Don’t let their name fool you. Halifax-based modern rockers Wintersleep have certainly not taken any time out for creative hibernation during the past five years. They’ve been decidedly prolific, releasing three acclaimed albums during that period, all supported with extensive touring through North America, the U.K., and Europe. They’re now back on the road in all three regions for the rest of the year, showcasing their new (and fifth) record, Hello Hum.

“We haven’t really stopped to think about taking a break,” says Wintersleep singer, co-songwriter and guitarist Paul Murphy. “It just seems the songs are there. If they weren’t, I don’t think we’d be afraid to chill and wait, but it always seems like the time is right. It’s like ‘Oh, we have six or seven songs and a little time off. Why don’t we make a record?’ Then when you make a record, I feel you have to give it its due in terms of presenting it to audiences and making sure it is out there.”

“It’s like ‘Oh, we have six or seven songs and a little time off. Why don’t we make a record?”

Quality has paralleled quantity in their output, with the sonically adventurous Hello Hum arguably being Wintersleep’s best reviewed album yet. It has come out a full decade after the band’s self-titled debut, but it was only with 2007’s Welcome To The Night Sky that the band made a real impact. The album produced a rock radio smash hit in the form of “Weighty Ghost,” and earned Wintersleep a New Group of the Year Juno Award. Murphy notes that “we were playing so long before radio or the industry in Canada really knew who we were. That was the first record where people in the industry started taking notice.”

“Weighty Ghost” still scores airplay, and Murphy concedes “there may be a public perception of our band as having just one song. I don’t see it as a weight on our shoulders, though. To me, it was a very strange thing that song caught on the way it did. We’ve never been about pushing singles, we get excited about making whole albums.”

He views the track as “a gateway into our band. Lots of people may only be interested in hearing that song but then there’ll be a few people who’ll want to hear the rest of that record. That’s why we played it again on David Letterman [years after it was released].”

Murphy shares songwriting duties with Wintersleep’s two other original members, drummer Loel Campbell and guitarist Tim D’Eon, though newer members Michael Bigelow (bass) and Jon Samuel (keyboards) also get credited on, respectively, one and two of the songs on Hello Hum. Murphy says the songwriting dynamic within the band has changed since their formation.

“There may be a public perception of our band as having just one song. I don’t see it as a weight on our shoulders, though.”

“The first recording was more me having a bunch of songs, and Loel, Tim, and [then-bassist] Jud Haynes worked on those in the studio,” says Murphy. “Now everybody writes songs and parts. We’ll usually have a few different parts, then we all work together to flesh out the musical idea. I usually come up with the lyrics and melody, but it has definitely grown into everyone putting a lot of effort into every song. They’d sound very different with anyone removed from the picture.”

Internationally, Wintersleep have gained real credibility and attention by recruiting two of the world’s premier rock producers to work on their recent records. Scottish producer Tony Doogan’s resumé includes influential groups Mogwai and Belle and Sebastian, and he’s manned the console for Winterleep’s previous two albums. For Hello Hum, he partnered with famed production maverick Dave Fridmann, best known for working with the likes of Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev, and MGMT. Doogan handled the recording, Fridmann mixed, and the sessions took place at Fridmann’s Tarbox Road Studios in rural upstate New York.

To Murphy, these two heads proved better than one. “Initially, it almost felt ridiculous we were working with Dave in his studio, as he’s so high-profile,” he recalls. “He brought more of an intensity to it. I thought he might be a little more eccentric, but he is just a real hard worker who knows how to use his gear. He’s not afraid to bring something to its sonic limit, as an engineer. It was nice to see he and Tony interact. They are really good friends and good at working together. I think there’s a bit of wanting to impress each other as well, when you’re working with someone you respect.
“They’re our songs, but getting to sit back and watch them work in helping to create the songs was a real treat.”

Bernie Finkelstein has worn many hats in his music career: artist manager, label owner, music producer, music publisher, concert promoter. Whatever the hat, his passion for music has always guided his extraordinary journey. The trailblazing mogul built True North Records into one of the pre-eminent indie labels in the world at a time when “indie” was not a ubiquitous word. Not bad for a high-school dropout from suburban Downsview in Toronto.

“Bernie’s chief assets are loyalty, a passionate love of music, and a chess player’s gift for strategizing many moves ahead,” says Bruce Cockburn of his longtime manager.

