top that last comment, so we’ll end things right there. But well done, Loel! Wintersleep’s new album, Hello Hum (see pretty album cover above) is out on June 12. They’ve slowly been filling out some tour dates, such as Osheaga in Montreal on August 3. Check the Wintersleep website for full tour dates, and maybe you too can see Loel drink all the booze that comes with the rider!
Since we both like Wintersleep and alcohol, how about you “follow PeteHatesMusic on Twitter” and “Like PeteHatesMusic on Facebook” to ensure you don’t miss any details on either of these fine subjects. Smartest choice you’ll make today (note: this excludes any choices you make to eat gummi bears, because they are effing delicious).