We chat with Winter People
Winter People have been charming the ears off music lovers since the release of their first single, ‘Wishingbone’ a year ago. With the release of their debut album, A Year At Sea this month, a national tour and a prestigious spot on the Harvest Festival lineup, things look to be warming up for this sextet.
One of many bands showcased at BIGSOUND this month, frontman Dylan Baskind likened the experience to a buffet, “it’s how different foods must feel when people approach the buffet table, ‘I wonder if I’ll be chosen’ compared to all the other pleasant arrangements but it was nice people chose our food… whatever we are.”
Their style of cuisine, musically speaking, has been compared to the likes of Arcade Fire, The National, Bob Dylan and The Jezebels but is somehow entirely unique. There’s an emphasis on lyrics, with songs that are dark yet rich with soaring sounds and lovely harmonies.
“We work in a meticulous, architectured way,” reasons Baskind. “Every piece of every item on the album was demoed at my house before we recorded it. That was also to do with financial restraints and the amount of time in the studio for what was a relatively ambitious orchestration.”
Baskind is humble about the hype the band has experienced thus far, particularly their singles ‘Wishingbone’ and ’Gallons‘ which have been hits on Triple J, attracting much attention.“Any of the good things that happen are always a pleasant surprise. I didn’t feel much pressure [to get the album out] it was just like, ‘Oh, someone turned up for our show’.”
There is an old saying about too many cooks in the kitchen but the six individuals behind Winter People seem to work well. Baskind writes the songs but when he brings it to the band, he’s welcoming development, “I can write and record a song but I can’t play violin and I’m not a female singer. So you bring it to the band and it’ll evolve in a particular way and that’ll inform the recording I go back and do. It’s more a dialectic situation.”
The band have kept their original dynamic as consistently as possible. “The band in terms of how it got started and where it is now, it’s pretty solid. I suppose the better you get the more difficult it becomes to maintain your life.”
“Imagine a superhero’s double life,” says Baskind, dipping into metaphor. “What if they got really busy with superhero work and kept going to their normal job. If Clark Kent turned up tired and his boss was like, ‘Clark where have you been?’ He doesn’t want to tell his boss he’s been on tour so he’s just like ‘I’m… sick’ It’s like that – living a double life becomes increasingly hard as the band/superhero life becomes more frantic.”
Winter People explore many themes in their songs with an emphasis on lyrics. “Words to me are like Tetris -” begins Baskind, “sometimes they fit together in a really pleasant way. They have a taste and a feel and it’s so nice to string them together in pleasant formations. I don’t know if I ever had a conscious love of words when I was little but I’ve always been a words kid.”
Baskind’s eloquence helped the band get a big name on board producing A Year At Sea in Brooklyn legend Peter Katis, who has worked with Interpol, The National, Frightened Rabbit and Sigur Ros’ Jonsi.
Instead of getting their people to talk to his people, Baskind went back to basics with a hand written letter and a demo, “I just thought if anyone could produce or mix this record it would be Peter but what are the chances. I thought if I wrote this letter, he would at least listen to our demo. He did and he genuinely liked it, or at least liked the letter and decided to be a part of it.”
Alongside Katis was experts in recording, Tim Whitten (Augie March, The Go-Betweens) and mixing from Rich Costey (The Shins, Foster The People, Bloc Party).
“The great thing about working with them – and the bit I was so afraid of – was that I worked over those demos and mixed all our EPs. I’m a technical person with ultra-specific ideas of what I wanted.” Baskind was understandably anxious about the end result, but was pleasantly surprised.
“The impression I got was that the reason they are who they are is because of the work they do. It was sort of an augmented reality. They managed to take that raw sound and they augmented it with this kind of hi fi/lo fi magic.”
A year of hard work paid off when the sextet were announced alongside Beck, Sigur Ros, Grizzly Bear and Beirut on the lineup for 2012’s Harvest Festival. Being on the bill was affirming for Baskind, “you spend lots of time in a band not feeling like a legitimate entity. Then there are moments in time, such as this album and getting included on a lineup like Harvest, that I guess you take it as some kind of validation of what you believe in. That was really nice.”
Sigur Ros will be his personal highlight, “when I was in year 7 or year 8 I saw the video clip for ‘Svefn-G-Englar’ on Rage at 4am and went to school the next day just evangelising this band. I’m very rarely telling people they need to listen to something but I was like ‘you all need to listen to this. It’s other-worldly stuff!’ I’ve seen them a couple of times but they amaze me every time.”
Similarly to Sigur Ros, Winter People intertwine classical elements into their sound, a fusion that’s personally important to their frontman, “I always had it in my mind to take this lyrically focused music with acoustic guitar and vocals that stands on its own and try to meld that with something highly orchestrated, highly constructed and make it a kind of lush piece.”
The idea is easier than the orchestration, “I still find it a challenge but you can change the mood of something in such a dramatic way by introducing a bowed instrument. Now there are all the different things you can do on a violin. You can soar on a violin in a way you can’t on guitar. A guitar has that raucous fifties rock and roll thing to it but the violin has a pure tone.”
With their album release, a national tour and Harvest Festival appearance, it will be hectic for Winter People but they don’t look like slowing down. “My most satisfying part of music is recording albums so I’d love to do that more. I guess my ambition is to release this album, try and get some people to listen to it, and then record some more.”
A Year At Sea is out now through Hub/Inertia, you can read the Tone Deaf verdict here. Winter People embark on a national tour on September 27 – full dates and details here – and also play Harvest Festival in November and Pyramid Rock Festival in the New Year.