Wintersleep's amusingly named Hello Hum, the Canadian band's fifth album, finds the quintet at its most expansive, incisive and brooding.
The Juno-winning group chose to work with co-producers Dave Fridmann (The Flaming Lips, MGMT) and Tony Doogan (Belle and Sebastian, Mogwai) on the new album, the followup to 2010's New Inheritors. It's a decision they discussed with The Alternate Side's Alisa Ali when the members of Wintersleep — singer/guitarist Paul Murphy, guitarist Tim D'eon, drummer Loel Campbell, keyboardist Jon Samuel and bassist Mike Bigelow — visited The Alternate Side studios for a four-song session.
Read interview highlights and watch videos from Wintersleep's session below and listen to the interview and performance on TAS on 91.5 WNYE this Friday, October 19, at 11 a.m. and streaming on The Alternate Side.
Alisa Ali: Talk to me about the writing for this record. I know [you wrote your last album] while you were still touring for the previous record. Did you have to do that again for this one?
Paul Murphy: No, this one we kind of set up shop in the city where we’re living right now, Montreal. It just took a lot of time to work on the songwriting. We went to upstate New York and recorded there, so it was the home-iest recording so far.
Alisa: I didn’t think all of you lived in the same city.
Paul: Four of us live in Montreal and Jon lives in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.
Alisa: Jon, you come on over a month before?
Jon Samuel: Maybe not a month before. Maybe a week or so before a tour we’ll get together to rehearse.
Alisa: Is it Mount Zoomer that you hang out at?
Paul: Yes, that’s the studio name, dubbed by the band Wolf Parade. It was their old space and Arlen [Thompson] and Loel are buds. Arlen kind of gave the lease over to Loel after he left that spot.
Alisa: Was it easy to put this record together?
Paul: I think it usually takes a lot of work either way. It was definitely a different, fun experience.
Jon: It was comfortable.
Loel Campbell: It was nice to have a place to facilitate making music for once. When we moved to Montreal we ended up renting rehearsal spaces hourly before we’d go out on tour.
Alisa: What was one of the hardest or most challenging compositions?
Loel: The next song we’re going to do, “Nothing is Anything,” probably went through the most incarnations before we finalized on it. That one definitely took a little bit. Paul had the song pretty much all ready to go and then we worked on the arrangement.
Alisa: So you had the lyrics done and then you worked on the arrangement?
Paul: Initially it was a really soft song, an airy, breezy weird song, and then it became a lot more pop-y and upbeat. [During the] different recordings of it, we’d add things and do things to make it smoother every time.
Loel: Paul was away when we mixed that song. He was out East and we sent it to him. He was definitely surprised with the final result. And then, of course, handing it to Dave Fridmann who gave it the [Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots] kind of treatment. We sent it to Paul [and said], “Now it’s a banger! Weird!”
Paul: These were definitely the weirdest mixes that we were sent, but it was really welcome. We were really excited about it sounding different and he’s totally an artist. We grew up listening to [his] records and being very inspired by that type of music. It was a huge honor.
Alisa: When you were working with [Fridmann], the one thing he told you over and over again was, “That’s great, but can you do it faster?”
Loel: He did do that for a bit. He knows what he’s doing and we listened.
Alisa: When you write lyrics, do you write with a pen or are you a computer guy?
Paul: Kind of both, I think. I like writing with pen. The physical act of writing with a pencil is nice.
Alisa: With a pen, if you make a mistake, you have to cross it out.
Jon: That looks cool.
Paul: On a computer, you just end up checking your email when you’re supposed to be writing lyrics. You end up talking to people.
Alisa: Maybe you start sending poetic emails.
Paul: That’s true. My emails have gotten a lot more poetic.
Alisa: What about online social networking? Do you get down with that?
Paul: We try to. We’re not good at it. We’re getting better at it. I only really learned how to do twittering. Tweetering? Just recently. But I try to do it. Take pictures.
Alisa: What has been the weirdest experience on tour? Tim: We saw a man in Cleveland being led around by dogs. He had a chain on his neck and he was being led around by dogs.
Alisa: Was he on all fours?
Tim D'eon: At points! He got on all fours and was talking to his dogs.
Jon: He had four dogs and they were all chained to his neck.
Tim: He had no shirt. One shoe. It was really strange.
Paul: Mike met a philosopher in Albany. I think he just asked Mike’s perception of Albany.
Alisa: Did you spend a lot of time laboring over the sequencing of this record?
Paul: Yes. We had a lot of trouble with the record sequencing, I think. There’s so many options and you want the record to flow as one cohesive thing. We laid it out as you would vinyl; we sometimes try to do that when it’s difficult. It’s an easier way to think about it, in groups of five or six songs as opposed to eleven. Sequencing is really difficult to do.
Alisa: Do you ever look back on your older albums and think you’d change anything about it?
Paul: I think of them as documents. For that reason, you wouldn’t change it. There’s obviously things you listen to and you’re like, “Oh, my voice is weird on that track. I wish I would do that again.” Little things like that. But as a whole, it’s a period of your musical life that you’re documenting for that time. It’s nice not to get too overattached to things you can’t change anyway.