IN CONVERSATION: POSTDATA – “The first time a song really hits in a live form is a really beautiful feeling.”

IN CONVERSATION: POSTDATA – “The first time a song really hits in a live form is a really beautiful feeling.”

POSTDATA – a project led by Paul Murphy from Wintersleep, releases its third album Twin Flames on March 5th, 2021, via Paper Bag Records. The album was recorded and co-produced in isolation by Murphy in Halifax/K’jipuktuk and Ali Chant in Bristol, UK. The record also features Andy Monaghan of Frightened Rabbit (on the track, ‘Inside Out’) and Tim D’Eon from Wintersleep.

Twin Flames is a beautifully enveloping and warm album that really captivated me and gently burrowed its way into my heart. Stay tuned for my full review in GIITTV later this week.

Through the music and also his responses to my interview questions, I felt such a kinship towards his approach to music and life in general. His description of the land and location in his music is beautiful. What also stood out was his open-hearted approach to songwriting and his vivid description of the elements of playing live that he misses. I really felt the energy within all of this, and, coupled with ‘Twin Flames’, Murphy’s approach to life and his music is a glimmering testament to the shimmer, hope, and warmth that pours out of it, making it spill all around you and irresistibly drawing you in.

 

What music influenced you when you were growing up? Was there a particular record that stood out to you when you were a teenager?

So many great records at that time. I liked everything pretty much, lots of “grunge” from Mudhoney to Sonic Youth to Nirvana to The Cure to the Afghan Whigs. Tori Amos, R.E.M, Dinosaur Jr., Radiohead, and heavier stuff like the Melvins, Deftones, Kyuss, Tool was big. Neil Young.  Leonard Cohen. Simon & Garfunkel. Cat Stevens. Buddy Holly. Pink Floyd. Nine Inch Nails… I’m just listing everything that existed! A lot of stuff that was happening locally at the time was really inspiring. A band called Eric’s Trip. Sloan was another band from my part of the world. It was exciting to see bands doing stuff globally that were from a city a few hours away. Hayden, another Canadian artist I really loved. In terms of a singular album that’s really, really hard. Leonard Cohen, in terms of lyricism and getting lost in a narrative or mood, was probably the biggest singular artist/record looking back at it. Afghan Whigs’ Gentleman was another one. Eric’s Trip Love Tara something really intimate about that record and also really heavy and kind of punk rock that I was really drawn to. Tori Amos was another artist that I connected to, those mid-’90s records, particularly Boys for Pele… something really intimate about it. Just beautiful songwriting and lyricism. And that it was essentially just voice and piano and like harps and things like that but felt so heavy and fully brought me into its world. OK Computer was released when I was 16 and just before that the Romeo & Juliet soundtrack with that beautiful Radiohead track on it. That felt like a moment. it just had this huge scope. They really got me with Kid A but that’s when I started really loving/getting them so that’s a huge moment for me.

What was the first song you ever wrote? What was it about – and do you still play it today?

[Laughter] Oh, my God. Yeah, I think it was called ‘Love Sick’ and I thought it or wanted it to sound like ‘Negative Creep’ at the time. I would hate for it to resurface as a result of this interview as I’m sure it’s the furthest thing from ‘Negative Creep’ but that’s it. I can also tell you I had yet to experience an actual real romantic relationship at the time of writing it, so not sure how I could have been sick of love but there it is!

‘Twin Flames’ reminded me of another work that I hugely admire – perhaps not so sonically, but in feeling, which is Kate Bush’s ‘The Sensual World’. Both albums have this sense of the earth, and love, partnership, hope, and sensuality, but also the difficulties and challenges these things can bring, which is really effective and striking. Can you tell us about how the idea for ‘Twin Flames’ came into being, and how this collection of songs took shape?

Oh my gosh, I love Kate Bush. I love that song. I was going to add her to big moments but only found out about her somehow in my mid-20s, so it would have been insincere. That’s a huge compliment! Yeah, this song feels like one of the main reasons the record was made in some ways. I was hesitant about doing a record that early into the pandemic as I sort of had the feeling even then it wouldn’t be something I’d even be able to tour and it would be hard due to the remote nature of it. But I was so excited to work with Ali and I just needed a challenge at the time. I’m so glad we pressed on with it. Originally the song ‘Twin Flames’ was just going to be an instrumental track. It felt really cool as this palette cleanser type song. I thought it just needed a mix and that there wouldn’t be much work to that one in particular. When I sent the batch of songs in their various demo states to Ali he was really interested in developing it further. He felt like it could be a few BPMs slower but also that there should be vocals of some sort.. I worked on it a bunch that night and the words just poured out. It’s the only song on the record that was written (lyrically) during the pandemic, so I think that’s part of the urgency of it and the awareness in it and overall emotion of it.

