Winter’s End – Align with the SeaWednesday, 9th September 2020
Boston-based symphonic metal band Winter’s End have been away for four years between releases – but there has been no shortage of activity. Three of the five members have changed – and work took place on the second EP Into the Sea, showcasing an act now a bit more heavy, powerful, and expanding horizons for their brand of symphonic metal. It’s as if they took what was great on their debut release Lost in the Light and driven it into stronger hooks and standout melodies plus a bit more sophisticated musicianship – perfect for people into Nightwish and Kamelot as well as Dream Theater in spots.
We reached out for a group Skype chat with the band, of which bassist Diego Puppin, keyboardist Ryan Johnson, and vocalist Jessica Frost brought us up to speed on all the changes, the work on their new EP, thoughts on great performances, and how feel and emotion matter versus technicality when it comes to their songwriting.
Dead Rhetoric: Tell us about the current lineup and introduce yourselves to the readers?
Diego Puppin: I joined in the band in October of 2018. I have a very different background than heavy metal, but I jumped into this with both feet. I’m very excited to play the songs that Ryan and Nevin throw at me. It has been a very interesting discovery. I like Dream Theater and the progressive metal surrounding them, so it was a chance for me to put my mark on things.
Ryan Johnson: We’ve talked before. I’ve been doing symphonic metal music for about ten years now. I’ve been doing metal music even before that, since my middle school days. It’s been four years since the last EP, but hopefully we will be able to release more material at a more frequent cadence with the very steady, strong lineup of great musicians. I’m really excited the way we are currently poised. I’m just hoping this coronavirus goes away sooner rather than later so we can go out and play shows and do all that other stuff that we like.
Dead Rhetoric: It’s been four years between releases for Winter’s End. Can you bring us up to speed on the member changes that took place in the interim – and did this change the outlook and perspective on what the band wanted to deliver musically?
Ryan: The member changes, we’ve changed three members since our last release. Devin used to play bass, and now we have Diego, Aris used to be on drums and now we have Stephen Johnson and we used to have Zach on guitars and we now have Nevin Mychal. It did change a little bit how Into the Sea sounds versus Lost in the Light. I wrote all the music to Lost in the Light, and that was before we even knew who was going to be playing guitar. I knew who we would have this time, so a lot of the guitar riffs, solos, and stuff Nevin came up with himself- so in that way this effort is a little bit more guitar-driven, a bit heavier. There’s a little more emphasis on having a bit more technicality, more progressive elements in our music.
Jessica Frost: I would just say that maybe in our performance aspect we have a bit more energy. Especially Diego, when you joined up I remember the first practice we had together you were jumping around and having so much fun, it made everyone smile and have a good time.
Ryan: It really feels like everyone wants to be here. Not that it wasn’t there in the past, but we have a strong lineup now that is really enthusiastic about making music together.
Dead Rhetoric: Into the Sea is the newest EP – where do you see the differences between this effort and 2016’s Lost in the Light? Do you feel like Winter’s End has grown more into its own entity now that you’ve had a few years to develop as players and songwriters?
Diego: Most of the recording for Into the Sea was done independently where people recorded their own parts in their own studios- I recorded the bass with Nevin as the super engineer. He has great expertise, even the first versions that Nevin cut of our recordings, were already great. I believe the band wanted to sound a little more professional than the first time.
Dead Rhetoric: You sought out renowned engineer/producer Jacob Hansen to master the EP. Tell us why you chose Jacob, and what do you think he brought to the table to make these songs stand out even more than they could on your own?
Diego: Jacob brought a very beautiful sound, the songs really sound great. I’m not a big expert, but the songs are really breathtaking.
Ryan: We had a couple of different people that we sent a demo master too before we settled on Jacob. I think the biggest thing that Jacob brought for us is we have so much going on in all these songs, layers of orchestration, keyboards, guitars, all this stuff- Jacob did a good job of achieving this separation. Everything is there in the mix, it doesn’t feel like anything gets too muddy or lost. That was the biggest thing I liked about his style. He mastered the songs, but he also shaped some of the stems – Nevin sent him all the stems, and he could shape them before he did the mastering.
