A music blog from Ireland.
A long and twisting road has led to this juncture at which the band Windings have just released a third album I Am Not The Crow . I chatted to Steve Ryan last week ahead of a gig in Coleraine, the first leg of their album tour. They play Whelan’s in Dublin this Saturday 8 December – read on for the chance to win a pair of tickets to the gig.
Now a full band of five, Windings was originally a solo sideline for guitarist and vocalist Steve’s softer songwriting that didn’t fit at the time with the heavier aspect of his main interest as one half of Giveamanakick. With just Steve at the helm, the first, self-titled Windings album was released in 2005 and there was more to follow but not until GAMAK parted ways in 2009. Remaining at home on the Limerick record label Out On A Limb, Windings busied themselves over the past few years as the line-up was augmented with bass, drums, keyboards and an extra guitar to slowly refine a dynamic, enthusiastic band. Playing folk-pop in tune to the rock songs in their heads, they clearly enjoyed exploring their shared creativity, evidenced by the active stream of output in regular gigs, singles, an EP and the second album It’s Never Night.
With eight tracks, at a glance I Am Not The Crow might seem a lean affair but closer inspection reveals a great deal of substance. The band are in top form, hitting every mark from lyrics to riffs, and with top-notch production to emphasise their instruments rather than mask any flaws, it’s a record that’s bursting with energy and ideas. Windings have attracted a strong cadre of fans over the years, some stragglers from the rock camp, others freshly attracted by the gentler musings but as the strongest record released to date, I Am Not The Crow has garnered the band a whole new set of followers who may not have previously considered themselves fans but couldn’t help but be won over when its first single This Is A Conversation burst out and barrelled its way to the year’s top songs in September. Reviews of the album since its release in October have been universally positive and it’s been touted as a shoo-in for the 2012 Choice Music Prize but Steve Ryan and the other winders have simply stood back and taken in the positive reception with a measure of surprise.
“We’ve been quite shocked by the reviews for this album actually,” said Steve as we chatted over Instant Messaging last week. “You kind of get stuck in a bubble with recording, so you forget what the songs actually sound like after a while. We never really considered it to be something that might have a broad appeal but anybody who’s reviewed it has been very positive.”
“The other two albums are very different; the first one was primarily me solo, the second one half solo, half three-piece band, and then there’s this one…this one is a nice snapshot of what Windings is right now. We’re from very different musical backgrounds the five of us, so while I might bring in a completed song to practice, it could end up sounding wildly different from what we started with, but still retain the strucure. We released a couple of standalone singles over the past two years, just to see what that would be like. They were the poppier side of Windings and we really enjoyed the process. But when it came to this album, we wanted to make an album, in the classic sense, a piece of vinyl with two distinct sides that flow from one to the other, and hopefully, bears repeated listening.”
“Alkaterian is pure Stadium Rock though, isn’t it?” He agrees, when I ask about the variety of genres on offer. “I wanted the bit in the middle to sound like Depeche Mode or something, so I laugh now at the way it turned out. On this album, Patrick co-wrote the second song Something Outnumbered, which I was dead happy with but some of the songs are quite old, like Cleaner. That song was a problem to be honest, it’s a divider, some reviewers have called it the low point, while some love it. I didn’t like it for ages, singing the lyrics made me feel bad. So I left it for a while. Some of the lads wanted to play it live, but I didn’t, I was just being precious about it. But, we tried it at practice a few times and it kind of got a new lease of life or something. It just needed this band of musicians to play it properly I guess. It didn’t make it onto the second album cos it wasn’t ready and it nearly didn’t make it onto this one, but the lads really liked playing it, and thought we should at the very least record it. And when we did, we were delighted with what we heard. I like Patrick’s vocals in the chorus a lot, I think they lift the song, and bring it somewhere else I didn’t think it could go…which was a lovely surprise.”
The chorus of Cleaner with its bawl of “blinded by sound” is a poignant moment on I Am Not The Crow, as a handyman examines the reasons for staying too long in a lonely job. After several faster-paced rock songs it’s the point at which the album’s second side of slower songs begins to unfold and the lyrics come into play in a big way. A quiet, almost conversational inner monologue, tuneful but far from tranquil, is the keystone that holds together the album’s shortage of rhymes.
“LIFE doesn’t rhyme!” Joked Steve. “I spent quite a while on these lyrics, not just the words, but the meters, the flow, the sounds, everything. I believe lyrics can mean more than just a group of words, the aesthetics of sound can catch someone’s ear and mean more than what’s actually being said. This is the sixth album I’ve been involved in as a vocalist/lyricist and they’re the most personal I’ve written to date I think.”
