Q+A: 5 Minutes With The Winter Sounds
With five albums under their belt, The Winter Sounds have released their much awaited EP, Grand Gestures, teasing their upcoming full-length album, Jupiter which is set for early 2024 release and which will be produced by Tailor Swift producer, Derek Garten.
The 3 piece’s first single and video, ‘Windy City Nights’ won MTV’s contest The Freshman, which put the video in heavy rotation at MTVU, and launched the band on a years-long tour of the USA and Canada, playing over 200 shows in 2007 alone.
We caught up with The Winter Sounds’ frontman Patrick Keenan about the band’s dynamic, music creation, live performances, and future plans.
Hey The Winter Sounds! Great to have you here, set the tone for us. Why the name The Winter Sounds?
Thank you for the questions! Regarding the name, we had recorded our first album ‘The Land of No Output’ without a band name, as it was a group of friends in the studio at the time. And the name ‘the winter sounds’ was picked from a bunch of suggestions because it felt like the right fit for the music. Now, many years later, I’m still very happy with it, so that’s good I think!
Which comes first when you’re writing – the music or the lyrics?
For me, always the music. Usually it’s chords and some melodies and the lyrics emerge slowly and start to give more shape to the song. I’ve tried the other way around, but it’s never worked.
What inspired you for this latest EP Grand Gestures?
Well, we had a big break as a band after 2018, and then just as we were starting to make plans again to meet up, there was the pandemic of course. So, when we finally reunited as a group in December 2022, there was this enormous amount of songs to select from. ‘Grand Gestures’ was titled by Paul McKenna, who was playing guitar and also mixing the EP. And I really think the title nailed the overall sentiment of the EP. The ambition and the dreaming had taken the place of shows and recordings for years at that point. Just being in the same room together became an exciting blend of possibility and vulnerability, as we shared our past experiences and our aspirations for what’s to come. More than anything, we wanted to achieve something different with these recordings than TWS had done in the past. Since we live in different cities and countries, there’s a feeling that we can only rely on how big the songs can get to really “be a band”. We have big plans for the future, of course, but we always knew our time together was (for now) limited. So, everything needed to be big and leave a lasting impression. The songs that became ‘Grand Gestures’ were picked really because we could play them together without a huge production. They were simple acoustic songs which became a little bit bigger indie rock songs, but the lyrics and the ideas behind them channeled universal and fundamental feelings and sentiments. And I think, all things considered, those simple ideas have that kind of power. In lyrics like “kindness reaches, the waves crash on the beaches”, I feel that in something simple, there’s a lot to reflect on. And that this reflection over a simple lyric, a simple melody, gives the songs a long life.
Tell us about the chemistry you have with your fans on stage. What was your favorite venue to play in?
Hmmm, well, haha, we just played one show in May 2023 at a venue in New Orleans called Siberia. The sound was great; the room and the vibe is excellent. We played well and we got to share what we’d been up to with friends and family. So, that night we just played 7 brand new songs and tried not to be too nervous. There’s a live video of the set and you can really see us opening up as a band again towards the last few songs. After the set, you know, you have people come up to you and tell you how much they enjoyed it. It’s priceless and in our case, it was just great to “knock the dust off”, to get another show under our belt, and feel again like we are really a band; it’s not just in our heads, haha; we played a show; we have new songs!
Favorite moment while touring?
We did two tours in 2017 and 2018 for the release of ‘Maximum Reality’, so those are more fresh for me. We went to Cabot, Vermont and played at Cabot High School. And that was incredible. It’s easy to get burned out playing bars and clubs – they see the same thing every night. But all ages shows are always the best! The kids were really into it and were so enthralled by the fact we were there and were so genuinely nice and they’re buying merchandise and we’re signing everything. It really turns the tables and you feel like the music you are making actually ‘matters’ and I’m just so grateful that we got to do it. And then after the show, we went to Harry’s hardware store, which had a small bar in it and a couple of picnic tables, and just hung out with some of the kids and parents. It was snowing outside and just super cozy and a uniquely special moment, for sure.
