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Interviews, Music

Interview: Wintersleep talks new album, dream concerts, & music industry evolution

By: Laura Beaulne-Stuebing – 

Wintersleep. (Photo: Dustin Rabin)

Wintersleep. (Photo: Dustin Rabin)

Fans of Nova Scotian indie rockers Wintersleep, get ready to rejoice. They will release their first new album in three years, titled The Great Detachment, in early 2016, with 11 new songs on the way. We caught up with drummer Loel Campbell to talk about plans for the new album, the band’s songwriting process, who they’d love to tour with and how they’re able to keep putting out music than fans love. 

You guys went into the studio to record your 6th album about a year ago. What can you share about it? Title, release date?

I think it’s going to be out in February, that’s what we’re aiming for still. I think that’s a realistic goal. We’re going to be on a different record label, that’s not really finalized so I probably shouldn’t expose too much of that for now. But it’ll probably be done, signed in the next week, then it’ll be news… it’s gonna happen really soon. That’s exciting.

And we’re going to call the album The Great Detachment. We ended up recording 11 songs for the album, it’s under 50 minutes… We started writing it probably, well, close to two years ago actually. We started compiling what we had individually and getting together and fleshing out songs. We did that for quite a while, and then we got together in Halifax in the Sonic Temple studio. That’s where we recorded our second and our third album,Welcome to the Night Sky. We went back into that studio… we thought it would be a good place to play as a band. We captured all the songs we constructed in that studio in a live setting with the full band. So that was last September, around this time, we were still working on it, and then we took it back to Montreal to our studio and just continued to work on it over the following months. I think we were done by like January or February

What can fans expect from the new album? Is it the same Wintersleep sound? Have you gone for any departures or new sounds or anything like that?

I say we were just trying to collect the best songs of the bunch, the ones that were the most potent, which ended up being a lot of upbeat stuff. I think all the new ones we played last night were pretty upbeat. We were able to, about halfway into writing the record, we were able to go out and play some shows, and we were able to road test some of them, so that was part of the process in deciding what we were going to commit to putting on the record.

We’ve been playing them on this tour, and last night too in front of a really big audience, and they all seemed to go over quite well. That’s always a good thing, I think, because… we want to make new crowd favourites.

Could you ballpark how many songs you whittled 11 down from?

I don’t know. We had a bunch individually and it was probably around 40 or 50. And they were in varying states of, some of them were just small ideas, some of them were totally, 100 percent done. We whittled it down. It’s a really tough process, especially [since] this is our sixth record, to get everybody on the same page.

How do you approach writing songs? Do you all go and write, and have your own ideas, and then throw it back to the rest of the group, or is one person the main songwriter? What’s that process like?

We work individually to begin with, and then we get feedback from friends, and then people that we work with, and that kind of goes into the selection. For the most part, on this record me and Paul [Murphy] had a lot of material, and me and Tim [D’eon] wrote a bunch of songs together that we didn’t end up getting around to this time.

We have our things that we’ve worked on together or individually, the stuff that we end up working on as a group is what turns into a Wintersleep song. They end up sounding a lot different than they do when they start.

Did you also look at the album thematically in any way? With anything, any threads, that connected the songs?

We seem to always pull themes out of it when looking at what we have in front of us. We had a number of songs that were kind of based on talking about the idea of a retrospective on yourself, like taking stock of who you are as a person at the moment. The last song on the album is called “Who Are You?” and we kind of use that lyric in three or four other songs. It’s not an incredibly anxious thought, it’s like, look at what you’ve done, look at where we are. Are we satisfied? Is this what we imagined we’d be when we started?

It’s kind of open to interpretation, each song. And the title of the album, The Great Detachment, it’s a lyric in one of the songs. We’ve recently split with our manager that we worked with since 2005, we took a year off, these are the first shows that we’ve played in a year. It feels like we kind of hit the reset button a bit, which is good. It’s nice to come back to things fresh.

We had a lot of time to slowly collect things. We weren’t rushed into it… there was nobody pressuring us to make a new album because we fired everybody, or we were out of our record contract. We’re doing this kind of fresh in a sense, so we felt like The Great Detachment was a good title.

Wintersleep will release their 6th album, The Great Detachment, in early 2016.

Wintersleep will release their 6th album, The Great Detachment, in early 2016.

Did you work with producer Tony Doogan again?

