When we catch up with Winter Sounds frontman Patrick Keenan, he’s on a Greyhound to Boston for a van. His band’s longtime van, “the American Dream,” conked out in Fredericks, Md., the last week of April, so ever resourceful, they raised money with concerts, street performances, and a live internet charity show. But shortly after getting it out of the shop, it broke down again, its electronics fried by an improperly installed part. While the parties hassled over who’s responsible, Keenan went north for a second vehicle. The show must go on.
“It was like, should we finish this tour, or go back to Nashville, and cut our losses,” says Keenan, now on his way back from Boston with the van. “And it was like ‘No, let’s see what we can do to maybe raise some money.'”
Young bands are like new relationships. You have no clue what direction they might take or how long they might last. Pretty indie-pop quintet the Winter Sounds would like to be “the one,” but right now, they’re having trouble keeping it together. Over the last half-dozen years, Keenan has released two full-lengths with a changing cast of players, moved to Nashville, reworked the lineup, and recorded a new album titled Runner.
With Runner, Keenan and his bandmates paid for the studio time with esteemed indie producer Scott Solter (St. Vincent, Superchunk) via Kickstarter. They got the final mix back last month. While shopping the album , the group started to solicit funds for a publicity campaign just in case.
“We don’t want to stop the forward motion in order to wait for a label to come through,” Keenan says. “If that works out like I hope it will, we could then self-release again,with the idea of having the kind of support that hasn’t been there in the past, with music videos, publicity, press, and radio. It’s kind of the backup plan.”
The band got off to a quick start signing to Atlanta label Livewire on the strength of 2006’s nine-song demo album, Land of No Output. Those tracks were re-recorded for 2007’s official debut, Porcelain Empire. It’s an adventurous, atmospheric album whose sometimes knotty arrangements and icy shimmer recalls Minus the Bear, a big influence on Keenan and guitarist Paul McKenna. Keenan’s soaring tenor floats over punchy, keyboard-driven arrangements with multitracked harmonies and a textured pop mien reminiscent of U.K. acts like the Doves, the Editors, and British Sea Power.
Church of the Haunted South followed in 2009 with a darker, more downbeat cast as well as a concept surveying the region’s cultural and social legacies. Written with guitarist Clayton Taylor, it balances BritPop swoon with propulsive shivers of jangly guitar underscoring Keenan’s theatrical delivery. But Taylor exited the band to pursue his own projects and Keenan left Athens, Ga., for Nashville with an album’s worth of new material in hand but no band to play it.
“The ambition that I have is a blessing and a curse,” he says. “I’ve been very determined to do this, and it’s what I want to do. I make no apologies for it, and because of that, it’s harder to keep people involved.”
In Nashville, he found more kindred spirits. He credits the spooky post-apocalyptic atmosphere of the film Blade Runner (which the album echoes) as partial inspiration, as well as the belief that sometimes running from your troubles is a good idea — because the issue’s impact and import then wanes and withers.
“It’s more like the first album where every song is a different idea, and it’s got the really up-tempo, funky stuff going on and the heavier, dancey kind of stuff,” Keenan says. “Instead of me layering my voice a hundred times, there are girls doing the harmony parts, and there’s more unique instrumentation like upright bass, banjo, and accordion and a lot of vibraphone.”
The Winter Sounds offered an early hint of that eclectic tone in September when they released the three-song EP, L’été des Trois Michel(l)es, which showcased some of their acoustic side, as they do sometimes live. “We’ll play a plugged-in set and then play an acoustic set,” Keenan says. “It goes over really well, I think.”
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