We’re on the WolfHunt today and it leads all the way to singer-songwriter Benjamin Winter. Since he began his solo career in 2007, Winter has released five albums and shared stages with Gregory Alan Isakov, Arcade Fire, Angus, Julia Stone, and so many more. Well known for his folk stylings, Winter has strayed far from the path with his brand new record WolfHunt, due out on Friday and available for pre-order via Bandcamp. Gone, at least for now, are the laid back, easy listening vibes, traded in for big guitars, stadium-ready drums, a whole lot of reverb, and a vastly different approach to singing. It takes guts for an artist to reinvent himself, but that’s exactly the challenge that Winter happily took on, creating a record that stands as a harsh statement against those that abuse their own power and stature to suppress whom they view as the “weak” in society. This is a rock record that goes on the offensive and is firmly entrenched in the now.
The motivation for doing such a 180 with his career began when Winter found an old vocal note he had recorded on his phone which led to him writing the anthemic sounding “Millennial.” Once he passed the song along to his friend and bandmate Jeroen Ligter who was in Amsterdam at the time, Winter received all of the affirmation he needed to carry on with the musical approach he had just discovered within himself. Thus began a two-year process of writing for WolfHunt, a long but rewarding experience which showed Winter just what he was capable of. All it took to actually record the album was one perfect winter’s afternoon in Amsterdam.
We decided to join the WolfHunt and caught up with Winter to ask him a few questions about the new album, the drastic change in musical direction the album took on, and how the album changed over the two-year process that it required to write and record.
WolfHunt is a significant departure from your previous releases, a marked departure from your folk background towards a more guitar-driven, arena rock approach. Why did you decide to reinvent your sound to such a huge extent?
Benjamin Winter: “It really wasn’t a conscious decision. As with most songwriters, there are layers to us and it’s fun and revitalizing to pursue them. I have always been someone with a diverse range of influence from rock, to reggae and much in between so my songs usually don’t fall into a distinct genre. My second album was a folky turn away from my debut which was much more indie rock. So I guess I just listen to the voices in my head and those voices change. This entire album spawned out of a single super reverby kick/snare hit I did just messing around. I wrote the first track, ’Millennial,’ and more of the same followed the leader.”
How has this transition towards such a different sound been for you thus far in a live setting? You must have had to really rethink how you perform for an audience.
Winter: “Yes it has a different delivery. As a performer, it’s important to bring to life the visual interpretation of the whole message. Live music is 80 percent visual. So the music style being so different, I deliver it differently, more stoically than the more storytelling, banter based shows. If I was a painter, it would be a darker palate.”
When I hear an album title like WolfHunt, I’m led to believe that there is some sort of concept at play here. Is this a record with a theme or a full on concept that plays out through all ten tracks?
Winter: “Yes, I’m pissed off and scared for my children’s future because metaphorical wolves of the earth have been roaming the prairies, killing at will. The initial inspiration was by a certain genetically modified crop company tried to legally forbid the world from growing broccoli, I think it was. Excuse me?! There are corporate political and corporate tyrants that think the world exists for their taking. So many are being preyed on. WolfHunt is the call for an offensive against them. And there’s one song about a girl in a red dress. We need to stay positive, ya know?”
You collaborated with your longtime bandmate Jeroen Ligter on WolfHunt who seems to have been integral to the writing and recording process. What led you to collaborating with Jeroen so closely for this particular record?
Winter: “We toured together for many years and just always have each other’s backs. Though he’s in Amsterdam, we talk every week about perspective on the music/life integration and new ideas. We’re dead honest with each other and have just always clicked as friends and bandmates. I wrote almost everything, but he provided constant input, recorded drum tracks and co-produced. He’s my partner.”
In total, WolfHunt was a two-year-long process from start to finish. How different were your ideas for how this album would sound when you started to how it turned out?
Winter: “It’s true that albums that take longer end up more eclectic. It was important for this album to be totally genuine. When I was more entrenched in the industry, that brought certain pressures that can dilute the sincerity and even quality of the songs because of timelines. We were totally free from that with WolfHunt and I was determined to let it take as long as it needed. Track one, ’Millennial’ forged the trail and we were having so much fun with the sound and serious theme that it holds together pretty well as a body of work. In short, rock n’ roll tales of our times.”
Released way back in 2009, check out the folkier side of Winter with the music video for “Lighter Side:”