Wintersleep plays with opposites on Hello Hum
On the face of it, Wintersleep’s “In Came the Flood” is a natural choice for a single. The song, which has come out in advance of the Halifax-spawned band’s new album, Hello Hum (due out June 12), is a surging rocker with a chorus made for summer-festival sing-alongs. The lyrics, on the other hand, are a different story, with singer-guitarist Paul Murphy singing “He prophesied/That God would come/He’s been and gone/Left you alone” before concluding “You’re such a cruel, cruel animal.”
“It’s pretty gloomy,” Wintersleep drummer Loel Campbell agrees when the Straight reaches him in the band’s adopted home base of Montreal. “Paul’s always been a fan of that. The music came first with that song. Paul came up with his vocal melody and the lyrics, obviously, later. It’s just kind of a nice contrast, because it is kind of anthem-y. It has this instantly gratifying feeling to it off the top, so I think he’s playing off the opposite of that, I guess, for the lyrics.”
If not all of Hello Hum delivers the same immediate rush as “In Came the Flood”, it’s well worth a deeper listen. The group’s fifth album is a headphones-friendly affair, brimming with well-thought-out details whether Campbell and Murphy—along with bassist Mike Bigelow, guitarist-keyboardist Tim D’eon, and keyboardist Jon Samuel—are barrelling through a ragged-glory indie rocker like “Unzipper” or floating through the organic ambiance of “Someone, Somewhere”.
The band decamped to the woods of upstate New York last summer to record Hello Hum with Tony Doogan and Dave Fridmann at the latter’s legendary Tarbox Road Studios. Fridmann has a well-earned reputation (not to mention a Grammy) for the expansive sound he has brought to LPs by the Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev, and Campbell says working with him was a revelation.
Says the drummer, “He’d come in at 10 in the morning and do his thing until 4, and we’d come in and have a listen and it would be, like, ‘Holy crap, this is insane. Put it through the big speakers and crank it up.’ The way he mixes is so interesting. There’s not many people that do it like him, and obviously the sound of the record benefited from that. We were so lucky to get to work with him.”
Wintersleep also has the good fortune to have had one of its songs take on something of a life of its own. A folksy number with only two chords, a simple stomp-clap rhythm, and lyrics about the quest to define oneself in a trying world, “Weighty Ghost” was released in 2007, but its popularity continues to grow. There are countless cover versions on YouTube, and Bob Mersereau included it in his 2010 book The Top 100 Canadian Singles. Last January, “Weighty Ghost” got its biggest boost yet when Wintersleep performed it on the Late Show With David Letterman.
“It’s pretty awesome,” Campbell reflects. “I was thinking about it the other day, and that record came out five years ago now. I was just visiting my family in Nova Scotia and I heard it on the radio a couple of times. It kind of freaks me out. It’s just a pretty simple tune. It’s very hummable, you know what I mean? It kind of has its guard down as a song, or something like that. I feel like most people can identify with it, whether with the melody or the lyric. It just has all these different things going for it.”
Wintersleep plays the Biltmore on Monday (June 4).