Nova Scotia's Wintersleep gets a Snow Patrol vibe going
Not much goes on in Yarmouth. Just to put things into perspective, one of the Nova Scotia locale's claims to fame is as the hometown of a Canadian Idol fifth-season runner-up, Dwight d'Eon. But it's also a great place to view the stars, which might have been the inspiration behind the title of Wintersleep's third disc, Welcome to the Night Sky. Yarmouth is also a great place for writing songs, says Halifax-based Paul Murphy, who hails from the town.
"It's really, really small, so it's nice to go back there and be able to focus," says the Wintersleep vocalist-lyricist, reached on his way to a gig in Thunder Bay. "I write most of the stuff I bring to the band there."
Welcome to the Night Sky may have small-town origins, but the album deals in large-scale, walloping guitar-rock. Tracks like "Archaeologists" and "Oblivion" burst out of the gate with riffs blazing, drums charging, and Murphy bellowing. But some of the record's primary pleasures occur when the band takes a more atmospheric approach, as on the shimmering piano ballad "Dead Letter & the Infinite Yes", the dark instrumental "Murderer", and the two-part blockbuster, "Miasmal Smoke & the Yellow Bellied Freaks". The latter, one of Murphy's favourites, closes the disc and was one of those happy accidents that come together when some band members arrive to the practice space early and start jamming instead of flipping through the latest issue of Swank.
"It was just one of those days we didn't expect anything to happen," he recalls. "Loel [Campbell, drummer] and I wrote the first part while waiting for everyone to show up–it just came out of nowhere and flowed into the second part of the song."
"Weighty Ghost" is the most conspicuous, and gratifying, example of the band straying from its admittedly powerful signature sound. The track finds Wintersleep all but abandoning its usual wall-of-guitars approach for an almost Celtic-folk vibe.
"We were doing it a little more rocked-up live, but when it came to recording it, it just didn't feel right to treat it that way in the studio," says Murphy. "So we tore it apart and built it back up."
At times, Welcome to the Night Sky's distorted and sustained chords, driving bass, and impassioned vocals evoke Snow Patrol. Tellingly, the album's producer, Tony Doogan, has worked with the Scottish guitar-rock powerhouse, although Murphy admits he hasn't heard much of its music. Still, like Snow Patrol, Wintersleep is fond of sweeping arrangements and weighty topics. Such is the case with Welcome to the Night Sky's "Astronaut", which opens with the line, "'Do you still believe in God?' said the preacher to the astronaut. 'I heard it's kind of lonely there.'"
Murphy is hesitant to pin down the tune's original spark. "A lot of different things come together for all the songs," he says. "So I'm not really sure I can narrow it down to one thing."
Somehow though, you just know it has something to do with the night sky.
Wintersleep plays Richard's on Richards on Friday (November 2).