Winger will see better days

Born at the end of the 80s and pretty successful from the get go, Winger was brought down in the mid-90s when Beavis and Butt-Head made a mockery of them and when Lars Ulrich used the band’s frontman Kip Winger as a target for a game of darts in Metallica’s video for “Nothing Else Matters” (at 2’55). « I think that the band is a very misunderstood band and we have a lot to offer people », Kip tells us. He then goes on to explain that the band was nothing like the ersatz Bon Jovi is was made out to be. Talking to Kip Winger on the phone was a good opportunity to bring up these subjects, recall an era the band had a difficult time with, lay waste to the misconceived ideas people might have had about them, and discuss the duality of their music, all at once progressive and pop.

But prejudices belong to the past and Winger is now soaring up again. The band was reborn in 2006 with their album IV, but it was Karma in 2009 that made the headlines – and now Better Days are most definitely Comin’. Kip Winger is proud of the music he makes and of all the care he puts in it. Because to him, only music matters.

« I’m really just a student of music. […] I don’t need a limousine; I just need a pencil with some staff paper so I can write music. »

Radio Metal: Better Days Comin’ comes out 5 years after Karma, why did it take so long?

Kip Winger (bass/vocals): You know what? I can’t even believe it’s five year. It’s just weird, I don’t really get it. We’re all really busy: Reb (Beach)’s in Whitesnake, Rod (Morgenstein) teaches and John (Roth)’s in Starship. So we just try to get together when we can and it’s just turned out to be five years I guess. It’s weird; I just don’t really understand why that much time has gone by. So, hopefully I won’t let that much time go by in between the next ones!

And do you think you have put more efforts in this album since you had more time to do it?

No, they all take exactly the same amount of time. It takes about eight months to make them. The process is always the same; it’s just that the songs are different given the time that we write them. It’s always the same, from the very day one that we wrote the first album: Reb and I just sit down with a drum machine and then we write some rock riffs, arrange them, come up with some words… Put them together like that. So, the formula’s been the same and Reb and I know each other very well now. We’ve never had any problems with the songs.

Better Days Comin’ is a very positive title, full of hope. Do you think people today need to find hope again, to see the future in a brighter light?

I guess so. I mean, I didn’t intend it to be a message title. It was just the title of a song that we wrote and we thought was a good album title. But it seems to be a good message, if there is one. We don’t really intend to be a message band. I save the messages for my solo albums. But I think it’s a happy song, it has a good energy, so it’s nice for people. Coming off of Karma, I think it’s the perfect album actually.

Could this also be a way to say that the best is yet to come for the band?

Yeah, that’d be great, I mean I don’t think like that but I think that’d be amazing. Yeah, absolutely!

The album’s cover artwork is very similar to the one of Karma, only that it’s white, and the opening song begins with the chorus of “Deal With The Devil” from Karma through a car radio. So are the two albums linked in some way?

You could say that. I mean, Karma and Better Days Comin’ are really entering a new era of the band where we’ve grown and matured and we know exactly who we are as a band. Especially on Better Days Comin’, there’s a side of music to represent everything the band has ever done. So it’s really a good album in term of encompassing everything that the band has done.

Actually, when Karma came out, it was looked at one of the best Winger album, if not the best. Were you surprised by this reception?

No, I mean, my intention is to get better not to get worse [laughs]. So, I take great care in these albums. I don’t just put them out trying to make money. I spend a lot of time trying to make them really good. I’m happy that people like it and thought it was cool. I’m happy to put the new one out and just keep going with it. I think that the band is a very misunderstood band and we have a lot to offer people. I think it’s fun to showcase musicianship with the band. We have certain ingredients that I don’t see out there, like I couldn’t point to another band that has the same ingredients as us. So, I think we’re very unique in that way.

« The best ideas always come by accident. »

Your music with Winger, and especially with this new album, features a strong musicianship and progressive elements but always focusing on the songs and catchiness. The song “Tin Soldier” is a good example of that. How do you balance these two aspects: progressiveness and catchiness?

Well, it’s definitely not a formula in a bottle that I could give to you. It’s just something that happens through working with this set of people. I’ve always been very strong on trying to make the best melodies that I can and I’ve been doing it for about 30 years now. So, I try to make it natural by trying to make it memorable. And, honestly speaking, the best ideas always come by accident. So, there are a lot of accidents where you sing a melody that happens to be catchy. Listen, it’s exactly what we did on « Seventeen »: it’s a very progressive music with a very pop melody. The music on « Seventeen » is not easy music. To this day I’ve never seen a band that can play that music correctly, it’s very difficult. So, honestly, « Seventeen » is really a progressive song with a pop melody. It’s kind of what we’ve been doing all this time and nobody’s really noticed because we kind of got lost in the 80s shuffle when people thought we were a kind of Poison or something like that. But, you know, the truth is that we lean progressive on the music side and we’re more pop on the melody side.

Other bands have been doing rock music with a strong musicianship like Mr. Big, Van Halen, Toto or more recently Chickenfoot or Black Country Communion. Do you feel close to these bands, to their approach to music?

I don’t know anything about any of them, but what I can tell you is that all the people that you just mentioned, we all come from the 70s. And our influences from the 70s are Jethro Tull, Yes, Gentle Giant, Rush, Grand Funk Railroad, these kinds of bands… So, I think that just comes out of being from that era. You know, Winery Dogs is another one that features great musicianship with cool songs. There’s a select group bands that do that. The other thing that I would say, is that out of the bands that you just mentioned, we’re the only one of those bands that gets labeled an 80s band, a hair metal band. And we’re really not one of those bands. We’re kind of more a progressive band.

