Canadian songwriter Paul Murphy isn’t worried about suffering an identity crisis anytime soon. As the shy, slightly brooding frontman for the nomadic indie-rock quintet Wintersleep, he’s more concerned with creating strong lyrics and sturdy original rock music than adheriCanadian songwriter Paul Murphy isn’t worried about suffering an identity crisis anytime soon. As the shy, slightly brooding frontman for the nomadic indie-rock quintet Wintersleep, he’s more concerned with creating strong lyrics and sturdy original rock music than adhering to any sort of categorical tag or cool catchphrase. He especially wants to provoke reactions from new audiences across North America and beyond.ng to any sort of categorical tag or cool catchphrase. He especially wants to provoke reactions from new audiences across North America and beyond.
“We like the challenge of sort of converting people,” Murphy says. “It’s neat to play to people who are seeing you for the first time. We think of it as a good challenge. Sometimes you get them, and sometimes you don’t, but our live performance is something we’re very proud of. It’s definitely not as daunting for us as it used to be.”
Wintersleep was born in the eastern tip of Canada in the town of Yarmouth, near the capitol city of Halifax, Nova Scotia. It’s certainly tempting for music fans and critics alike to try to lump the band in with the likes of Canadian indie acts like the Arcade Fire, Broken Social Scene, Constantines, and Wolf Parade. Comparisons to Halifax indie-pop heroes Sloan inevitably pop up.
Murphy says, “It seems to be a beneficial thing for the most part. People in the States seem to think it’s very exotic to be from Canada, but, you know, there are many parts of the U.S. that are very similar to where I grew up in Nova Scotia.”
Murphy shrugs at the indie-rock pairings, noting that any random handful of “indie” bands inevitably includes an odd hodge-podge of styles. “The indie bands from Canada don’t really sound the same,” he says. “One person that likes one band won’t necessarily like the other bands.”
Murphy, bassist Mike Bigelow, drummer Loel Campbell, guitarist Tim D’eon, and keyboardist/guitarist Jon Samuel relocated en masse to Montreal three years ago. They dig the big-city scene, but they hold on to their small-town roots.
“We still feel like a Nova Scotia band,” says Murphy. “A couple of the guys in the band had girlfriends in Montreal, so that had a lot to do with it. But it was also during a time when we really started touring heavily. We had a lot of friends in Montreal, and the city is much more friendly to touring.”
Wintersleep released their first two albums on Dependent Music, an artists’ collective in Nova Scotia. They signed with Labwork Music in 2006. 2007’s Welcome to the Night Sky helped them win the 2008 Juno Award for New Group of the Year.
Winterleep spent much of 2010 on the road, touring with the Hold Steady and Matt Pond PA as the opening act. They made their U.S. television debut last fall on The Late Show with David Letterman.
“Those trips were valuable experiences for us,” says Murphy. “We especially enjoyed opening for the Hold Steady. Their audiences were easy to connect with, and we felt like the atmosphere was really cool at shows. It was the type of tour that really made us appreciate audiences.”
This spring, Murphy and the Wintersleep guys are back in the tour van, traveling North America as a headlining act in support of their latest slab, New Inheritors. They recorded the songs in Montreal and mixed everything in Glasgow, Scotland, with producer Tony Doogan (Mogwai, Teenage Fanclub). Stylistically, the album shifts back and forth from strong, upbeat guitar-based rock to less bombastic, more spacious pieces.
It begins with “Exhibit the Jewel,” pushed by a Bonham beat and decorated with echo-drenched guitars and faux orchestral strings. The next track, “Encyclopedia,” rocks with a bouncier rock rhythm, driven by weird barre chords and slappy drum fills. Murphy’s unusual timbre complements his blurted singing (he sounds like a fatigued game announcer with a smart-ass streak). “Blood Collection” shifts back to a sparser approach, with mysterious tones dissipating in the reverb.
“We generally like making songs that have a strong, moody character,” Murphy says. “We like spacey, atmospheric layering, too.”
The acoustic guitar and organ in the opening measures of the title track add a nice contrast to the U2-like guitar work. Murphy comes across as a sci-fi villain as he repeats the mantra, “New inheritors of Earth/new inheritors of Earth,” in a monotone. The cheerful and stiff two-chord ditty “Terrible Man” could easily be a cover of a Modern Lovers or Velvet Underground deep-cut.
“I hope there’s a distinctive tone on the album,” Murphy says. “Songs come from different places. Sometimes they start with lyrics you put to music that you wouldn’t normally have written. Taking different approaches is why the album has peaks and valleys.”