Interview with Paul Murphy from Wintersleep - August 2010

Interview and article by Aline Giordano

Wintersleep “Hello again!”, Paul Murphy writes. I ask him where he is and what surrounds him as he is about to answer my questions. “Amidst a pile of overstuffed moving boxes in Halifax Nova Scotia. Just about ready to head to Montreal. Finally making the move in an overpriced U-Haul. There are construction workers moving outside my window very slowly, making a whole lot of noise while seemingly not really doing anything, except for that one guy in the tractor. NS construction. Anyway. That is my surroundings. I guess the ocean is close by too. I'm going to miss that. I already miss it.”

This is my second email interview with Paul in two weeks, but this time we’re going to talk about Wintersleep and not Postdata (Paul’s solo project). ‘Writing an email is a funny way to converse” Paul wrote in our previous encounter. I couldn’t agree less. Email interviews can also be challenging from the interviewer’s view point. You get one stab at asking questions, you send them, you hope they are stimulating enough to grab the interviewee’s attention so that their answers have some kind of substance. And then, they come back with answers. So it’s like two monologues bundled up together with various themes that you need to unpack. Luckily, Paul has (again) been forthcoming with his thoughts. Before you read any further, take note that Wintersleep are over in the UK for a short tour in September… very soon! They’ll be stopping at the End of The Road festival on the 11th. We’ll be there and we won’t miss them!

I really like Paul’s vocals. They can be warm, intimate and understated and at the same time convey so much emotion and melancholy. He is in my top five favourite vocalists, up there with David Bazan and Robert Smith… Paul’s favourite vocalists list is, at the moment, Neil Young, ‘a staple’, as he remarks, Nina Simone, Thom Yorke, Bill Callahan, Michael Stipe, Lou Reed. But as he also points out ‘it switches for me and this list could get very long’.

Wintersleep’s influences can be traced back to the music of Sonic Youth, Fugazi, Dinosaur Jr., all leading creative artists of the nineties, in my humble opinion. I ask Paul which particular artists he thinks stood above the rest in the 2000s. “There are lots of great artists. As far as touring rock bands go I'd have to give it to a band like Black Mountain... I think they stand above and beyond for what my opinion is worth; Do Make Say Think, Radiohead, and Hot Snakes”.

Members of Wintersleep also play in different ventures like Postdata and Holy Fuck. Needless to say, these are three different styles of music, and as Paul reports, “in a way every side venture helps Wintersleep. You take things from every experience and eventually apply it in some small way or in some big way to Wintersleep later on. I think it is of the utmost importance to keep working, and if something maybe doesn't fit, or if a project that you like comes up and there is time to do it, it is only a good thing”.

My favourite track on Welcome to the Night Sky is Red Letter and The Infinite Yes… It’s got everything I love about a song: darkness, lyrics I can relate to, great melodies and melancholy. It also has references to some psychological and physical symptoms. The lyrics are written ‘like it is’, like someone is actually suffering… Paul offers a bit of clarification: “Dead Letter began after reading the side effects for a bottle of pills, which seemed kind of worse than what the pills were treating. It begins usually with something as simple as that and grows, and I use personal feelings and experience but also sometimes things I’ve read or heard as further fodder to the fire, for lack of a better metaphor”.

Coming onto New Inheritors, Wintersleep’s latest album, in my mind it sounds a little more produced than Welcome to the Night Sky. It also sounds slightly more poppy (e.g. the songs New Inheritors and Black Camera)… and not as dark. I ask Paul if this is the natural progression for Wintersleep. “I don't really think of it as lighter than Welcome To The Night Sky. I guess there are a little less slow jams on the new record and a lot of upbeat rockers, but yeah, I don't know, some pretty dark songs on this too. I don't know if it is more produced. There are some strings and horns on this record on a few songs... I like to think of every record as a natural progression from the last. I don't think our motto for the future is ‘less dark and more produced’. It depends on the batch of songs”.

In the song ‘Black Camera’ the lyrics ‘body bags’ and ‘it’s your file number’ give the song a bit of a political slant. I have this belief that bands are political in their own way and at their own level: Fugazi and the Dischord label with their deliberate creation of a sustainable social and political alternative; Sonic Youth and their anti-commercial music; and even perhaps Nirvana, through the down-fall of a media icon and the effect it had on a generation. Anyway, back to Wintersleep! Should their refusing to sign a US deal be regarded as a political choice or just a pragmatic one?

“We do exactly what we want to do as a band creatively, that's as political as it gets for us, which is maybe political enough for a band at our stage. Not signing bad deals isn't political though, it is just realizing a bad deal for what it is and not signing it. Major labels are not something I am opposed to, but you have to be careful, because it is your life that you’re dealing with really, so you want to make sure your business is in hands that you can trust. We've always kind of just done things our own way and made sure that we've maintained an amount of control over what we do that we feel comfortable with”.

For more details, visit… Wintersleep's website

Photograph © Dustin Rabin 2010