Dead Rhetoric: The cover art by Jill Colbert is stunning – how did the concept develop, and where do you place the importance of imagery and cover art to setting up the right impression for the band these days?
Ryan: This isn’t a concept EP or anything, so we didn’t have a clear, underlying thing that we wanted to do, artistically or visually. But we went through all the songs and the ocean or the sea are in all the songs. We wanted to maybe do something with that. The original idea for the cover art had nothing to do with that – there was a hole that you are looking up out of, you are in this really dark place and you are looking up out at the sky, and there was a hint of dawn at the end, light at the end of the tunnel. And the hole is filled with all these images from things in the songs- mirrors, roses, and candles.
Jill came up with a bunch of different sketches and she sent them over to us. And we picked the one that we really liked, which is the final one we picked for the cover. She picked the color blue, and it worked so well – the way she colored it, the sea imagery fit in really well with what she’s done.
I think (cover art) is really important. Before someone hears what you sound like, it sets up how you present yourself, with your cover art and with your band photos. We tried this time to have a bit more of a unified visual image in the band photo we took. We got a blue backdrop to fit in with the ocean theme. People need to get the right idea before they hear the music.
Jessica: I remember on our last album we got a lot of comments on the cover art because it was very simple and didn’t speak about what this was all about. This gives us a better idea.
Dead Rhetoric: On the last EP, you tried to put more of a positive spin on the lyrical themes – is that where you also came from on Into the Sea?
Ryan: (Laughs) No. It is sort of funny how things have gone, that was four years ago. At that time I was interested in going into positive lyrics, but I think if I had written a bunch of positive songs again, it would not have been genuine. We are not doing this to be rich or famous. There are some darker songs on here, some songs about struggle. It’s funny “Dawn”, the most positive song on the album is the one that we put at the end, you go from these dark things to some more light at the end of the tunnel. That was written before all the other songs. It’s not quite the same approach, I didn’t want to force us to be in a box if the box didn’t fit anymore.
Dead Rhetoric: When it comes to your voice and melodies Jessica, are there times where you shape things differently based on your training?
Jessica: Yes, actually. Ryan usually sends me the files, and while I am learning and recording them, if something feels better to do a certain way I change that. Or the placement of vowels, that kind of thing. Ryan always tries to challenge me, one note higher than the last. He keeps me on my toes, training and practicing and that kind of thing.
Ryan: I think more than the last album Jessica had the freedom to come up with some of her own melodies, and I think she did a really good job.
Diego: I want to let your audience know that Jessica pushed the envelope on this album. There is a song where she blasts a scale that goes all the way to d6, it was unbelievable. And another song she holds a g5 steady, and that is just mind blowing.
Dead Rhetoric: What are your thoughts on the symphonic and power metal scene on a domestic and worldwide basis? Do you believe there are distinct differences that capture audiences in the USA or Canada versus acts from mainland Europe – and where do you think changes or improvements need to be made?
Ryan: I have to think about that.
Jessica: I think symphonic metal is becoming more popular in the US, but that’s in relation to the question. With some of the local bands that are making strides in the scene like Seven Spires that have been around, the scene is getting better.
Ryan: You have bands like Dialith, I listen to their album and they sound fantastic. I know Goldenhall is coming up with an album soon, I’m really looking forward to that and hopefully playing with them at some point. On a local level it’s going really well. I can’t comment as much on the global scene since I’m not really as much a part of it. Maybe there is room for one of these local bands to get out into a global spotlight. The scene didn’t feel like it did eight years ago when I was in high school, it felt a bit fuller. There are plenty of bands in the genre now.
Dead Rhetoric: Where do you see the differences between Winter’s End in the studio versus the live stage? What do you hope to get across to the audiences when performing live, and what have been some of the more memorable performances the band has done to date?