It was curiosity that led a teen Finkelstein to Toronto’s hippie hangout of Yorkville circa 1967, when coffee shops abounded, drugs were in the air, and live music was everywhere. Some of Canada’s greatest acts– such as Gordon Lightfoot, Joni Mitchell and Neil Young – honed their chops at long-gone venues like The Riverboat, The Penny Farthing and The Mynah Bird.

: “I was thinking of a beatnik life when I left home at 17. I was a lousy student, but I fell into music.”

“I got lucky,” says Finkelstein of his start in the music industry. “I was thinking of a beatnik life when I left home at 17. I was a lousy student, but I fell into music. It was very serendipitous because I fell into something I loved, had a big passion for, and also something that I had a really good ear for.”
Besides a little luck, zeal made this path possible. If Finkelstein believed in an act, his dogged determination made people take notice – whether it was negotiating a distribution deal south of the border or landing their singles on the Billboard charts. For that, they remain forever thankful.
“I’m not much given to ‘what ifs,’ but it’s reasonable to assume that if there hadn’t been a Bernie, someone else might have stepped into that role,” says Cockburn. “But it was Bernie. I think we’d be looking at a very different scene if we put ourselves in an alternate universe that didn’t include him.”

Besides Cockburn, over the years Finkelstein signed such acts (either to True North Records, to management deals, or both) as The Paupers, Murray McLauchlan, Rough Trade, Blackie & The Rodeo Kings and Stephen Fearing, among others.

These days, Finkelstein is semi-retired, having sold True North in 2007; the Canadian Music Hall of Fame member whiles away the day with his wife, either on their Prince Edward County farm or at their North Toronto home. Recently, McClelland & Stewart published his memoir True North: A Life in the Music Business.

Oddly, the book doesn’t deal much with his work as a music publisher. Back in 1970, Finkelstein and Cockburn became partners in Golden Mountain Music. Last year, the pair sold it to Rotten Kiddies, a subsidiary of U.S.-based publisher Carlin Music. As with the sale of True North in 2007, Finkelstein says the decision to divest of the publishing business was because his passion was no longer there.
“The Canadian publishing business is becoming more and more complicated,” he explains. “I came up during an era where if you had one thing and it sold a million copies, you got paid everything all at once for the million. Now it’s the inverse. There are a million things and they all collect one penny. The idea of knowing what the rates are for Yahoo in Australia, New Zealand, and Indonesia was not appealing.”

Finkelstein flourished as a publisher in the ’70s. “I recognized, as a young person moving his way into what we now call the music business, that the ability to earn a living and build a company was marginal, almost non-existent,” he says. “I started realizing I needed to be involved in as many things as possible. The corollary to that was, my artists would say, ‘So-and-so wants my publishing, what should I do?’ It became apparent that the odds of the artist giving away their publishing rights in those days was very high.”

So Finkelstein set up a structure where the artists were their own publishers; in return, he owned part of these rights as the administrator. “At the time I didn’t realize it, but it made my business very fluid,” he says. “When people needed to license one of our artists’ records, it would be one-stop shopping. In 2012, the big catchphrase is 360 deals… but we got there a long time ago.”

With the music industry constantly changing, Finkelstein is glad he left when he did. He doesn’t fancy the “retired” label, but he’s certainly enjoying a more leisurely pace of life.

“There are days when I miss it, particularly when I speak to old friends that are still involved, but I didn’t want to just stumble around,” he says. “I use the sports metaphor. I thought I had a fairly decent career: my numbers were pretty good, maybe Hall of Fame numbers, and I didn’t want to keep on playing and watch those numbers get worse. I’ve got too much pride for that.”

Translations prior to Fall 2013 are currently unavailable. 

Depuis le grand débarquement de Radio Radio dans le paysage musical, le public québécois est tombé plusieurs fois sous le charme d’artistes acadiens, et pas qu’en raison de leur accent. Lisa LeBlanc, avec sa sincérité désarmante, ses textes crus et sa dégaine de prétendue cow-boy est la dernière en date. « Les gens parlent d’un renouveau de la scène acadienne, moi je considère que le couvercle a été levé sur quelque chose qui mijotait depuis des années, analyse le sympathique et lumineux Joseph Edgar, » originaire lui aussi de l’Acadie.

