Thank God for bingo.
Members of Wintersleep have taken a time-out from preparing for the release of their new, self-titled record for a shot at some prize money at the local bingo hall. It happens to be one of the coldest days of the season, and the sound of numbers and letters over the loudspeaker acts like a beacon in the night, an escape from the frigid -20 degree windchill.
“I’ve never played bingo before,” says the cherubic guitarist and lead vocalist Paul Murphy, bingo cards and red ink blotter in hand. “I’m excited.”
The looks thrown the way of the dishevelled, thrift-store clad bandmates from the elderly bingo regulars are nearly as frigid as the outside temperatures, but nothing can put a damper on the guys’ thoughts of winning a share of the night’s pot.“If I win, I’m going to scream so loud and run around,” says Mike Bigelow, the unofficial band member, a multi-instrumentalist who fills out Wintersleep’s live show. “Then we’re going to go for beers.”
Twenty minutes in, guitarist Tim D’Eon needs only one number for $200 in cold, hard cash and whispers emanate from the table. Fingers are crossed.
“Fuck yeah, here comes the big one,” sayssomebody.
In the end, it’s all for naught, as the cry of “Bingo!” erupts from across the room. A collective groan blankets the bingo hall.
It becomes obvious a win isn’t in the cards tonight. But the guys are over their loss within a matter of minutes as they push past the smokers outside the exit doors and back into the cold air. They have other things to look forward to.
You’d never know that the four musicians in Wintersleep are in one of the most popular bands on the east coast. They are humble about their talents and go out of their way to downplay any interest directed their way. The reluctance to call attention to themselves fits perfectly with their vision: create great music and the rest will take care of itself.Murphy is the first person one notices at a Wintersleep show. He’s the most handsome of the quartet, with a cupid-like face, rosy cheeks and a jovial personality. His voice betrays his nature, however, going from a whisper to an intense growl, then to a banshee-like wail, sometimes in the same verse.
D’Eon is the guitarist whose calling card is a toque he’s rarely seen without. He’s also considered the unsung hero of the band, adding intricate layers of sounds over Murphy’s power chords, the lynchpin of the Wintersleep sound. He’s usually the quiet one, but when he speaks up, he does so with the most lacerating, dry wit.
Loel Campbell is the youngest member of the band and one of the best drummers around. He’s tall, with has a mane of hair that points every which way and a mischievous grin that gives away his youth.
Jud Haynes is the big brother of the band. If Wintersleep were characters in the Wizard of Oz, Haynes would be the man behind the curtain, pulling strings, making things happen. He doesn’t seem to mind this position and it shows in the difficulty it takes to get him to an interview. Still, he’s just as approachable as the others, despite his serious nature. He’s also an excellent bass player, a perfect accompaniment to Campbell’s thunderous time-keeping.
Together in person, Wintersleep is as affable a band as they come—funny, humble and open. But place them on a stage in front of an audience and the group is a whole different beast. They are dark and awe-inspiring. The music is emotional, heavy and as tight as hell. And their second album has a good chance to make stars out of these four easygoing artists.
Recorded at the Sonic Temple and Idea of East studios by Halifax wunderkind producer Laurence Currie, Wintersleep’s new album is a leap forward in the group’s collective energy. Murphy separates himself from the earlier Eddie Vedder comparisons, finding brighter definition and range in his voice. His evolution as a singer is evidenced on the opening one-two punch of “Lipstick” and the first radio single “Jaws of Life.”
Campbell’s end-of-the-world drumming is still there, as is the heavy acoustic sound people have come to know, but there are also more layers of instrumentation—keyboard and guitar sounds that bring a deeper complexity to the group.
“We all just kind of have our own sound,” Campbell says over a pint. “We just have all the kinks worked out. What you hear in the room sounds really good now, whereas the first one there were maybe four songs that sounded like us.”
