Chasing the dream for over a decade can be exhausting. Just ask Patrick Keenan, founder of Nashville’s the Winter Sounds. “I’ve been trying really hard to kind of create enough top-down success to kind of trickle down into the day-to-day and never really made that happen,” Keenan says. “Still pushing at the same level means you open yourself up for a lot of financial failure.”
Indeed, when the City Paper last caught up with him several years ago, Keenan was taking a bus to Boston where he was buying a van to replace the one mired in a Maryland auto shop. Needless to say, this was not the only vehicular-based misfortune Keenan and his bandmates have suffered over the years.
“[It] pretty much happens on every tour at some point, a major repair of your vehicle. You lose all the days and then you start to fall behind, but once you fix something in one town and leave that town, you can’t go back and say, ‘Hey this isn’t working, right,'” Keenan says.
It’s a frustrating feeling for an artist capable of creating such pretty work as “O’fear” off the Sounds’ 2009 second album, Church of the Haunted South. The keyboards swoon and swell with a punchy energy recalling British ’80s acts like Echo and the Bunnyman and Simple Minds. “Fear, oh fear, I love it when you come hunting me,” Keenan taunts in the song’s opening line, slaloming through a canopy wafting synths behind a keenly syncopated rhythm. It’s equal parts exhilarating celebration and heavy-breathing exhale.
All the effort without recompense takes its toll. There came a time for Keenan when he realized he needed to step back a bit. He moved out to Ohio, where he’s been splitting time with Nashville while recording the new album.
“I reached a point where I was too emotionally invested in the success of the music, so if the band wasn’t being talked about or the posts weren’t positive enough it was like it was always a crushing blow,” he says. “I’m learning how to live as a musician without being emotionally dependent on success to keep me positive.”
Meanwhile, recording continues on the band’s fourth full-length, the follow-up to 2012’s Runner. Keenan returned to the guy who mixed that album, Derek Garten, to produce the first single from the forthcoming album, Meteor.
“South Carolina had a baby that she threw in a microwave,” sings Keenan on the pretty swirling calliope of a track, written for his South Carolina-bred friend, Rory Scovel, who moved to California to make it as a comedian. “His sort of running gag was about his meteoric rise and fall,” he says.
Keenan’s taking a novel approach to the recording, doing half the tracks with Garten, who fashions a rich, full production, and half with a different producer, Kevin Danger. “The songs we have done with him have taken on more of an analog punk feel, [which] catches more of the live energy,” he says.
He’s enjoying the experience of working with two different people. “You find the song you wrote can take on so many different forms,” says Keenan. “Certain people have different skills they do better than others to bring out different elements of the song.”
It’s actually been almost disappointing for Keenan to be playing these shows since rehearsing for the tour has slowed down the recording process. “It’s weird because nothing happens while you’re doing that, so you feel like you haven’t made any progress. But in reality, there’s these 12 to 13 songs that are finished that are just getting ready for the fun part,” he says. “After these shows, we aren’t going to do anything until we lock into some really solid final product with this album.”
Meanwhile, Keenan tries to maintain his focus on the end product and not its reception. “I’m feeling much more positive about everything as a whole,” he says. “I think about it in terms of growth for growth’s sake. Growth for growth’s sake is the ideology of the cancer cell.”