Connected to this, another thing I find so compelling about your music is that the lyrical world it fosters is sometimes hinged to the land – this is evident in POSTDATA, but also Wintersleep (for example, songs such as ‘The Lighthouse’). You live in Canada – what impact do you think this specific location has on you and your music?

I grew up in a rural environment by the ocean and I’ve always felt really connected to it and the overall landscape of east coast Canada. It’s largely undeveloped which I like even though it’s also an economically depressed area as well. I love every part of Canada. It’s such a big vast country and there’s so much nature and wildlife and the bigger cities are also really cool and special places to be, but I feel like there’s something about the east coast, especially Yarmouth NS that brings out the feels and the songs. I moved to Montreal and really grew to love it and get it in a similar way, but it took a few years. But yeah, Yarmouth is in my bones – as much as I love other places there’s a part of me that’s always in Yarmouth. I think a lot of people from Yarmouth feel that way. There are a few songs on that Wintersleep record that take place in or reference the landscape. ‘Waves’ is about pining to move back. There are little Acadia seaside communities that surround the town with beautiful beaches and just feel like really beautiful places to live. ‘Free Pour’ – there’s a dream sequence that takes place in my old high school. ‘Lighthouse’ is a reference to the lighthouse in Yarmouth. It’s also just a reference to old haunts generally. I think everyone has a “lighthouse” associated with their coming-of-age era of life… Anyway, I think I’ve answered the question and now I’m just digressing so I’ll stop.

My favourite song on the album is ‘Behind You’, with its gorgeous melodies and striking chorus: “Sometimes you just gotta yell at the sky/Remember to forget, there is no reason why/Run away and hold your head high/Don’t look behind you/That’s when the vampires come looking for blood”. Could you tell us a bit about the inspiration for this song?

Thanks so much. I think generally it’s about being okay with choices you’ve made, accepting whatever path you’re on and not dwelling on things you can’t change.

You state that you approach songwriting as a mirror: a way to “check in on myself and see myself more clearly.” How did writing Twin Flames help you see yourself more clearly? What role does songwriting have in your life? Do you write mainly about personal experience? 

With this record in particular due to the remote nature of the recording and the fact that it’s a solo record, it was a bit more intense because it was a mirror in every sense. You’re really seeing what you’re capable of doing in a technical way. There’s no real-time guidance/help/reference so you’re kind of left to your own devices to get to something you like and then you send it in. But yeah, I guess I was saying in the response for Twin Flames, I didn’t really have an idea before for that song and all the lyrics just kind of came as I was coming up with the melody. And it conjures up all these themes that you mention and I guess it’s all stuff I was thinking about but didn’t really know I was thinking about them until I started writing the song. And the album as a whole emotes something that I’m feeling but it sort of takes the process of making the record to really express it fully. Playing the guitar is just something I do every day, even if it’s sort of just for meditation purposes. If I’m having a bad day or a good day it’s something I need to make time for at some point. Even if it’s just singing gibberish or writing some weird time signature riff or whatever. When I’m writing lyrics though, like when I hone in, I think it’s a lot of different things. I use personal experience for every song but not every song is about me or based on something that has happened to me or that I’ve done in my life. A song like ‘Lighthouse’ was a combination of running into someone who I knew 15 years ago and then thinking about things I was doing at the time and other relationships with friends I haven’t seen in so long. The act of driving out to this lighthouse through different phases of my life. And then I was reading this article about freediving at the same time, and so that sort of weaves its way into the narrative of the song… So it’s all sort of mashed up and combined to make something.

Twin Flames was recorded and co-produced in isolation by you in Halifax/K’jipuktuk and Ali Chant in Bristol, UK. Can you tell us about the process of recording the record – how did being in isolation impact the feel of the album?

In isolation seems like a good, honest state to make solo music. I had a lot of time to work out stuff which is a blessing and a curse. You end up probably spending double the time on everything for better or worse. I feel like mostly for better though. There’s no one around to really bounce ideas off of or if you’re doing a vocal track with a certain tone that is working or isn’t working there’s no one there to run it by in real-time, which was anxiety-inducing before starting the project but felt really good once I got comfortable with it. It’s kind of cool thinking that it’s for better or worse this is the best I can do right now in this situation, and I’m going to put everything I have into it. And there’s a gravity to it I think as a result. I had back up – I knew Ali wouldn’t let a bad vocal on the record and he had really good insights on a couple of tunes that made me rethink and redo them vocally, and he actually added cool shit to everything, but yeah, I feel like for the most part at the initial stage of the song I was on my own and just had to do it like that for better or worse. It’s a good feeling.

How do you decide what songs to record as POSTDATA, versus those for Wintersleep? To what extent does your songwriting change depending on the band?

