The bright stuff

The indie-pop smarts of Winterpills
By IAN SANDS  |  April 17, 2007

QUIET SUCCESS: Having barely left Northampton, the band found themselves on NPR and in the Washington Post.

After putting in calls to a manager, a publicist, and a record label (Signature Sounds) to set up an interview with the Western Mass–based Winterpills, I’m finally on the phone with their vocalist and keyboardist. Flora Reed, a publicist herself at Signature Sounds, informs me that she’s on tour, and currently in DC for a Winterpills XM radio spot. Not long ago, it was Austin for their second South by Southwest showcase in two years.

It wasn’t always like this.

Despair, of all things, brought Winterpills together in the winter of 2003. “There’d been a bunch of break-ups and some deaths . . . and I think the Yellow Tail Shiraz was cheap that winter, so there were a lot of big bottles of that around,” says lead singer/songwriter Philip Price when we meet April 2 at the Middle East, hours before Winterpills headline the upstairs room. Having all known one another from kicking around various Northampton bands, Price, Reed, drummer Dave Hower, and guitarist Dennis Crommett coalesced around late-night afterparties at Crommett’s house, where they’d play songs by Elliott Smith, Magnetic Fields, the Beatles, and Neil Young. “It became something that doesn’t happen a lot, at least not in our particular branch of the scene — people getting together and playing stuff from the songbook, so to speak,” says shaggy, blond-haired Price. It was during these “sessions” that Price and Reed, who had both been pursuing solo careers, noticed how well their voices complemented each other.

Price had originally enlisted Hower and Crommett to back him for solo club gigs. Reed came along a little later. Price recalls the night she debuted at the tin-ceilinged Northampton bar the Brass Cat: “There was a really rapt crowd, and I just felt there was something really good going on.”

After a year of gigging, Winterpills gathered in February 2005 with producer José Ayerve at Reed’s house to record the best of their live set. They took over the downstairs area, laying down tracks everywhere from the kitchen to the bathroom for a month. The result became a self-released homonymous debut that Signature Sounds later reissued.

And then something wonderful and unexpected happened. People outside Winterpills’ little neck of the woods started paying attention to their warm, melancholy indie pop. Glowing reviews sprang up in places like the Washington Post and No Depression. Price and Reed were featured in an NPR segment about the band.

“From my perspective as a songwriter laboring in the midst of nothingness for many, many years, it was great,” Price says in between bites of a chicken shawarma sandwich. Price had released, in his estimation, 10 albums with a previous band, the Maggies. “Then solo records. By the time we got to this point, in my mind I’d already put out 15 albums to deafening silence.”

Buoyed by the attention, Winterpills started touring. Nationally. In the summer of 2006 they began work on their second album, the new The Light Divides. At the time, only four songs were ready to go. The rest would come together with the help of producers Dave Chalfant and José Ayerve in the former’s home studio in the hills of Conway. Crommett found himself taking a more prominent role than he had on Winterpills. “On the first record I did all my guitar parts in three hours. This one took a couple of days.”

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