If there’s one thing Wintersleep doesn’t want to be accused of, it’s being a brooding band. The Halifax-cum-Montreal five-piece know their music is dark, but that’s where their moodiness ends.
“We’re not bleak people,” says singer Paul Murphy on the phone from Toronto’s Hyatt Hotel. “We have this dark channel we turn on, but it’s not about being pissed off.”
He’s right, the band isn’t angry, but they sometimes have a twisted way of looking at the world. On Encyclopedia, the second track off the band’s latest album, New Inheritors, Murphy sings about a character who “was flat on his back on the beach in the freezing sand.” By the end of the song Murphy wonders if he’s still alive and, when he realizes he is he asks, “What’s it worth?”
There’s also a bit of hopefulness, in a roundabout way. On Terrible Man he talks about a 27-year-old who’s afraid of aging and has female problems. He doesn’t get the girl, but in the end seems calmly resigned with his lot in life.
Murphy says all that gloominess is a “means to an end, where the end is not necessarily bleak, but it’s the way of getting there.”
While Murphy says that much of the words came from a personal place, outside influences — the collapsing economy, wars and other world issues that occurred since they released their last record, the Juno-winning Welcome to the Night Sky — also account for some of the unhappier subject matter.
“This record isn’t about Iraq or 9/11,” says Murphy, “but this sort of stuff will leak into the songwriting and the mood. It’s part of everybody’s existence.”
Musically, the band is at their strongest. They tackle a range of sounds from peppy indie rock on Black Camera to epic, atmospherics on Baltic. But it’s on opener Experience the Jewel where the band has evolved the most — it’s the first time they’ve used strings, and orchestral arrangements created by Belle & Sebastian’s Mick Cooke, no less.
“We felt there was some room for strings on the song,” Murphy explains. “We could have done more, but we didn’t want to go crazy. We don’t have a string section that we tour with.
“We’ve never done that before,” he adds. “We thought it would be neat to have it on songs that we felt could maybe use a lift.”
For many, this disc will be worth the three-year wait and while Murphy doesn’t think it’ll take as long to release the next one, he’ll only know for sure when his gut, or rather, bodily functions, tell him to get off the road and back into the studio.
“This is the longest you can go without going nuts from touring the same songs,” he says. “You keep going until you feel like you’re going to throw up.”