Ryan: I can answer the last part easily. Our first show ever, it was one of the best shows we ever played. In terms of the crowd, they were fantastic, there was great energy. It was a really good night, our first show ever back in 2016. Ice Giant, Mike Kerr, and Thunderforge were on the bill – it was a really good lineup. And Blind Revision I think – Verscythe was there. And another favorite was the first Rise of the Valkyries show – that was a really fun night.
Diego: It’s hard to tell when we will be able to play together again. It’s not looking good for another several months, maybe even a year.
Ryan: Whenever it’s safe, I’m ready to get into a rehearsal space, get these songs down and get into play more live shows.
Jessica: One of the major differences is the backing tracks – they always seem to be on or off when we are playing live shows.
Ryan: Since we don’t have our own sound team or anything we are often at the mercy of whatever the sound guy does. I try to simulate the orchestra the best that I can with the two keyboards that I have, but I think since we can’t always have that same level of detail coming across, we make up for it with energy, and the atmosphere of the live show is this really fun experience for everybody.
Diego: The best visual live is when Jessica whips her hair (laughs). And she uses it.
Jessica: And my neck is sore the next day to prove it! I usually have that windmill going on…
Dead Rhetoric: What do you consider some of the greatest challenges for Winter’s End at this stage in your career to overcome or breakthrough on a grander/larger scale?
Ryan: I’d like for us to have a steadier release cadence. Maybe every two years or something – I don’t want to continue this every four year between releases. A big challenge right now is just getting out to play right now, that’s not unique to us.
Jessica: Building a fanbase is something that we need to expand upon a lot. Using social media a little more, taking advantage of those things that are out there.
Diego: We have been a little silent on social media between the two releases.
Dead Rhetoric: What would surprise people to learn most about the members of Winter’s End? And can you discuss the importance of friendships and band chemistry in achieving all that you wish to achieve with the band?
Ryan: For the second part of the question, yeah it’s very important that everybody is on the same page. Everyone needs to want to do the same things – everyone here now wants to do their best to give the best symphonic metal music we can make.
Jessica: As far as the band, just the fact that we are all so far spread out and do things remotely and throw ideas back and forth to build something solid and unified.
Diego: When I joined the band, I thought it was a Boston-based band, but when I showed up at the studio I realized that many band members are spread out all over the place, sometimes 90 minutes away to play together. These guys are really driven and they would prepare beforehand together, the parts are all tight.
Ryan: The level of commitment, I feel that we’ve got that right now.
Dead Rhetoric: How does the band balance the seasoning, training, and theory/knowledge the members have against writing material that has emotional connectivity and feel – as there are times in symphonic power metal that things can get quite grandiose and bombastic?
Ryan: I know Diego did another interview and there was a similar question about that. I remember my answer about that was, until you know what the feeling is and what you want the listeners to feel, at least for me I can’t write anything. Technicality comes second, and we have Nevin to thank for that – for me if I can find two chords and a couple of notes that have the right meaning and feel, that’s enough. That’s a skeleton that we can build a song off of. When it comes to emotion and technicality, I’m always going to choose emotion first, then give some technicality if it fits in. I’m fine writing a four-chord song that feels good, or works in the right way.
Dead Rhetoric: What concerns or worries do you have about the world that we live in today?
Ryan: In mid-2020, that’s a really great time to get that question.
Diego: We are in the middle of a huge pandemic. I auditioned with “Dawn”, the most positive song on the album. We are trying to communicate that there is hope through the pain, hope through despair. It’s hard because of the pandemic, this country is heavily polarized in the political scene. I hope that people that hear our songs know that there is hope and things can change.
Dead Rhetoric: What does the future hold for Winter’s End over the next twelve months in terms of support and promotion for this EP?
Ryan: We are doing some interviews and posting on social media. We will have a lyric video, and maybe some more. We are trying to do some playthroughs too, and release stuff like that. Right now, I’ve started doing demos for the next album with Nevin. I really want that to be ten or eleven songs – I want it to be as cinematic and as emotional as we can make it. Around a one hour run time. I’d like to get stuff written for that – I don’t want to put four years between our next releases, I’d like to get this out within a couple of years.