AN extraordinary man. That’s how Matthew Winter describes Doug MacDonald, the engineer behind the debut album by Winter’s band Zed Penguin.

“He’s built this analogue studio on the mezzanine of an old 18th-century church in Buccleuch Street,” Winter explains of the Edinburgh-based sound man. “It’s apparently got the old tape machine that The Smiths used to record Strangeways, Here We Come – not that this particularly carries a great weight in terms of our record, but it’s a nice part-anecdote.”

This record doesn’t need more weight. Taking its title from one of its characteristically turbulent tracks A Ghost, A Beast has weight to spare. At times sludgy, stoner-rock thick, it’s compellingly unpredictable too, with Winter’s guitars battling around the scything bow-strokes of cellist Atzi Muramatsu. Then there’s Winter’s vocals, a ravaged holler which warns and wavers with the insistence of a street preacher. It’s perhaps partly down to those hallowed surrounds.

“Recording in the church was great as it’s got this lovely reverb,” Winter says. “And the acoustics of those places were created so that the priest or the pastor or whoever ... their voice would boom over the congregation in this sort of ominous, god-like fashion; have this authoritative tone to it. Just standing at the pulpit and raising your voice is amazing.”

Something else was going on too. Winter, an Australian who now lives in Edinburgh, was enduring a particularly challenging time.

“I felt that I was losing my mind in some way when I was doing those vocals,” he says. “It really felt that my life was unravelling. I had found myself in this sexy new class called the precariat – you might have heard of it. Each month I really didn’t know if I’d have enough money to pay my rent or if I was going to become homeless.”

That feeling of being adrift powers Wandering, a wistful number set to a video shot on Arthur’s Seat and inspired by Seven Samurai director Akira Kurosawa. Recently given a spruce-up at the church, it was originally recorded in 2012 for a compilation record by Edinburgh label Song, By Toad. After the implosion of the wild living punk band Winter used to play with, he had assembled a band to play songs he’d written under the moniker Zed Penguin. In addition to Muramatsu, Casey Miller of PET and Stones was recruited on drums while Winter convinced James Metcalfe, guitarist with The Pineapple Chunks, to switch to bass for Zed Penguin.

Things were going well: fans were made – notably in the likes of DJ Vic Galloway and Song, By Toad boss Matthew Young – new songs were being written; an album was in the pipeline, too.

Then fate struck. Or, more accurately, a young man “fired up on testosterone and rage, most probably” struck Winter while he was coming home from a gig.

“He had followed me down an alleyway, lifted me up from the ground and charged me towards a brick wall,” says Winter. “Then he put his hand on my forehead and smashed my head off the wall. He left me there unconscious, which was a bit cowardly.”

The effects, unsurprisingly, were significant and long-lasting. Suffering incapacitating headaches and the emotional effects of such awful trauma, Winter was unable to work. Trying to survive on statutory sick pay, the times he could afford to work on the album were few but precious.

“It was like I was patching the record together as I was patching my life back together,” he says. “There is a transformative experience you go through after something like that. You mourn for the person that you used to be. I used to be outgoing and more gregarious but after that I found myself getting real anxiety when I had to leave the house. I wasn’t this fun guy any more.”

Winter says his experiences working in healthcare gave him a sense of perspective.

“You see people whom fate has dealt a much harder hand, who are more unfortunate. When I could work I felt really good about myself as I love my job. And when I couldn’t work music became even more important to me, this rock that I could cling to in the storm.”

Winter says the commitments of Zed Penguin’s other members – especially that of Muramatsu, now a Bafta-winning composer whose own day job is with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra – means that scheduling live shows may be tricky, but it’s something he very much wants to do.

With the determination of this other extraordinary man, I wager that will happen soon, which is good news for us; Zed Penguin live shows are reputedly not to be missed.

“Music has always been the most important thing to me,” Winter adds, his seriousness giving way to a laugh. “I’ve always wanted to just be a musician and never have to get a proper job but you know it’s just not so easy these days to swing that. But the benefit that I feel when I play with my band, that sense of achievement and of being creative, was and is enormously helpful in my recovery and regaining my self-esteem.”

A Ghost, A Beast is released on February 23 via Song, By Toad

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