Other highlights include the sure-fire set closer, the dance oriented “Nerves Normal, Breath Normal” and the spooky, “Danse Macabre (Death Speak)”—previously known as “Skeletons”—with one of the highest energy riffs you’ll hear this year. The record closes as quiet as it opens loud, with the understated, harmonized vocals of “Long Flight” and “A Pair of Ragged Claws/People Talk,” which features nothing more than an acoustic guitar and Murphy’s front-and-centre vocals.
“There is a tendency on this record to consistently break the mould of the ‘pop music’ songwriting formula,” producer Currie says. “I think the band has also realized that they are ultimately the ones in control of who they are and what they will become. Therefore, they might be taking the whole process a little more seriously.”
Wintersleep began in 2001 as a recording project between Murphy and D’Eon, two friends from Yarmouth who moved to Halifax. They added Campbell and later Haynes to the ranks and started playing shows in 2002. And what started off as an audience of 30 friends has now grown to sold-out venues with sweat-filled crowds reciting every word.
“We’ve definitely come a long way as far as show presentation,” Murphy says. “Before it was stripped down, acoustic sort of stuff that was pretty raggedy sounding, but in a good way. Now it feels like a real band.”
Much of the credit for Wintersleep’s rise goes to Dependent Music, the band’s label and the driving force behind the group. Dependent, co-run by Haynes, includes a roster of artists—such as the Remains of Brian Borcherdt, Contrived and Jill Barber—who share similar a vision and often share the stage. Not only does Dependent have national distribution through Outside Records, but it’s also a forum for Wintersleep fans, who are some of the most rabid around.
“Dependent is definitely very helpful for everybody,” Murphy says. “It’s a community where you can count on people helping you out, doing things in your interest.”
If there’s an upside to the indie lifestyle, there is a downside as well. Lack of monetary comfort forced Wintersleep to drag the recording process forthe new record over 13 months.“Realistically there were times when a whole month would go by when we wouldn’t even be in the studio a day,” Haynes says. “There were times when we’d be in there for a week or two straight and then not go back in for a month and a half.”
Another example of the financial complications of indie life can be seen in the fact that the VideoFact-funded clip for “Sore,” a song off the group’s first record, only recently began airing on MuchMusic. Ironically, lack of money pushed the completion of the video to just a few months before the release of their new album, forcing the band to place a disclaimer on all advertising for the second record.
“It was such weird timing because the video was starting to get play a few weeks ago and our record is coming out in the next few weeks,” Campbell laughs. “That’s another bad thing about being an indie band: Your video doesn’t match up with your album because that’s how long it takes to get funding.”
The weird timing just might work in Wintersleep’s favour. Although it’s been two years since the release of Wintersleep’s acclaimed self-titled album, the group has clearly turned some heads, recently playing a showcase in Toronto for a few dozen music industry insiders.
“You just knew that there were 30 industry people watching your every move,” D’Eon says. “It didn’t feel like a show. It was like a presentation in high school.”
“We were being judged from the moment we got on stage,” Campbell adds with a laugh. “In that situation, I would say we got an ‘A.’ As far as it goes, I think we did as well as we possibly could.”
The members of the band make it clear that they’re keeping their post-Toronto expectations in check, not wanting to make the same mistake as many acts before them. They would rather not say too much, only to have nothing to come of it. If signing with a major label happens, then so be it, but until then they have a support network set to help them achieve the modest goals they have laid out for themselves.
Some of those goals include “touring west of Hamilton” and a possible video shoot for “‘Danse Macabre.” Wintersleep might not have the cash flow to get things done as timely as possible, but the band definitely doesn’t rest on its laurels. With one of the most anticipated local records of recent years primed for release and an insatiable fan base at their disposal, it’s starting to look like Wintersleep’s hard work and talent might pay off. Just don’t tell them that.“I think the goal of the record is to use it to get to the next one,” Haynes says. “I mean, we were writing songs from the moment the last record came out. We want to get out and play these songs, but hopefully keep writing at the same time.”