For the past 13 years, Wintersleep has been one of Canada’s best kept musical secrets. Now, with their sixth album about to be released, longtime fans better prepare themselves for having to share their favourite indie band with the masses.
Long before their 2007 breakout hit “Weighty Ghost” earned them a Juno and steady radio time, they had a fiercely dedicated indie fan base around the country. With a catalogue crafted from tight musicianship and powerful songwriting, Wintersleep is the type of band that fans fall hard for. Consisting of five friends from the East Coast who are as humble as they are talented, Wintersleep has moulded their own signature sound into the Canadian music landscape. From sparse, shiver-inducing songs enchanted by mesmeric vocals to explosive, gritty rock anthems that rumble in your chest and get your blood pumping, Wintersleep’s sound stems from their kaleidoscope of dynamics, harmonies, and melodic arcs. Their songs are known to be thrillingly unpredictable. Vulnerable vocals and acoustic guitar can suddenly erupt into explosive drums and aggressive electric guitar effectively blowing up the melody. Their harmonies both soar and belt, haunt and plead, assert and submit to the artistic catharsis.
Their new album, The Great Detachment, which will be released on March 4th on Dine Alone Records, is a welcomed return to the sound of their earlier albums: 2003’s Wintersleep, 2005’s Untitled, and 2007’s Welcome To The Night Sky, with an emphasis on pounding percussion, harmonies, and infectious melodies. The Great Detachment harnesses the power of drummer Loel Campbell’s driving rhythmic force resulting in an album that has mass appeal but never loses its rock’n’roll spine. Capturing their live energy, Wintersleep recorded the album live-off-the-floor in a studio back home in Halifax. Those who have experienced a Wintersleep concert know that, as awesome as their albums sound, Wintersleep’s live show is a whole other beast.
Witnessing the relentless talent of drummer of Loel Campbell, the intensity of guitarist Tim D’Eon, multi-instrumentalist Jon Samuel’s seamless transitions, the alluringly emotive lead vocals of Paul Murphy, and bassist Mike Bigelow’s authentic fervor creates one hell of a musical force on stage. Simultaneously in private musical trances and connected to their cohesive energy, they are fascinating to watch – and feel – live. Wintersleep enchants their audiences, leaving them buzzed with the thrill of wanting more.
Wintersleep was formed in Halifax, Nova Scotia by lead singer/guitarist Murphy, guitarist D’Eon, and drummer Campbell. Murphy and D’Eon – who have been friends since they were five years old – met an 18-year-old Campbell in 2001 when they were in university. After seeing Campbell playing drums in another band, they approached him about forming a band. “I was like, ‘This kid is really awesome,’ ” remembers D’Eon. Bassist Bigelow and keyboardist Samuel joined after Wintersleep’s second album and they’ve been a solid five-piece ever since
Stories Behind The Songs sat down with lead singer Paul Murphy and guitarist Tim D’Eon in Toronto before their live industry premiere of their sixth studio album, The Great Detachment to talk about the story behind the creation of the album.
When you were choosing the songs that would make it onto the album, The Great Detachment, there was a lot of material to choose from. Can you tell me about the songwriting process? Were a lot of the songs written all at once or was the songwriting spread out over the past few years?
Paul: For this record there was quite a bit of material. We had a lot of songs that we had around Hello Hum that we just didn’t finish in time for that record. So we had those to start it off but then we had a whole bunch of new material. We had about 25 new songs going in. Some of them weren’t quite as finished as others so we took four months in our studio in Montréal and just sort of hashed them out and got them down to about 15.
P: Me, Tim and Loel. Once we got it down to like 15, then we brought it into a live environment so we got everybody involved at that point and started kind of road-testing them.
Before you went to Halifax to record?
P: Yeah just to kind of get a sense of what people were responding to live and what fit in our current set and that sort of thing.
Tim: It feels like a long time ago now that we did that.
P: Ages ago! I feel like that was our thing, like, “Let’s just take our time with this record.” We really, really took our time. (laughs)
P: New Inheritors we did as a five-piece but for the last two records, and also the records previous to that one, it’s been me, Tim and Loel who generally write the songs.
P: I write most of the lyrics. On this record, Loel had lyrics for two of the songs: “Freak Out” and “Santa Fe.”
