Once upon a Winterpills journey: strange places indeed

Apr 11, 2006 at 5:21 pm

Imagine this: It’s 2 a.m. You’re all alone, in your car, the only car on the highway. It’s raining. Suddenly, you are visited by the ghost of Elliott Smith, who is joined by a choir of angels. For the next 40 minutes or so you are serenaded by 10 of the most painfully sad but hauntingly beautiful songs you’ve ever heard. You hear stories of failed relationships and photographs calling up old memories; you meet alcoholic and drug-addicted girls with names as common as Sara and as interesting as Cranky; and you befriend someone in jail. You are told you will live forever and that what doesn’t kill you might just drive you mad. And then, just as suddenly as it started, it’s all over. You’re alone again. Maybe you were dreaming, or maybe you were listening to the self-titled debut album from Winterpills.

The signature Winterpills sound, which often sees connections drawn to Smith, Iron & Wine, Belle & Sebastian and Simon & Garfunkel, consists of incredibly catchy hooks and heavenly harmonies with sad stories told over acoustic guitar-laden indie folk pop music. This sound was not contrived. The band’s formation was basically an accident that naturally evolved into something beautiful.

“It was a pretty cold winter, and we spent a lot of time at our friend Dennis’ house. There were many gatherings over several weeks and evolved out of playing together as friends without any ambitions of making a band,” said Philip Price, who is credited on the band’s Web site as providing lead vocals, acoustic guitar, songwriting and “timid blasphemy.”

“We’re all musicians who have our own projects going on, and we weren’t looking to start a band, but the sound was serendipitous. The sound came out of something very natural, I guess.”

The songs range from the upbeat pop with downer lyrics of “Laughing” and “Threshing Machine” to the unabashedly likable yet painfully depressing story-song “Cranky,” which is among the strongest tracks on the record. It is joined by the slow, driving force of “Want the Want,” which fades out in a swirl of music and vocals that leaves listeners grasping for those last few notes as the song ends.

The songs Price wrote for Winterpills have gotten quite a reputation for their musical beauty and sad subject matter, even prompting Fountains of Wayne’s Chris Collingwood to ask Price, “What happened to you last year? These songs are incredible.”

Price acknowledges the effect of his personal life on his songwriting.

“The songs came out of a rough time. There’s definitely artistic license taken with a lot of the subjects. But a lot of them are based in reality, one way or another.”

Price and the rest of Winterpills are taking their collection of organically developed and naturally evolved sweetly sad songs on the road for a Midwest tour, and they’ll stop in Louisville Tuesday for a show at Uncle Pleasant’s with Louisville’s The Fervor.

“I played Louisville solo a few years ago, so this will be the second time I’ve been through there,” Price said. “We’re excited to come play.”

Recently, experimental music has developed a connection with slow, droning electronica. Sapat is decidedly experimental, but they have no intention of becoming the ignored background music to some raver’s ecstasy comedown. They have much less in common with the ambient world and more to connect them to noise rock pioneers like Sonic Youth and The Velvet Underground (not “Who Loves the Sun” Velvet Underground —  I’m talking “Sister Ray” here). Their music is a lurching, Frankenstein’s monster, created by taking bits and pieces indiscriminately torn out of seemingly every era of rock ’n’ roll’s varied history. Noisy garage rock will flow into world music percussion and then flow right into 1980s metal. There are lengthy instrumental sound collages and distorted vocals tearing through glam rock jams. Sapat brings their improvisational noise collective to Lisa’s Oak St. Lounge this Friday.

Josephine Foster & the Supposed are also on the bill. Foster and her band have developed a sound that draws influences (heavily) from Woodstock-era hippy folk. Foster’s voice flows effortlessly between the calm control of women like Joan Baez and the wild, unhinged sound of Jefferson Airplane’s Grace Slick. Their music moves back and forth from subdued folk with an Eastern influence to discordant, jangly jams.

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