To celebrate the launch of their wonderful new album Catacomb Songs, we caught up with classic songwriter outfit Winchester 7 & The Runners, to dig a little deeper into the music, the project overall, and their creative journey since we last spoke. Here’s how it went.
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Hi Win – great to catch up, congratulations on the wonderful new project! What’s the album all about, how and why did you craft it?
Hey, Rebecca and team – how have you been? Thank you for having me. It’s always a pleasure. You’re very kind, thank you.
So, the easiest answer, I suppose, is that there never was really any doubt in our minds that we would record a follow-up to our 2020 release, Argos Holiday. However, the conditions within which we did that ended up somewhat adrift from what we first imagined.
When we finished up Argos, we were all set to tour to promote its release. But, it was a record that started before the thick of the pandemic, continued throughout lockdown, and was released in a period of uncertainty.
We thought that we would spend the early part of this year touring and doing press to promote it. But, 2021 has proven a year of ebb and flow in our fight as travel restrictions and further lockdown policies have remained impacting.
So, we set about working on Catacomb Songs, again largely using our home studios with tracking out of my own Sanctuary Studio; with an idea that much of its content would end up reflecting our shared experience. I think that, as a result, there’s a bit of that turmoil lurking as a common thread throughout, amidst wistfulness and hope.
You open with Dead Celebrities and New Beginnings – a beautiful ukulele lead, as is your trademark – what does this song mean to the collection, and what inspired you to write it?
Well, thank you! I’m always excited when somebody appreciates that, but “trademark”? Awesome, thank you very much.
So, interestingly, that song was the last one we recorded with its mix only finishing up in early December as the cover art was being finalized.
Our writing process usually begins with my coming up with a chord progression or riff that I’ll bring to the band to help work out an arrangement. Somewhere in there, things start to get a little complex and we swear that we’ll write something simpler the next time round.
For us, that moment seems to happen when we know that we’re working on what will be the last track for a pending release and have run out of opportunity and time to do so. The same thing happened to us with the recording of Dirty Laundry on Argos. Maybe it’s a letter D thing…
Anyway, we were ever so happy to have arrived at an arrangement that was pleasingly simpler than much of the rest of what we recorded for Catacomb Songs. And, as is often the case, we still had no lyrics for it, at all.
We did have an idea though. We thought we’d focus on the fact that holographic entertainers are giving concerts to live audiences. If that sort of thing can experience modern success, well beyond the grave, you and I certainly should be worth some new beginnings.
In that way, it really proved the cornerstone to the album itself. It’s some of that hope that we have for better days, really.
The album is equal parts infectious and topical. What comes to you first when writing, a concept or a catchy melody?
Thank you! I’d have to say that we work out the foundation for the song before anything else. It most always begins with a riff or chord progression before we settle on an arrangement.
We usually then arrive at a concept or phrase that comes to mind and it ends up being a jumping off point from which the rest of the lyrics are written. Once that is squared away, to me, it always seems as if the melody was right there from the start.
Has your style or your song writing mind-set changed at all since the last release?
I think so. We’re always trying to grow as artists and introduce new sounds. On this album, we really benefited from realizing an opportunity to work with our new mix engineer, Jon Paz.
Jon brought some new sensibilities and an analog outboard mix into the process. That really helped us to lean into our analog groundings and draw out some elements which we haven’t explored before.