by Rachel Crowell
Photo by Rachel Owen.
Winkler is a local folk rock band composed of five members, Maddy Simpson, Justin Schaefers, Christian Schmidt, Ava Connaughton, and Alex Massey. The band uses a 4-track cassette player to record their music. They made their most recent album in their basement, prioritizing a lo fi sound over hi fi production equipment. The band released their debut eight-track long album on February 17th. WRBB’s Rachel Crowell met up with Justin Schaefers and Maddy Simpson from the band to discuss their influences, new album, and writing process.
This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.
Rachel Crowell: I’ve noticed that people group you into a myriad of genres. What genre do you identify with the most?
Justin: We often get called different genres such as surf rock, psychedelic rock, indie pop, indie rock, and bedroom rock. We had to nip the name “psychedelic rock” in the bud because it is not something we identify with. But if we had to define the genre, it would be folk rock.
Maddy: I work at an American folk music club and often contribute the folk sound to the group.
Justin: I am a bigger fan of, so I often bring it into the music. I am a low-key Beatles fan which is where some of my sound and influences come from. They are influenced by a myriad of music genres that are often hard to label.
Some people have said that you sound like the Electric Light Orchestra. What would you say to that opinion?
Justin: I agree that they influence our music.
What inspired you most while you made For You, Now?
Justin: We listened to a lot of After the Gold Rush by Neil Young when we recorded our album. We also liked Beach Fossils and Devendra Banhart. Our bandmate Christian introduced us to Devendra Banhart. I’ve never been a big Vampire Weekend fan, but Maddy knows a lot of their music.
Maddy: Early music from Vampire Weekend is incredible, but their new music cannot compare. They are the epitome of surf rock. After they broke up, the writer left the band and the album that followed was bad. Two-part albums are not good. There was too much content that didn’t need to be released. Eight tracks is a good length for an album, that’s why I think that length of our album is perfect.
What’s your favorite song from the album?
Maddy: The song “Jellyfish” is my favorite. Christian and Justin worked on the song covertly, hiding it from us until the last minute.
Was the song inspired by actual jellyfish when you wrote and composed it?
Maddy: The song was not written with jellyfish in mind, but it does have an “underwater feel” that relates it to jellyfish. If I had to relate it to something I would say that it matches the Mario Kart course “Koopa Cape.” It starts above ground, goes underwater, and has an exciting ending.
Justin: My favorite song is “Wonderful Photography.” I struggled making every song sound the way I envisioned, but I wrote this song with a clear vision. It sounded the closest to what I wanted it to sound like. Our other songs often migrate away from our original vision for them.
Why do you choose to use lo-fi over hi-fi equipment?
Justin: We recorded the 2020 single, “Twin Snakes,” in a studio. We hated the way it sounded and we spent more time making it sound imperfect than we did recording it. We like a more stripped down sound, we don’t want it to sound perfect. We like the way that we can make lo-fi sound, especially because we don’t have the funds for expensive equipment that can create the same sound they want to produce. It would be amazing if we did. We often get our equipment secondhand and it’s surprising if it works. We record every song on a 4-track cassette player which is old technology that produces the sound we like.
I read a review from Atwood Magazine that Justin wrote “Call it Good Times” while throwing up from a burrito. Tell me more about the story behind that.
Justin: I ate questionable pork from a hole-in-the-wall restaurant. While I was hunched over the toilet, the song came to me. Instead of scrolling through social media, I decided to write. The main melody and bass lines went through my head as I wrote.
Call it good times
Call it bad
Call it everything I want but never had
Call it bad times
Call it good
Call it everything I wish I said but never would
The main lesson I learned was ‘don’t eat questionable pork from a small restaurant.”
Who wrote the song “ I Can’t Skate?” I related to that song on another level – loved the idea and the dreaminess of it.
Justin: I wrote this song because I thought of a poem while I watched my girlfriend roller skate. I like to add lyrics to songs, and this one was purely instrumental at first. I decided to make the poem subtle and short in the song.
I can’t skate
but I think I could try
you see, I’m so tired of standing behind
who I’d much rather roll beside.
Head in my heart in my hand,
praise the flower
heart in my hand
How did you decide on the album art?
Maddy: We like to color-coordinate together so we’ve been wearing blue for every performance following the album’s release. Ava, Justin, and Maddy often are on board but Christian doesn’t like to coordinate with the group. He owns a lot of blue but he still changes into green when he sees us wearing blue.
Justin: I chose the album art. We had a few ideas for the cover, one image displayed a toy cat next to a glass of water. The image we chose is actually a video game rendition image of our old house. We recorded 99% of the album in that house. It was sound proof and really perfect for making the music. We made a small portion of the finished album in our new house because it took Christian and I a while to finish the song, “Jellyfish.” We were just vibing with the theme, so incorporating blue in the album fits with ocean-themed songs like “Drunk Surfers” and “Jellyfish.”
What is your dream collaboration?
Maddy + Justin: Devendra Banhart, Alice Phoebe Lou, and Cate Le Bon are very inspirational to our music and we would love to collaborate with them. They also have the equipment and sound that we need to make our music sound the way we like.
Tell me more about Devendra Banhart — what kind of music does he make?
Maddy: This is actually something that we disagree on a lot. I think that his music is probably more like psychedelic folk.
What’s next for your music?
Maddy + Justin: We’ll probably lean into more rock music in the future. We often edit our music in live performances and test out different versions of our unreleased songs. With every live performance we’ll develop more music. We don’t even know what it will end up like but it is often inspired by our recent listening as you can tell from From You, Now.
Winkler is excited to perform on April 15th on Tufts campus for Palestine Solidarity and on April 20th in Somerville with Nellie, Fetch Tiger, and Vern Matz! You can find more details on their website or by following their instagram @winkler.mp4. Go stream their new album, For You, Now on Spotify!