Don’t let their name fool you. Halifax-based modern rockers Wintersleep have certainly not taken any time out for creative hibernation during the past five years. They’ve been decidedly prolific, releasing three acclaimed albums during that period, all supported with extensive touring through North America, the U.K., and Europe. They’re now back on the road in all three regions for the rest of the year, showcasing their new (and fifth) record, Hello Hum.
“We haven’t really stopped to think about taking a break,” says Wintersleep singer, co-songwriter and guitarist Paul Murphy. “It just seems the songs are there. If they weren’t, I don’t think we’d be afraid to chill and wait, but it always seems like the time is right. It’s like ‘Oh, we have six or seven songs and a little time off. Why don’t we make a record?’ Then when you make a record, I feel you have to give it its due in terms of presenting it to audiences and making sure it is out there.”
“It’s like ‘Oh, we have six or seven songs and a little time off. Why don’t we make a record?”
Quality has paralleled quantity in their output, with the sonically adventurous Hello Hum arguably being Wintersleep’s best reviewed album yet. It has come out a full decade after the band’s self-titled debut, but it was only with 2007’s Welcome To The Night Sky that the band made a real impact. The album produced a rock radio smash hit in the form of “Weighty Ghost,” and earned Wintersleep a New Group of the Year Juno Award. Murphy notes that “we were playing so long before radio or the industry in Canada really knew who we were. That was the first record where people in the industry started taking notice.”
“Weighty Ghost” still scores airplay, and Murphy concedes “there may be a public perception of our band as having just one song. I don’t see it as a weight on our shoulders, though. To me, it was a very strange thing that song caught on the way it did. We’ve never been about pushing singles, we get excited about making whole albums.”
He views the track as “a gateway into our band. Lots of people may only be interested in hearing that song but then there’ll be a few people who’ll want to hear the rest of that record. That’s why we played it again on David Letterman [years after it was released].”
Murphy shares songwriting duties with Wintersleep’s two other original members, drummer Loel Campbell and guitarist Tim D’Eon, though newer members Michael Bigelow (bass) and Jon Samuel (keyboards) also get credited on, respectively, one and two of the songs on Hello Hum. Murphy says the songwriting dynamic within the band has changed since their formation.
“There may be a public perception of our band as having just one song. I don’t see it as a weight on our shoulders, though.”
“The first recording was more me having a bunch of songs, and Loel, Tim, and [then-bassist] Jud Haynes worked on those in the studio,” says Murphy. “Now everybody writes songs and parts. We’ll usually have a few different parts, then we all work together to flesh out the musical idea. I usually come up with the lyrics and melody, but it has definitely grown into everyone putting a lot of effort into every song. They’d sound very different with anyone removed from the picture.”
Internationally, Wintersleep have gained real credibility and attention by recruiting two of the world’s premier rock producers to work on their recent records. Scottish producer Tony Doogan’s resumé includes influential groups Mogwai and Belle and Sebastian, and he’s manned the console for Winterleep’s previous two albums. For Hello Hum, he partnered with famed production maverick Dave Fridmann, best known for working with the likes of Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev, and MGMT. Doogan handled the recording, Fridmann mixed, and the sessions took place at Fridmann’s Tarbox Road Studios in rural upstate New York.
To Murphy, these two heads proved better than one. “Initially, it almost felt ridiculous we were working with Dave in his studio, as he’s so high-profile,” he recalls. “He brought more of an intensity to it. I thought he might be a little more eccentric, but he is just a real hard worker who knows how to use his gear. He’s not afraid to bring something to its sonic limit, as an engineer. It was nice to see he and Tony interact. They are really good friends and good at working together. I think there’s a bit of wanting to impress each other as well, when you’re working with someone you respect.
“They’re our songs, but getting to sit back and watch them work in helping to create the songs was a real treat.”