In a similar vein, we played St. Joseph’s High School in Greenville, SC in 2018. It was the school’s 20th anniversary. I was one of the original 13 students, so the principal gave me a tour and showed me where they had removed the door from the first school (a house back then) and brought it to the new school, now a huge complex, and had carved into brick the names of the first 13 students (there’s a picture on our instagram). So, it was a surreal moment, where I stood next to this door with my name and the names of the other 12 students, and took a picture. And I was there playing a show. It was really wild!
What do you keep close by while you’re playing a set?
Used to be a beer, now it’s a bottle of water.
Take us through a day in the recording studio.
Our studio time was squeezed pretty tightly. I’d drive over to Paul’s studio (Fine Cutlery) around 10AM. We’d work on a few things together and then order some lunch or something. There’s a place called Breads on Oak which does all vegan food and was right next door – I highly recommend it! ;). Corey usually got off work around 3, so then we’d have a couple hours to play through some of the songs. Paul would head off to school and Corey and I would switch from ‘Grand Gestures’ to doing some guitar tracking for ‘Jupiter’. Other days, I’d be at Fine Cutlery tracking vocals and I’d take off around 5 or so when Paul got off work and he’d usually open up the ‘Grand Gestures’ EP and do some more mixing.
What techniques do you experiment with to get your original sound?
For me, Paul and Corey are exceptional and very unique guitarists. I write a lot using synthesizers and it’s really interesting to hear the guitars create a hybrid of an original keys part on the guitar. Paul also bounced all of ‘Grand Gestures’ to tape and back before the mastering. I really like to layer my vocals as well. When we’re writing and recording, there will become evident some limitations in what you’re capable of doing (I am not a singer with lots of vocal range, for example), but once you hit a wall of sorts, you realize it’s a chance to solve a problem creatively. So, we change the key of the song, or sing something an octave lower or higher. Sometimes the guitar plays the lead melody; things drop in and out. But all of it is done with the intention that there are no rules and there’s so much freedom to explore different ways of expressing a musical idea. My favorite part of the album is the end of ‘Ocean Waves’ where the lead melody is doubled by guitar and synth. It is the first time that particular melody appears and yet there’s no singing and it just feels really powerful and sums up the sentiment of the whole song so well!
How have you seen the band’s style develop over the years?
What I always personally hope is that The Winter Sounds feels versatile, like whether we are doing new wave, indie rock, or folk, it doesn’t feel like anything expected from a particular genre. I love our band, so I’m biased of course. But through the years, I’ve never felt pinned down to any style. We went with ‘classic’ indie rock on ‘Grand Gestures’; ‘Jupiter’ will be more high-concept synth-pop and lo-fi folk. We had two concept albums in the past. I think the next record will be completely different!
Take us through your collection of gear, tech or software that accompanies your creative expression.
Noteworthy gear on the album is the 66’ bassman, vox ac15, wampler Tumnus pedal , xotic fx rc booster pedal and keeley caverns pedal. The final mixes were bounced to an otari mx5050 1/2” machine.
What was it like working with Derek Garten who’s produced Tailor Swift in the past?