À l’image de ses collègues, Joseph Edgar poursuit son ascension, mais de manière un peu moins fracassante, sans brûler les étapes. « Ce que je fais est ni tout à fait pop, ni vraiment underground et les gens ont parfois un peu de misère à me situer au début… » Avant d’officier comme artiste solo, l’auteur-compositeur a connu, de 1993 à 2003, l’expérience de chanteur/parolier au sein du groupe Zéro °Celsius. « Des bands sont arrivés et ont introduit de nouveaux sons sur la scène musicale locale : Idée du Nord, qui avait même été signé sur la prestigieuse étiquette indépendante Sub Pop, Les Païens, et puis nous. L’indie-rock est arrivé sur cette scène jusqu’ici plus ancrée dans la tradition et c’est là qu’à mon avis on a pu commencer à parler de renouveau de la scène acadienne, car les nouveaux sons ont non seulement traversé les frontières, mais aussi commencé à être acceptés par chez nous. Au début, les gens avaient des réserves : la guitare électrique et l’approche plus punk, c’était presque un sacrilège aux oreilles de certains ! »

En 1995, Zéro °Celsius signe avec Warner. « Puis les choses sont devenues bizarres… On a fini par briser le contrat de disque et nous sommes devenus anti-industrie. À la fin, nous étions tellement anti-toute, qu’on était devenu anti-nous-mêmes… On s’est auto-sabotés. » Il y a eu un déménagement à Montréal et de nouvelles fréquentations… Puis une petite voix s’est manifestée, pour finalement prendre toute la place. « J’avais toujours co-composé… Pendant un an et demi, j’ai eu un band transitoire, Joseph Edgar et la société sonore. » Mais l’artiste de Moncton a fini par faire cavalier seul et il vient de lancer son quatrième album solo, Interstices.

À fleur de peau
Ce qui saisit d’abord à l’écoute de cet album lancé au printemps dernier, c’est la voix. Il y a quelque chose de viscéral dans la livraison chantée, quelque chose de vrai, de brut. « Moi j’aime la musique imparfaite. Je care pas si y’a une couple d’erreurs, j’aime que les artistes laissent des traces de leurs phases exploratoires. » Voilà pourquoi, il a confié la réalisation de l’album à Joe Gagné des Breastfeeders, rencontré en Louisiane, puis croisé à nouveau à Montréal.

Parmi les modèles de Joseph Edgar, il y a Neil Young et Zachary Richard. « Neil Young est celui dont l’esprit m’inspire le plus, car il va lui aussi du folk à l’électrique et ses meilleurs albums ont ce côté imparfait dont je parle. D’ailleurs, c’est de lui que m’est venu le titre de mon disque. Après Harvest, qui contient tous ses gros hits, il a lancé quelques albums où tout est un peu croche et émotif : des chefs-d’œuvre à mes yeux. On lui a un jour demandé pourquoi il avait tourné le dos à l’occasion de devenir une star populaire. Il a dit : “J’étais sur la route et soudain j’ai regardé dans le fossé puis j’ai réalisé que c’est ce qui vivait là, tout au fond, qui m’attirait.” Après la fonte des neiges, c’est dans le fossé que tu vois les déchets et les sédiments qui se sont déposés pendant l’hiver, mais aussi les premières fleurs, au printemps. Le laid et le beau s’y côtoient. Le titre de mon album, Interstices, est un synonyme de fossé, en clin d’œil à cette anecdote. »

Quant à Zachary Richard, ses premiers albums ont été déterminants pour le jeune musicien qu’il fut. « C’est quelqu’un qui continue de prendre des risques et il avait même fait une reprise d’une des chansons de mon groupe sur Cap Enragé. “Petit Codiac”, c’est de nous, ça. »

Vous l’aurez peut-être croisé en lever de rideau pour Daniel Boucher au cours de l’été dans le cadre des tournées du ROSEQ, ou en duo avec Lisa LeBlanc. Tendez l’oreille si vous aimez les paroliers inspirés par les détails inusités, par les petites choses que personne ne remarque. Il est aussi habile quand vient le temps de ficeler des portraits de personnages un peu décalés (« Pont MacKay », « Chemin connu », « Le fantôme de Blanchard »). Montez avec lui pour une road-song qui vous mènera jusqu’au bout de la route 56, là où s’étend le delta du Mississipi… « Tu vas là pis tu tombes sur un joueur d’harmonica qui ressemble à ta grand-mère, c’est quasiment un pèlerinage… »

Embarquement dans 5, 4, 3, 2…