The Long Winters aren’t about gimmicks. They don’t have a full string orchestra up their sleeves, and they don’t use repeating loops of bird song percussively. They’re a straight-forward indie rock band, which in today’s short-attention-span world may not sound all that impressive, until you actually give them a listen.
You’ll discover yourself pleasantly surprised by a sound that singer John Roderick describes thusly: “Karrang! Tweedly-tweedly-tweedly! Boosh!” And if you think you can’t dance to that, think again.
The Long Winters’ latest CD, “Putting the Days to Bed” is their best yet. The band feels more cohesive, which may not be surprising considering that the ever-changing lineup has finally stabilized. Roderick and bassist Eric Corson are now joined by drummer Nabil Ayers and man of many instruments, Jonathan Rothman.
“[Our] sound has evolved a lot over the last couple of years, and not just because of the different members we’ve had,” says Roderick. “We've also learned how to make records and write better songs.”
The album’s sound is a bit more rocking than any of their previous CDs. Roderick says that “wasn't a conscious choice in the ‘music business’ way, like: ‘Now you boys should make a rock record, put on some eyeliner and take the world by storm, etc.” Instead the band just wanted some songs to keep fans moving when they play live shows and to actually have fun themselves, which they always manage to do.
“The Long Winters try to split the line between mopey, acoustic, atmospheric music and four-on-the-floor rock music, and this record has plenty of both,” Roderick explains. “I know I've succeeded if I can make the indie-rockers at Barsuk Records [the band's label] blush and drop their pencils.”
A noble goal indeed, especially for an album that’s full of love songs.
Despite the fact that Roderick has a reputation as a history buff, you won’t find odes to former president Chester Arthur here. “I don't really feel the need to make historical or political records because I find it really hard to sing passionately about that stuff,” explains Roderick. “I can't imagine singing: ‘Napoleon! You were a pretty great general ... until Waterloo!’ because I just don't care about it that way.”
And you won’t find songs about the Bush Administration either. “Part of the problem of studying history is that, after awhile, you start to perceive everything as interconnected,” says Roderick, “so I can't get my ‘back up’ about the war on terror, or human rights, or trade imbalance, because there's always some voice in my head (speaking with an English accent), saying, ‘Yes, quite a tragedy, old boy, but historical imperatives necessitate periods of internal adjustment that oftentimes result in imbalances, merely corrections really, harumph, harumph, etc., etc.’
“Unfortunately, that kind of pesky Oxford crap doesn't make very interesting music, so I end up singing about girls.”
On previous CDs, Roderick’s outlook on love always seemed a bit, well, to put it bluntly: bleak. There was a crash-and-burn quality to those relationship songs. But on “Putting the Days to Bed,” hopefulness has somehow crept back into his outlook. “Underneath the descriptions of sad people in unwinnable situations there's a thread of hope, and of joy, that may not be immediately obvious,” says Roderick about his songwriting. “I resolutely believe in silver linings.”
On a song like “Hindsight” you get a sense of a yearning for things to work, when Roderick sings, “And if I hold you now will I be / Holding a snowball when the season changes / And I’m craving the sun?”
Roderick vividly portrays the fear of truly revealing yourself to another person. “Fear masked as bravery, fear masked as anger and fear masked as self-sufficiency all allow people to get close together without ever being close,” says Roderick. “Modern life makes it so much harder to stay together, to make relationships work, and we end up cycling through these devastating events that even 50 years ago were life-altering tragedies. Now it's supposed to be business as usual.”
And that’s really what grabs you when you listen to the Long Winters — that yearning, that searching. Yes, these are love songs, but they are less about “You done me wrong” and more about “Can we be brave enough to tell each other how we feel?” Which may make Roderick the ultimate romantic, despite lyrics like: “Are you still training for the big race / By hoping all the runners will die?” Which frankly, are pretty darn easy to relate to. Who isn’t hoping for that easier way out?
And if Roderick comes off as some kind of lopsided romantic, maybe it’s not that surprising that if you go to a Long Winters show you’ll see loads of women staring up at him, absolutely swooning. (Full disclosure: I’m one of them.)
“Well, I'm as surprised as anyone at the phenomenon of musicians, especially ‘tweed and whiskers’ types like me, being love interests for people, but I suppose sexy is in the eye of the beholder,” he says.
It’s not just women who are enraptured at Long Winters shows. Roderick and the guys have a way of making the audience feel like they’re sitting around in his living room. It's impossible to go to a Long Winters show and not have a good time. Roderick likes to talk to the crowd and crack jokes — and the atmosphere is always, above all else, friendly.
“We're standing up there with five hundred people staring at us, it's only natural that I ask, ‘What are you staring at?’ and if they laugh, well, then we're friends,” Roderick says. “Some people don't like it because they don't think it’s ‘professional,’ but they can go watch the Killers or Interpol if they're dying to be unappreciated. Mostly it boils down to just wanting to have fun myself, and if I trip on my shoelace or something, I don't want to have to pretend that it didn't happen. That's not fun to me, on stage or in life. I want to be able to say, ‘I'm a klutz, can I hold your baby?’ or whatever.”
If you do go to a Long Winters show, don’t expect to hear an encore. Roderick is resolutely against them, and hates the fact that they are routine at every rock show. “I guess I consider it a form of grade inflation,” he explains. “If every student gets a B+ or an A for every single assignment, then grades are meaningless. I think encores should be reserved, like standing ovations, for only the most unbelievable performances. Once a year, maybe. The only argument against this policy has come from my own band. Eric said to me once, ‘Can't we just go backstage and rest for a couple of minutes?’ I thought that was pretty cute. Then I told him no, and hit him with a bicycle chain.”
For more information on the Long Winters, visit: http://www.thelongwinters.com/index.php.