Derek is a good friend. And he’s capable of anything musically. The best part of working with Derek is sitting back and giving him the freedom to grow the song into something sonically huge and different. It’s always been the case. The best things I can say about Derek are that he is quick and can do anything with his tools. He uses the tools of mixing so creatively that I fully recognize it as his instrument. The ‘Jupiter’ songs were less straightforwardly ‘band’ songs, as for almost every one, we didn’t really practice them as a group. We really leaned into that limitation to keep them feeling free. Drums come and go, same with guitars and bass. Melodies pop in one verse and never appear again. The song structures were wide open. We focused on the album as a whole, so each mix of a song was related to what might come before or after on the album. Production decisions were made based on the relationship between one song and the next. What I really hope to do one day is to take the band and our songs to Derek and do the whole thing with him. In the past, for example, we recorded ‘Runner’ with Scott Solter and Derek mixed it. We did ‘Maximum Reality’ in several studios over a years-long period. One song on that record, ‘Meteor’ was mixed and mastered two years before the album was released. Derek mixed everything then, but it was really spread out and stretched out. In the case of ‘Jupiter’ all the songs were written over the past few years while I was living in Estonia, South Korea, and eventually, Czech Republic. All the tracking was redone in New Orleans with Paul and Corey, and then we mixed it all in two weeks in Nashville. There’s never a moment where I have any doubts that Derek is the person to do it. But what I’d love to do next is take the whole band and a really focused 10 songs to him and start and finish a whole album with him. I think that would be something really exciting! But my favorite part about working with Derek is that every time we’d take an ‘ear break’, we would sit outside Prime Recording and immediately launch into deep conversation, maybe about the record’s themes or personal experiences about depression, about relationships, and the value of therapy and vulnerability. I have this background in philosophy now (though I am not a good philosopher in any academic sense) and I love pointing out the philosophical origins of particular common-sense ideas, like “this comes from Nietzsche,” or Schopenhauer or Hume. What I love about talking with Derek (or Paul or Corey or Joe) is that philosophy is really accessible and natural to anyone just taking the time to reflect on what is going on around them. Maybe one big part of our friendship is that they also do it naturally, so there’s never a dull moment, but rather a shared sense of humility and wonder that keeps our friendship connected through these long periods of time. Conversations about the songs and ourselves are just as important to creative growth and expression as anything.
We hear you’ve got a full length album coming up, how was it working on the EP knowing that ‘Jupiter’ was lingering behind? Did it take away from the EP process?
Yes, working on the two albums almost simultaneously was tough! And I wouldn’t want to do that again. It happened the way that it did for ‘reasons’, but I don’t really regret it. I think it just meant a lot more work as a whole, and both the EP and the LP didn’t get the same level of focused attention as maybe they should. I wouldn’t change anything though. One thing that became clear in the process was that we’d just had a huge chunk of time in which there were so many songs created. We whittled them down to a manageable 20 or so in the end, but the clarity that eventually emerged was simply that this time I spent in New Orleans leading up to the mixing in Nashville was an experiment. The band was reborn for these two records. But nothing says this is the last thing we will do together. In fact, now they are both technically finished, we are already writing and sharing songs again. The next album could be months away, and it could be self-released or a single or anything really! I started using the term ‘experiment’ a lot for what we did over the past 6 months. We tried something and we finished it. Next time will be different! The most important takeaway was that we keep writing and recording. No single work defines us or what we are capable of. We talked about doing a full-length with Paul at Fine Cutlery. Earlier I said, I’d love to bring the whole band to Nashville to record with Derek. I’d also love to take the band to the Czech Republic. There are some studios in Prague that I reached out to in the past that would be a fun experiment. I think it is good to try different things and yeah, again, don’t let anything define you. We have no shortage of ideas and we are first and foremost friends; that won’t change, so I have no worries about what comes next, only excitement!
Breakdown the news for us: what can we expect from you this year?
Grand Gestures comes out in mid-June. We are working on a video for ‘Ocean Waves’ at the moment. After that, we might self-release some of the tracks which didn’t make the ‘Jupiter’ cut. There’s some Christmas songs in the works. I imagine we’ll release a single and music video for a track from ‘Jupiter’ before the end of the year. I have a project I’ve been thinking about a lot called ‘Reunion’ which is a nostalgia trip into old old demos which are getting revamped. I’m treating myself now as an ‘experienced’ producer to my old self and some very old unreleased songs. Between the band, we also talked about selecting a small group of songs to bounce back and forth, ones that we each present, so it’s more of a group effort in the initial writing part. I think something like that will come out in the fall. The most important thing is to keep writing. The big plans are really in 2024. ‘Jupiter’ will come out in the late spring and then the summer will be Europe and US tours. My big plan for 2023 is to send the album to labels and see if anyone is interested in helping us release it. If not, who cares!
Finally, favorite band meal during/after a long day of practice?
My goto is pad-thai with tofu. The closest we came to a band meal was probably G’s pizza on Bienville, which is right next to where Corey lives. They actually have tasty vegan/gluten-free pizzas, which can be harder to find. Couple that with root beer in a bottle and that’s a great meal to look forward to after a long day.