Yeah, but it’s kind of a co-production with us. He had a lot of input obviously, but we were really well prepared. We had fleshed so much of it out in our studio in Montreal before we recorded, we pretty much knew exactly what we wanted to do. We know that Tony always has cool ideas before we come in. In the past, like onWelcome to the Night Sky and on New InheritorsNew Inheritors especially, he was really kind of arranging the songs and bringing the whole thing together. There was less of that. He was more of an engineer on this record. Obviously brought some great ideas in, but we were really well prepared.

And him and Paul getting the vocals down, they have a really unique relationship, where he brings the best out of him. This is our fourth record with him, so he’s just a really good friend now, he knows what he can get out of us and what we can get out of him. It’s always been a good relationship.

And it’s different, too, because things were more finalized with the songs. We had more time to play around with the existing songs and the ideas, so we got to really experiment more, not just scrambling to finish the structure of the song.

Was that a relief, or did that change the way the recording process felt for you?

Yeah. I mean, it was the most laid back record that I think we’ve ever made. Personally, I think everybody was feeling the same way. It was just feeling really confident, because you knew exactly what you had to do, and it wasn’t like guesswork. We were sitting with all of our parts for a really long time. We were able to make sure it was something we would be happy with down the line.

One of the songs we started working on like for New Inheritors, so working on it for six or seven years, a song called Metropolis, it’s finally going to be on this album. There’s a couple other songs that are four years old. [We were] just having fun, getting the right sounds, getting what we imagine sonically would be the best thing for it, instead of just figuring it out in studio.

When you play shows now, what song does the audience really get the best reaction?

“Laser Beams” is always a turning point in the set, it seems to get the crowd pretty pumped up. There’s tempo shifts, and it feels very in the moment whenever we do it, and that engages the crowd. The newer ones too get really big reactions.

When you guys eventually go on tour for the new album, who would you just love to tour with? What other band would be your ideal?

We were actually just on tour, they did some of the dates with us on this tour, this band called Walrus from Halifax. They’re really great, we get along with them well. We seem like a big crew, they seem like an extended piece of the band almost.

As far as maybe bands we could tour with, that we could support or something like that, I don’t know. I’d like to play with bands I like to listen to, for sure. I think we’ll probably end up touring with Frightened Rabbit again, who we did a lot of touring with on the last record. It sounds like we’re probably going to end up doing some more touring with them, and they were a band that we became very close with too. It doesn’t happen all the time, just because you’re in bands doesn’t mean you’re going to be kindred spirits. And also the band the Maccabees from the UK, we’ve stayed in touch with and they just put out a new album, so we might tour with them again.

There’s obviously bands that would be awesome to play on a festival with, like Radiohead or Wilco… often times when you’re on tour you don’t really get to check out the band unless you’re on tour with them for multiple dates.

Since Wintersleep formed in 2001, how has the music industry changed?

People weren’t buying as many records as say in the 1990s, even when we started, but people were still buying records up until, I don’t know. People just don’t really buy CDs anymore, that’s a big change for sure. when westarted we’d sell so many CDs when we’d play a show. We’d sell like 100 CDs at a small show, when there’s like 200 people there… and now that just isn’t happening because people go home and they stream it, or they download it…It’s just more [effort] towards the live show now. You have to have a touring business to sustain having a recording career, to keep making albums. That’s a big difference.

Everything seems a bit more ADD now. Even in 2007 we had a really popular video on MuchMusic, and I don’t think that will happen again… In the video countdown there’s no bands. I’m sure Taylor Swift is on there, and Kendrick Lamar and the Weeknd, and that’s all catchy stuff. I mean, what’s the song that’s been in my head for the past two weeks, that Weeknd song? That’s just time and place, and we’re doing something different. We’re doing what we know, and things just go in circles of popularity. We’re still able to play awesome shows and tour, and make records.

We have to really take a lot of time to craft a record now, and get it right, because you can’t just kind of make a weird record… We’ve gained fans over the years with the output we’ve done in the past, and we definitely acknowledge that. It’s definitely nice to have an audience to be able to sculpt music for. We keep in mind our body of work and what has worked in the past and what hasn’t worked.

I think perhaps that was not the case for bands that existed in the ‘70s and ‘80s, maybe they had record labels kind of doing it for them, but as an independent band we’re trying to learn from our past and move forward, and make music that people can relate to.


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