It has been a busy year for the members of Winter People. An EP launch mid year, adding the finishing touches to their debut album before it dropped in September, tours to promote both the EP and album, a U.S. tour in October and back on home soil to take the stage at Harvest festival across the east coast.
We were lucky enough to catch up with singer, song-writer, multi-instrumentalist and visual artist Dylan Baskind to find out what it was like recording their debut album, touring the country and working with producers Rich Costey and Peter Katis.
1. Who are Winter People?
Winter People come from the mid nineteenth century, from the rural villages in the Ural mountain ranges. During the extreme winter there, the mountain passes connecting these villages to one another and to the wider world became generally impassable and these populations were cut off from the outside world for the duration of the cold season. Once every couple of winters or so, gypsy people would come: “shades out of the blizzard”. They were the only ones hardy enough to travel during the snows. The villagers were wary of these gypsies and would never let them inside the gates. They thought the gypsies carried diseases, and curses, and bad spirits with them. So the gypsies made camp outside the village gates.
There was little contact between gypsy and villager, save the occasional trading of meat or grain. But for the curious, the gypsies brought with them news of all the strange inventions that were coming out of the cities, machines that were powered by steam, glasses that could see as far as eagles etc. but they had ancient knowledge too; so old they had passed out of memory of all but the eldest villagers. In the freezing nights, the gypsies played their music about their camp fire. It was an unsettling music for the villagers: the modern sounds and stories of the emerging cities, threaded through with the wild and ancient. The village children would listen all night long; frightened and intrigued. The next morning the gypsies would be gone, moved on, leaving just the ashes of their fire. These were Winter People.
2. Your debut album “A Year at Sea” dropped in September. How were the nerves before the release?
The bomb has dropped, the aftermath was greatly enjoyed, and the nerves remain steely.
3. You worked with Peter Katis (The National, Jonsi) for a couple of singles and now this year Rich Costey was working on your debut album. What was it like working with these much sought after producers?
Both Rich and Peter lived up to their reputations. Although their approaches to the material were markedly different, both demonstrated to us a genuine musical sensitivity and pretty razor-sharp insights into Making A Track Work.
It was also a strong sense of validation for us, that music-workers of their calibre, should deign to be involved with the album. As a little band you tend to exist in a bubble of family and well-meaning friends (the analogy is the scene of the child who produces their scrawled drawing which the mother praises and tells the child just how talented they are). It’s difficult to get a straight-shooting external opinion on what you’re producing. Having both Peter and Rich put up their hands to be involved was a nod from the outside.
4. What was the writing/Recording process like for A Year at Sea?
The writing process was quite comfortable. Although the songs had been kicking around for some time in a live context, we do things in the studio on a much grander scale than we could hope to accomplish with six players – still the orchestrations / arrangements for the album were done relatively quickly (~3 months perhaps). The recording process however was incredibly grueling. We had a very limited time and budget (we ended up being able to afford exactly half the number of days we thought necessary). So the days/nights in the studio with the fantastic Mr. Tim Whitten (of Augie March + Go Betweens + Panics engineering fame) were very-very long and exhausting. Tim did a great job of helming the ship through the dangerous straits! (The situation somewhat exacerbated by our song-writer’s desire to get Just The Right Take from Just About Everything).
5. Who are the artists that inspire Winter People?
As songwriters we hold in the highest esteem: Tom Waits, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen (i.e. The Father, The Son and The Holy Ghost of Song Writing). We find these artists have been capable of combining contemporary and familiar language, with an encompassing poetic vision. Each in his own unique and personal way. They are certainly the archetypal figures of “The Songwriter” to which we aspire.
Musically, the net is cast wider: the landscape’s of Sigur Ros, the deft melodies in Chopin, the directness in the old Carter Family, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, Woody Guthrie 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 a la Philip Glass, Yann Tierson and Hans Zimmer, the intricate arrangements and LoFi-HiFi production style of Danger Mouse & The Chemical Brothers… And the list goes on, musical influence comes from many directions.
The only other direct influence on our song writing is poetry: Arthur Rimbaud’s wild flow, William Blake’s vision-verse, Walt Whitman’s Old World All-At-Once Visuals, John Milton & Dante’s dark underworlds. Also literature, to a lesser extent, informs song writing: Kerouac’s urban jaunt, the economy in Hemingway / JM Coetzee, the magical metaphorical eclecticism in Gabriel Garcia Marquez &
Salmon Rushdie, and probably closest to our heart Franz Kafka: who showed what it means to live in the Modern times.
6. Winter People will be performing as part of the Mullum and Harvest festivals throughout November. How does it feel to be included on a line up alongside artists like Beck, Mike Patton, Santigold and Ben Folds?
It feels great. The Harvest ethos represents an outlook on art and culture that resonates with our own. “Serious” can be a dirty word in the culture industry today and we think Harvest is a bulwark against that kind of thinking.
7. Your recent east coast tour won’t be your first time across that stretch of land. What lessons did you learn from your previous tours with Megan Washington and Gossling?
The things that will sustain a successful tour for a lengthy period of time are the animal basics: eat enough and sleep enough.
8. What can we expect from your live shows?
Something like: a genetically modified Meadow Lark crossbred with a sensitive souled T-Rex.
9. Which Melbourne artists are you getting into at the moment?
We caught Big Scary playing a couple of times when we were over in New York for CMJ. Both of those guys-gals are just so impressively musical when you see them playing live – you can imagine them in a Tim Burton movie, making Mozart-sequel impromptu symphonies out of junk-yard spoons and tin-kettles.
10. Favourite Melbourne bar and drink to have there?
We love the Toff. Or rather Curtin House. What a building! A venue, a restaurant, a karate dojo AND a rooftop bar. Its like a person who can be funny, poetic, boisterous,
Favourite drink for the men of Winter People would probably be whiskey and water, for the women of Winter People: espresso martini.
Winter People debut “A Year at Sea” is available through iTunes here.
By Nick Killalea