Wintersleep arrives with new album

IN CONCERT

What: Wintersleep with Partner
Where: Capital Ballroom, 858 Yates St.
When: Saturday, April 27, 9 p.m. (doors at 8)
Tickets: $23.50 Lyle’s Place and Eventbrite.ca

Wintersleep didn’t consider itself a band until 2005, when a string of successes — including a tour with Pearl Jam — made the group of three years finally feel at home in the studio and on the road.

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What initially began in 2002 as a side project for some of its members has since taken shape as one of the country’s best rock bands, with a Juno Award win and a succession of notable singles (Weighty Ghost and Amerika among them) now in their set.

Time has brightened Wintersleep’s professional outlook, but not its view on the world. In the Land Of, the band’s seventh album, finds singer-guitarist-lyricist Paul Murphy exploring the crevices of the world as it pertains to land, both the ownership of it and lack thereof.

“I was examining places and our attachment to them — ownership of something that is not something meant to be owned — a little bit more closely,” Murphy said Wednesday from a tour stop in Kelowna. “It’s about where you exist and your relationship to that.”

Murphy, keyboardist Jon Samuel, drummer Loel Campbell, guitarist Tim D’eon, and bassist Chris Bell have explored out-of-body and inner-mind matters on previous records, including 2007’s Welcome to the Night Sky and 2010’s New Inheritors, “but it was a little more vague,” Murphy said.

The new North America, under the black cloud of Donald Trump, has given Murphy more pause on the band’s new album, released March 29.

“Canada has its own sordid history as well, so a new song like Beneficiary [which talks of war, violence, and genocide] connected that to my direct surroundings.”

Murphy wrote from a safer distance on 2007’s Welcome to the Night Sky, even though some of his first-person writing bordered on morbid. “Are you some kind of medicine man? Cut the demons out of my head,” Murphy sang on Weighty Ghost, the band’s most prominent hit. “You can’t kill something that’s already dead, just leave my soul alone.”

He went darker and more personal on new song Terror, on which Murphy wrote from the narrative perspective of a drone flying toward a bomb strike. He was inspired to write the song after seeing an Instagram art project by James Bridle, whose work zeroed in on aerial maps of land demolished by drone strikes. “The idea of drone warfare is something that freaks me out,” he said. “It’s a new frontier, a new form of war and terror.”

Wintersleep is in a reflective mood, having just re-issued its first three albums on vinyl. The group sat in on remastering sessions and artwork meetings (with original designer and founding member, Jud Haynes) to update and expand the original releases.

Murphy said he was struck by how inexperienced he was during the first few albums from the group. “It was a trip to go back and listen to stuff you’d done 15 years ago. My voice is deeper on the older records, which is hilarious. I don’t really understand what happened. I don’t know why I was signing like that, because I don’t have that kind of tone now.”

He’s proud of what Wintersleep accomplished from their home base in Halifax, after starting out an independent entity. D’eon and Murphy grew up near each other in Yarmouth, N.S., but it was their move to Halifax that solidified the core that went on to open shows for the Tragically Hip and step into prime-time on The Late Show with David Letterman.

Listening back to their early recordings, Murphy wonders how any of it happened in the first place. “There is definitely something unique about our early records,” he said with a laugh. “I think we were just trying to find our way through the recording process, and you can kind of sense that on the first couple of records. We have definitely developed as a band, in terms of performance. We’re more confident as a band.”

With members now spread across three provinces — Murphy and Samuel live in Halifax, Campbell lives in Montreal, D’eon lives in Quebec City, and Bell lives in Grimsby, Ont. — tours and recording sessions are some of the few instances the group members hang out with each other.

Time has not dulled their fondness for being a group, Murphy said. “It feels like we have a lot more tools now. Within our records, we got to a lot of different places. The first couple of records were intensified as one particular vibe. Now, we’re a more complete picture.”

mdevlin@timescolonist.com

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