For the recording process of I Am Not The Crow, Windings split their time between Villagers guitarist Tommy McLaughlin’s Attica Studios in Donegal and Godspeed You! Black Emperor guitarist Efrim Menuck’s Hotel2Tango in Montreal, which has been used by Arcade Fire, Howe Gelb, Owen Pallett, Wolf Parade and many more. The opportunity to move between these two high-quality installations was made possible by crowdfunding, and it must seem like a wise decision to the band, knowing that as a result the quality of sound matches the material.
“Frankly, we couldn’t have made this record without our funders. We asked for what we considered a realistic sum to cover our recording costs, and it did, and that got us on the first and most important step. The money we received from them enabled us to book four days in two studios. Everything else we paid for (and still are paying for) ourselves. Stuff like travel costs, mixing the album, mastering the album, artwork, pressing the album. There’s a fair bit of cost involved. I mean, there doesn’t have to be, there really doesn’t…I’ve put out albums every way a band can put out an album; on vinyl, in small runs, large runs, with PR, with no PR, on tape, on CD, on CD-R, mastered, unmastered…with some money,with little or no money…and now there’s this, and it’s been a great experience. Our album only sounds the way it does because of every factor involved in the process of creating it. And FundIt/our funders, are a major part of that. We had an idea of what we wanted to do, and they enabled us, and now we’re giving them a piece of arty vinyl for their generosity.”
With the vinyl now firmly in their hands, and the album under their belts, Windings will finish up 2012 with a tour around the country, making it a very busy run-up to Christmas for the band. But for many it will be the first chance to hear the new songs live and Windings are looking forward to playing them, but there’s a slight tinge of sadness in the camp due to one missing member.
“We’ve been rehearsing quite a bit over the past six weeks and we’re really looking forward to getting out and just playing now. We’ve recently had a change of line-up, as seems to be the Thing in this band. Every band needs a Thing…we’ve had quite a few line up changes over the past four years, people have stuff to do, y’know? But Liam from the band is now in Barcelona doing a Masters in Electronic Music Composition or something quite similar. He was offered it during the summer and it’s quite a prestigious course, so there wasn’t any way he could turn it down really. It was a bummer, as Liam’s been in Windings since Windings became more than just me. And I’ve been playing in bands with him since I was 16. He played on all of the new album and spent the greater part of this year recording, mixing, mastering, gigging etc, which made his decision much more difficult for him. He had really invested his time and energy into Windings. That tore him a bit I think.
Me: “I Am Not The Crow is a fantastic album though, so his investment paid off because his work with you guys led to something you can really be proud of.”
“Exactly, we are dead proud of it, and it wouldn’t sound the way it does if these exact five individuals hadn’t played on it. I was pretty bummed, we all were, and so was he of course, but these things happen. We’re all the same age, we’ve all played in other bands. We have wives, careers, college, this band is something we love, for sure, but who has the right to stop someone making a choice in life for themselves? I guess at a certain age you kind of have to let go of the notion of ‘the band’ as a group of inseperable lads who’ll die rather than let something get in the way of ‘the band’.”
A sweet sorrow type parting indeed but Liam’s legacy is that he gave the band his very best before he left. He may be in Spain but back in Ireland, his name belongs to one of the best records I’ve ever had the pleasure of sharing on this blog. If you haven’t heard I Am Not The Crow, it’s available to buy from Bandcamp now on digital for €7 or, at €15, gorgeous 12″ picture disk vinyl.
Fancy winning a pair of tickets to the Whelan’s Upstairs show this Saturday? Send an email with ‘Windings’ in the subject line to harmlessnoise [at] gmail [dot] com. I’ll pick one entry at random at 6pm on Friday night. Otherwise tickets are €8 and doors are 8pm.
|6 Dec 2012||22:00||Roisin Dubh, 8 Lower Dominick Street, Galway||Album Launch Tour|
|7 Dec 2012||21:00||DeBarra’s, Clonakilty||Album Launch Tour|
|8 Dec 2012||21:00||Whelans (upstairs), Wexford Street, Dublin||Album Launch Tour|
|15 Dec 2012||21:00||Murphys, The Quay, Waterford||Album Launch Tour|
|26 Dec 2012||21:00||Dolans Warehouse, Dock Road, Limerick||Album Launch Tour|
|27 Dec 2012||22:00||The Bowery , Tuckey Street, Cork||Album Launch Tour|