And why do you think you’re still labeled as an 80’s band? Like you said earlier, you consider Winger as one of the most misunderstood band in rock. So, what according to you people misunderstand in your music and why?

Well, it doesn’t sound like you misunderstand it, because you seem to understand what we’re doing. But a lot of the heavy metal fans kind of believe Beavis And Butt-head thinking that we’re a shitty hair metal band that sucked. They weren’t really listening. We got lumped into that whole era because we made it at that time and it was right at the end of the era actually, you know, the Bon Jovi kind of thing. And you know, it’s because we had some pop melodies and we were touring with all those bands. It’s no one’s fault that that happened, I mean, it’s just kind of the circumstances. And some people just don’t get that we’re more about the musicianship. But, listen, it’s totally fine with me. This band, Winger, is not for everybody: some people really get it and some people don’t get it. It’s basically like: some people like beer and some people like wine, if you know what I mean.

You have been studying classical music and composition and wrote a thirty-minute symphonic piece called “Ghost”. How does that classical background translate into Winger’s music today?

Well, it feeds it because the more I’m able to study and bring in complicated ideas to rock music, the more it gives me facility to make fresh music and come up with ideas that wouldn’t normally be the standard rock stuff. “Tin Soldiers” is a great example of that: you have a dual time signature going, a certain scale set happening, a certain musical structure that revolves… There are a lot of elements to the things that I study that I sprinkle into the rock to make it a little bit fresher.

(About Lars Ulrich) « I don’t get it, it’s just not cool to slag other musicians, especially when Rod Morgenstein is my drummer. I mean, he basically just embarrassed himself. »

At what point did you think to yourself that you had to study classical music and composition?

I’ve wanted to write orchestral music since I was very young. I’m actually a late bloomer; it took me a long time to get to it. I didn’t even start studying for real until I was about 35. So, it’s been about the last sixteen years that I’ve really been serious about it. It’s just something that I’ve always wanted to do and I didn’t want to die without doing it, basically.

Winger went on hiatus in 1994 until 2001. What are your thoughts now, retrospectively, when you look back at the beginning of the nineties, with the band not being in the “standard” of rock music anymore and being laughed at in shows like Beavis And Butt-Head?

We kind of went on hiatus until 2002 when we went on the Poison tour, so there was about seven years where I was making solo album and studying music and stuff. I mean, there was nothing we could do, dude. When the Beavis And Butt-Head thing happened, we couldn’t even get a gig, nobody wanted to hire us. So there wasn’t much to do. Everybody went their separate ways to do their own thing until the interest in the band came back. It was just a product of the times.

Did that actually hurt you at the time?

Of course it did. We were selling tons of albums and did huge concerts, and all of a sudden we couldn’t sell our albums and couldn’t get concerts. For me to say “no, no, it was fine”, that just wouldn’t be true. It was difficult times. But for me, the thing is that I’m really just a student of music. I wasn’t going to get a job as a carpenter; I’m a musician first and foremost. I don’t need a limousine; I just need a pencil with some staff paper so I can write music. When you take away all the rags and riches, the t-shirts, key chains, hat, logos and all that stuff and you just come right down to the music… Music against music, that’s where the competition is for me. Well, it’s not really a competition, it’s just art. But it’s a competition with myself. I’m in competition with myself to always put something out that’s better than the previous, or at least on the same level. I’ve never wanted to publish anything that’s not good.

Why would today be a better day for a band like Winger compared to the 90s? What changed?

Well, there’s a lot of interest for the band. Musically, nothing’s changed for me, I’m just still doing the same thing that I’ve always done, but there’s much more receptivity for the band now than there was in the nineties.

We all know the story between Winger and Lars Ulrich. Does seeing so many people complaining about his drumming nowadays feels like a kind of revenge to you?

I don’t really care. I don’t know him, I’ve never met him and I don’t understand why he chose to do that. It’s very immature. I don’t get it, it’s just not cool to slag other musicians, especially when Rod Morgenstein is my drummer. I mean, he basically just embarrassed himself. Honestly speaking, I like the way he thinks about drums. I thought some of the drumming on Metallica’s stuff is actually very good. I’ve never seen the band live, so I can’t speak to that. I mean, I don’t know if he’s good live or not because I’ve never been to a show. But, even if he was the worst drummer on the planet, you wouldn’t hear it from me because I don’t think it’s classy to talk about other musicians in that way.

Last august the band played live its first album in its entirety. How was it going through all theses old songs and did that influence the band in any way in the making of Better Days Coming?

No, not at all. It was fun to sing the songs; I hadn’t done it in forever. It was a difficult task, it was difficult to sing but it was fun to do it, great to have Paul (Taylor) back in the band. It was fine but it didn’t have any influence on the new stuff. Listen: nothing has an influence on me when I write new music. I just completely focus in a total influence free zone and I just write exactly what I’m hearing at the moment. So, the twentieth anniversary was a lot of fun to get together and play for the people who were hoping to see it. It sounded great and we really had a fun time doing it.

Will a live album of that event be released?

We never got a good recording of it. But we did get a great live tape from the board mix in Japan. So I might release that. I don’t really know what happened but for some reason that recording was really good.

Do you have plans for other projects in the future or for a new solo album?

I’m hoping to do another solo album soon. I’m in the middle of reorganizing a bunch of new ideas for that, and that’s a whole different process. With Winger, I sit down with Reb with fresh ideas; we don’t use any old ideas. But with my solo stuff, I collect ideas over the years that I’ve written.

Interview conducted on April, 7th 2014 by Spaceman.
Question and Introduction : Spaceman.
Transcription : Spaceman.

Album Better Days Comin’, out since April, 18th 2014 via Frontiers Records.

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