A harmonic hibernation

Halifax-based quintet Wintersleep continue to carve a unique space for themselves in the Canadian music scene

Wintersleep play Ale on Nov. 24, a venue they remember for its unique decor.
Wintersleep play Ale on Nov. 24, a venue they remember for its unique decor.

Wintersleep have come a long way since forming in Halifax in 2001. They have since moved to Montréal, won the Juno Award in 2008 for New Group of the Year and opened for the likes of Sir Paul McCartney.

Mike Bigelow, the current bassist, recently caught up with the Journal on the phone from snowy Calgary. The band is playing in Kingston on Nov. 24 at Ale House, which Bigelow described with a chuckle as “that place with the airplane hanging from the ceiling.”

In response to winning the Juno, Bigelow’s grounded nature and modesty shone through.

“It’s funny because that was a really fun, unexpected thing to happen,” he said. “Maybe some things have changed but we’re still on tour doing what we do anyway. Even if things have changed significantly, it seems more gradual to us rather than one particular thing that happened. Any success that we have or work that we do is gradual and continuous.”

In other words, the advertisers aren’t hammering at Wintersleep’s door and if they happen to do so, the band isn’t letting it affect the creative process.

Bigelow is a former member of Holy Fuck, an improvisational electronic group from Toronto. Although the two bands’ styles are very disparate, the transition seems natural for the versatile bass player. He was the keyboardist for Wintersleep in 2005.

The band has worked with some incredible people since Bigelow rejoined in 2007. He is levelheaded and cool about opening for Paul McCartney at Halifax Common on July 11, 2009.

“It was a great experience,” he said. “Great. He came on stage while we did sound check and we got to meet him. He was very friendly and gentlemanly, exactly how you would expect.”

Tony Doogan, a Scottish producer who has worked with renowned artists like Belle and Sebastian and Mogwai, oversaw production on their newest album, New Inheritors. Bigelow said he valued Doogan’s work ethic and his ability to push the band.

“He’s a funny guy, makes you work really hard, which is awesome. These guys have worked with him before, but he pushes you really hard, which is good because it makes you play your best,” he said. “He doesn’t want to make a shit record; he wants to make you a good record. [He] doesn’t want to waste his time.”

The new material isn’t necessarily a significant departure from their older stuff, but shows a positive and natural progression. The songs can be angular slices of post-punk, like the short burst of energy on “Encyclopedia,” or full of crafty, tasteful hooks like on the single “Preservation.” The last song on their 2007 effort, Welcome to the Night Sky, featured big blown-out drums and extended instrumental jams giving some critics the impression of a new, experimental direction for the band. However, Bigelow disagrees.

“People I’ve talked to seem to think [the new album]’s a lot darker. Like “Black Camera”, but I don’t think [the songs] come from a darker place,” he said. “It’s not really a conscious decision, you just try to create a body of songs that work together and obviously people will interpret them. I definitely think it’s different from the first and that’s a normal, natural process.”

These guys have certainly paid their dues on the indie rock circuit and they know how grueling life on the road can be. With regard to the realities of the music industry, Bigelow said exercising patience might be the biggest lesson he’s learned on the road.

“I’m trying to do that more and more these days,” he said. “It’s a weird thing to get used to, touring and stuff. Once you breathe and let each other have space it can be great.” He laughs good-humouredly as he recognizes how difficult it sometimes is, but also appreciates the good times. “We toured with The Hold Steady and that’s an example of a tour being really awesome. Everyone squabbles a bit but we’re getting better as time goes on.”

Wintersleep play Ale House next Wednesday, Nov. 24 at 9 p.m. Tickets are $17.50 and are available at Ale House, The Brass, Destinations and ticketweb.ca

Trivia contest!

Q: According to wintersleep, if the vibe is big, what is small?
Hint: Check their myspace page.

Email your answer to journal_ae@ams.queensu.ca by next Tuesday, Nov. 23 to be entered in a draw to win a copy of Wintersleep’s newest record, New Inheritors and two tickets to their show on Nov. 24 at Ale House!

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