I’ll generally send most of what I’m writing to the guys in Wintersleep and that’s more of a democratically arrived at the song selection process. Like if I send like 20 songs and Tim or Loel will have ideas for certain ones and we will work off those ideas and see where that lands. That will sort of set the tone for what kind of record we’re doing I guess… And those songs could be in any state, like a couple of riffs not really yet a song or something more structured/fleshed out… And they’ll have ideas, riffs too and so we start to build a record or at least a sort of template for a record like that. And then you’ll get to this point where it’s like “Oh, the record needs this kind of song that hasn’t really been written yet,” or “Oh yeah, I had this song in that first batch that I think if we do a certain way will be cool,” or “Loel and or Tim had this riff that keeps coming up maybe we should dig into that,” and that’s an exciting element of that approach. It’s three sources of input arriving at something. I contribute the vocals and lyrics to the songs regardless of whether I bring in the full musical piece or if we are working off someone else’s idea. I have a hand in everything but not always the primary source of it. I’m moulding things into what I want and they’re moulding things in whatever way that feels good to each of them respectively. Loel and Tim often have specific production or arrangement ideas too so it’s a really collaborative effort always in that sense.

For POSTDATA songs I just have a specific idea production-wise and vibe wise. And maybe there’s an additional song that doesn’t really fit what Wintersleep is going for in whatever era of time it’s around. I sometimes pick up those ideas and develop them specifically for POSTDATA. I think they’re both album-centric projects so that guiding light has a big hand in the selection process for both. The majority of these songs really felt like they should be housed on a POSTDATA album though. And they felt like they belonged together as a unit of songs.. ‘Behind You’ on the POSTDATA record is a song that could have gone both ways. It could have worked well with the other materials that Wintersleep is working on. but I felt like it had a strong place in the sequence on this record.

You toured with your friends Frightened Rabbit as part of Wintersleep in the past and Andy Monaghan from the band plays keyboards on Inside Out on this record. You also did such a great version of their song ‘The Twist’ for the Tiny Changes album. Could you just tell us a bit about what their music means to you, and what it was like touring together?

Oh, God. Meeting them and opening for them for ‘Hello Hum’ was everything. One of those morale booster moments for our band gave us a real life-charge; I felt really inspired by it all. It came at a time when we were sort of winding down from the ‘Hello Hum’ touring, out of money and completely drained. They gave us a huge opportunity to support them in the UK and the US and we leapt at it. And then on the tour, they were really caring and giving as well, in terms of friendship and really making us feel good about being there. Like “play however long you want we love it” kind of thing. Not usually the fare for an opening band especially when there’s another band on just before you. And just the way they laid their sets out and their connection to the music and the audience. It felt really special. Scott was just an incredible front person, somehow brought a lot of energy and expressing so much joy however dark the music was or is. It’s a real art form. I took a lot away from that. In a general way, they’re definitely one of my favourite bands. They were always trying new things tonally and production-wise and always just getting better and keeping things new and off-kilter, which is something I admire so much and try my hardest to do. They’ll always be a big reference.

How are you coping with everything during the pandemic and the lack of live physical shows? What do you miss the most about playing live with an audience?

I think just that feeling of connection. The first time a song really hits in a live form is a really beautiful feeling. It’s a dream come true. And just the feeling once the anxiety wears off and everyone in the band is playing to each other and in it. And seeing a great band that’s opening for you or that you’re opening for. Watching them have a good show is a great feeling. Coming back for an encore after you’ve played a great show and the audience is amazing.

You’ve been doing some virtual performances – what was the experience like of doing these?

Not much. I’ve enjoyed them – odd but really nice. I did a few Instagram live shows and the audience response aspect of it is really heart-warming. You feel the connectivity for sure. Less travel than a “regular” show!!

What songs or albums helped get you through 2020?

Four Tet’s new record is awesome. I’ve been listening to that a lot. Holy Fuck & Dusted. Bits of things here and there – Tom Petty re-release Wildflowers was a nice birthday hang with that record. FKA TWIGS. Moon & Antarctica by Modest Mouse – just bought the vinyl of that. Talk Talk always. Frightened Rabbit’s Painting of a Panic Attack.

You are an avid reader – what have been your recent favourite books? And what are you reading at the moment?

My brother Seamus got me a Cormac McCarthy book a few years ago, a really nice hardcover edition of three stories – just started that. The first one is All the Pretty Horses and it’s incredible so far. Here’s a quote – “His father rode sitting slightly forward in the saddle, so thin and frail. Lost in his clothes. Looking over the country with those sunken eyes as if the world out there had been altered or made suspect by what he’d seen of it elsewhere. As if he might never see it right again. Or worse did see it right at last. See it as it had always been, would forever be.”

Finally, what are your tentative plans for 2021?

Hopefully some live shows at least in eastern Canada, which has seemed to avoid a serious second wave of COVID at this point (hoping that stays the case). Some Internet shows I think in the works too. Not sure how much I’ll do but as much as possible. I’m looking into it now. I’ll keep you posted.

 

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