P: No, not really. We never have that kind of a Pink Floyd type thing where it’s like this huge concept record. (laughs) We just work on the songs and then, in terms of lyrics, if you’re writing lyrics over a period of two or three years, you’re going to have certain themes that kind of creep up so definitely there’s a thread there. But for the music, we were trying to make it as live as possible with our full band because the last record we did more piece by piece. We didn’t do it live because it was just me, Tim and Loel who recorded that one, so this one we really wanted to make sure it had a live feeling. A different energy.
P: We were trying to work on a bass line and it wasn’t really clicking…
T: Our manager had a relationship with Rush’s manager but it kinda started by our producer saying, “Oh, it’d be great if we could just get Geddy Lee in here” kind of sarcastically and then I just texted our manager and it happened! It turns out he was a fan of the band.
P: He was like super awesome. He spent like three days just working on bass lines and was like, “Here you go!”
P: No, from his studio and then he sent them in.
T: He sent a really long detailed email on how to put it in.
T: Yeah, a little bit! But he was really happy I think. It seems like it, anyways!
P: Yeah, we met him in Montréal. Loel and I went to a Rush show in Montréal and we got to meet him shortly after.
T: It seemed like everyone kind of gravitated towards that one and we always thought that maybe it could be a good choice for our first single. But with the label and the management, it just seemed like the one that everyone wanted to throw out there first, I guess.
What’s the story behind that song? What were you thinking about when you were writing it? What were the lyrics inspired by?
P: I was reading a Walt Whitman poem called “America” and I only had the riff and the melody which sort of sparked the chorus of the song. It’s hard to… I don’t really know how I really even write lyrics.
Do you write with a stream of consciousness sort of method?
P: Yeah pretty much! Then I’ll have a few lines for the verses and I kind of just fill in the blanks. (laughs)
When “Weighty Ghost” became a breakout song for the band and you gained a wider audience with its radio play, did you feel any pressure with your next album to stick to that sound that you had success with?
T: I think we kind of did the opposite almost. I dunno, I mean, it’s definitely the one that caught on the most for sure but it’s also maybe not typical of a Wintersleep song.
P: I think we try to get as many types of songs on a record and be as versatile as possible.
T: Yeah, I don’t think even we thought about it.
P: It’s one of those things… You don’t know why something like that happens with a song.
T: Yeah, we could have tried to make a record of “Weighty Ghost” but it probably wouldn’t have worked.
T: I really love to play “Dead Letter” a lot still. It’s one of my favourite songs to play live still. It’s always fun to play a song from our second album called “Nerves Normal” because you get to have a bit of fun onstage.
P: I like to play the song “Murderer” a lot, it’s a fun one to play live.
T: We should start playing that one! It’s been a long time since we played that one! We should start doing that again.
P: I know!
T: Yeah, it was pretty fun!
T: Yeah he came and said hi when we were setting up. He just kinda showed up and we were all like, “Wooooahhhh….” (laughs) He came and shook all of our hands and chatted a bit. But then, unfortunately we had to leave!
P: We didn’t even get to see him play! We got that show like the day before and we already had a show booked in Ireland twelve hours later.
T: We went straight from the stage to the airport and flew to Ireland!
P: We told him [McCartney] that we had to go and he was like, “What is this? Some kind of warm up gig for you guys?!” (laughs)
T: New Inheritors was recorded in Montréal.
P: Hello Hum was in New York state. We did all of the second record [Untitled] in Halifax. Welcome To The Night Sky and this one were both recorded there too. It’s nice to record there. Sonic Temple is a great location.
T: It’s a super nice live room.
P: And you can get around really easily in that city – it’s really relaxing. When we recorded a record in Montréal, we’d drive for like 45 minutes in Montréal traffic and it was like, “uhh, this SUCKS.”
T: And then it was the same on the way back! We were like, “Oh my God, what is happening!” We were wasting two hours a day just driving!
P: But Halifax has a nice relaxed atmosphere so it’s a good place to record.
Wintersleep is featured throughout our SBTS Playlist Series: SBTS Favourites, SBTS Standouts – The January Collection, SBTS Standouts – The February Collection, SBTS Standouts – The March Collection and 2016 Countdown – The SBTS New Years Party Playlist.
Twitter: @wintersleep Instagram: @wintersleeptheband