Wintersleep is still challenging listeners to look inwards

By Rob Pearson
Wintersleep returns with a new album after an extended hiatus. Photo: Norman Wong

Wintersleep returns with a new album after an extended hiatus.
Photo: Norman Wong

CALGARY — For a decade and a half Wintersleep have woven their melancholic alt-pop in past the frayed edges of Canada’s musical tapestry, and are now fastening themselves a place near the foreground. As their legacy struggles to gain its central focus after splitting with their record label and joining the Dine Alone family, their forthcoming LP, The Great Detachment, takes a moment to reflect on the theme of identity and its allusiveness in an age of separation.

While treading the line between personal narrative and social commentary, Wintersleep’s lyrics have always found and exposed a common vulnerability in the individual’s experience of various contemporary psychosocial conditions. The cathartic resolution may not be found within the lyrics however, but is released in the symphony of contrasting melodies, and transcendent syncopations sustained by years of cohesion as bandmates and as friends. Leave it to these Haligonian-ex-pats turned-Montrealers to get you smiling and tapping your feet along to songs about your own identity crises in the alienated consumer nightmare culture in which you live.

The members of the band still work out parts, songs or ideas on their own before uniting to solidify the sound as a band — a practice informed by their early days, explains singer Paul Murphy.

“When we first started, we hadn’t even really played live for the first two records,” says Murphy.

The fact that each member has been able to develop uniquely along their own trajectory over the course of Wintersleep’s evolution, has allowed the band to sustain the paradox of being something greater than the sum of its parts. Maintaining many side projects or performing solo shows has clearly served to help keep the creative juices flowing, but ultimately they are a band first and foremost, and prefer to support one another’s work.

“I might have played 20 [solo] shows, and even then Tim played on half of those, and Loel played on some of those as well!”

Their coming together to record The Great Detachment ironically marks the end of a longer than usual hiatus for the band. As Murphy was the first to welcome a child into the Wintersleep family, he took a much-deserved break while he and the rest of the band rested and developed new material. They returned a year and a half ago with dozens of songs from which they would begin to determine the shape, size and sound of their character.

“Which songs are going to represent us as a band?” recalls Murphy, reflecting on the arduous and unenviable task of whittling down the record from the songs they had written and worked out over the break, many of them fully arranged. “You’re searching for your identity every time you make a record.”

As they have grown older, closer as friends, and tighter as musicians, the music has become more polished, denser and more complex, yet amongst the beautiful and mesmerizing din, that initial question of identity posed in their inaugural songs like “Orca” or “Caliber” still challenges the listener to look inward.

Wintersleep plays in Calgary at the Gateway on March 23rd, in Vancouver at the Imperial on March 25th, Edmonton at the Starlite Room on March 29th, in Saskatoon at the Broadway Theatre on March 30th and in Winnipeg at the Park Theatre on March 31st.

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