Still virtually unknown outside their native Australia, these talented musicians are poised to take on the world. Lead singer and songwriter Dylan Baskind speaks to us about working with producer Peter Katis and life in Sydney
Winter People is yet another young, original and exceptionally talented band from Australia. With their poetic as well as intelligible lyrics, splendid songwriting a line-up of four vocalists and two violinists, the Sydney sextet creates breathtaking musical moments with a great level of intimacy. No wonder then, that these musicians with their post-rock, folk and singer-songwriter sound, have already been compared to established acts like Grizzly Bear and Arcade Fire. Add to this a promising collaboration with the American producer luminary Peter Katis of The National and Sigur Rós fame and it is safe to say that Winter People are facing a bright future.
While the band already scored a minor radio hit in their homeland with their debut single Wishingbone, they still remain an insiders’ tip in the rest of the world. As the next single Gallons is scheduled for February 2012 and the debut album is announced for the mid of next year, we take the opportunity to introduce the band to you. The hauntingly beautiful and delicate acoustic version of Wishingbone will give you a foretaste of what is to come music-wise while our interview with the eloquent lead singer and songwriter Dylan Baskind will give you insight into his intriguing mindset:
Let’s start with a few basic facts about the band: where are you from and how would you describe your life as a musician there?
The Winter People are all based in Sydney, Australia. I know very few full-time professional musicians in Sydney, only a handful really. We are all dream catchers here! What is it like to be a musician in Sydney? It's characterised by probably the same tectonic cultural shift as elsewhere in the Western world: ‘music’ seems to be perceived as increasingly separate from musicians themselves. iPods and DJ decks are asserting themselves as the fountain-heads of music now, stocked with songs from out of the unreal digital-ether-cloud of the internet. The flesh, blood and bone of actual musicians need never enter this equation.
Is this meant as a criticism machinery of the music market nowadays?
This is not a criticism of music distribution across the internet, for which I'm hugely thankful, and which has been absolutely essential in my own formation as artistic entity. Rather it’s just an observation of the increasingly tenuous conceptual connect between living musicians and their work. Hence, I think being a musician in Sydney and anywhere else in the connected world has become a lot more of a niche activity, rather than a general one
If you judge from the centre of your artistic entity: who are your musical role models?
Personally, as a songwriter I hold in the highest esteem: Tom Waits, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen – i.e. the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost of songwriting. I find these artists have been capable of combining contemporary and familiar language, with an encompassing poetic vision. In terms of bringing a song to fruition within the band context I would say Radiohead and The National are two bands which embody our goals. Specifically, their interlocking song construction - instrumentally, vocally and architecturally. X is not a ‘backing’ for Y, rather X and Y are mutually necessary, one does not make musical sense without the other. Radiohead and The National are exacting in their constructions, ruthless in identifying and excising the extraneous. This is what Winter People strive to achieve.
Musically, the net is cast wider: the landscape's of Sigur Rós, the deft melodies in Chopin, the directness in the old Carter Family, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Woody Guthrie’s recordings, the grand architecture in Beethoven's music, the glorious noise-atmospheres in post-rocker's like Mogwai, Explosions In The Sky and Godspeed You! Black Emperor, the modern orchestration and hypnotic rhythms in film music à la Philip Glass, Yann Tiersen and Hans Zimmer, the intricate arrangements and lo-fi/hi-fi production style of Danger Mouse and The Chemical Brothers... And the list goes on, musical influence comes from many directions.
Judging from your musical preferences, I assume that you were amazed to work with Peter Katis for your single Winshingbone? How did this collaboration emerge and what was it like to work with him?
Yes, working with Peter Katis has been fantastic, I've been a huge fan of his work for a long time, so I felt honoured that he agreed to do some work on this record. From the outset I assumed that our band was far too small an entity to work with someone of Peter's status. But, because words are my strongest suit and also because I have a regressive Luddite streak in me, I decided to write him a letter - a handwritten letter I mean, the old way! I sent this letter along with a CD of demos and then forgot about it. Some months later, quite out of the blue, we received a quick communiqué to let us know he was interested in mixing some tracks for us.
Working with Peter was a very positive experience for me. His musical intuition is knife sharp, and his maturity and temperance was a great counter-balance to my own more exuberant instincts ("more compression! more distortion!" says the young one). He was also very willingly collaborative. I have a very particular idea of how things ought sound, where the dynamics and timbrel accents are, the relative prominence of melodic and percussive lines etc. And he was very patient and accommodating with my somewhat rigid pre-conception of the tracks.
Tell us a little about your recording process.
Recording at home is wonderful. It’s totally private (save the neighbours), cathartic, free and without constraint by time or expectation. When the feeling drains away you simply stop recording and go to sleep, and when inspiration arrives again then you just set back to work again - Tom Waits says something like: "When it rains, you got be sure you've got enough pots and pans around to catch it."
The recording studio however is an entirely different beast. It’s pressurised by time bounds, by the expense of each hour you spend, by the collective anguish to "Get Things Right", and my pedantic attention to micro-details. So each session was it’s own gruelling marathons of takes that went on into the early morning. I recall one of the final nights, in which we were trying to finish all the string parts: when one of the girls would go in to the live room to record a take, the other would instantaneously fall asleep on the control room couch, only to be gently roused 10 minutes later for their turn, while the other would come and take her turn to sleep.
From my point of view your music has a certain contemplative and peaceful quality. Would you agree and does this reflect your attitude towards and philosophy of life?
Contemplative perhaps, peaceful, on occasion - generally I find that songs are the result of some personal schism, an amorphous gut-feeling, which has no other avenue of communication that can quite capture the essence of it as well as a song. But I'm glad you feel those things in there. As a songwriter, and here I suppose I'm talking about writing for Winter People as well as everything else, I am always endeavouring to create a breadth of moods. Coming back to the songwriters I mentioned earlier, that's why I think Bob Dylan, Tom Waits and Leonard Cohen are so great. They do joker, tragedian, heartbreaker, preacher, wanderer, firebrand, hell-raiser, lover, vagabond, loner, joker etc. I mean that's what humans are like, they are all of those things at some point in time, and these writers have evoked them all.
How would you define your own music in one sentence?
Can you please characterize the role of each band member in a few words /sentences?
Alex Robinson: Drummer and Militant Frank Zappa Enthusiast
Alex Coroneo: Chief Violinist, Singer and Glockenspiel Virtuoso
Jane Andrews: Violinist, Singer and Lioness
Justin Zeltzer: Bass Player, Singer and Numerological Whiz Kid
Nick Zeltzer: Guitarist, Singer and Heir To The Kingdom
Dylan Baskind: Songwriter, Guitarist, Singer and Cloistered Resident of the Bell Tower
What are your goals and plans for the band in the near future?
Our goal is to have our music heard by as many like-minded souls as we can, to play live in as many far-flung locations as we can, and beyond the obvious goal of continuing to play and produce music, to function as a full-time professional outfit for as long as we are permitted to do so by financial reality.
Dylan, thanks for the inspiring interview.
Winter People’s highly anticipated debut album will be released in the mid of 2012. Wishingbone is already available as a single via iTunes.
For further infos on upcoming releases, gigs etc. visit www.winterpeople.com.au