In October of 2009 Winger released their fifth studio album “Karma”. The album has been called a cross between the first Winger album and Pull, one of their most acclaimed releases to date. The title, a reflective nod to Winger completing their full musical circle and the path that lead them to where they are now, leads one to wonder what the future holds for these four (Kip Winger, Reb Beach, Rod Morgenstein and John Roth.)
In addition to the latest Winger album, Kip finds himself immersed with a full plate of projects from composing classical music (that he has seen come to life with The Tucson Symphony Orchestra and most recently composing for The San Francisco Ballet) to the band that he’s in with his brother and childhood friend – Blackwood Creek.
Never one to rest on his laurels Kip Winger feels that this is just the beginning of much more to come in his musical repertoire, we’ll just sit back and enjoy the ride.
Kip recently took some time to discuss the new Winger album with us, Blackwood Creek, his classical stylings and a song he wrote and dedicated to the late Dimebag Darrell.
Interviewed by: Tom Mathers & Mary Ouellette
A lot of music reviewers have called Karma the follow up to Pull, which was often heralded as the best Winger album to date. Do you feel that Karma follows in that same vein and picks up where Pull left off?
I guess so. I tried to just do a combination of the first album and Pull. My main objective was to really just rock the first five songs and represent what the band sounds like live, step it up a notch. Winger Four was more sophisticated, it was basically a prog album, so I guess that would be fair. I don’t know. I don’t really think about that king of stuff. I just do what I’m feeling at the time. What had become clear to me was that I wanted to write some songs that we could do live, that would translate live very well – that were up tempo and push the whole thing up a notch on the adrenaline meter.
You produced the Karma album yourself – do you find yourself able to do that objectively without getting too caught up on perfecting everything?
I’m not a big believer in that a band needs a producer. If you know what you are looking for and you know how to get it, there’s no reason why you should have a producer unless you can’t look at things objectively. I’ve been doing this for thirty years so if I think something sucks if I hear it I’m not afraid to admit it. No one in their right mind can think they can hit ten out of ten.
You and Reb wrote the album in about ten days. That sounds like a bit of a whirlwind, can you tell us about the process?
It’s really the same process as every Winger album. We sit down with a case of beer and we put up a cool drum program on the computer – in the old days it was a drum machine – and I’ll just start pounding out beats. It’s really like, I’ll pound out a beat and I’ll look to Reb and say play me a riff. He’ll start playing a riff and he’ll fuck around until he catches my ear really. He’s really good at coming up with shit off the top of his head and I’m good at arranging. So that’s really every record. This album we sat down, cranked up the drum machine. The only thing different about this album was I was like, let’s write this album like what’s the first song you want to hear on an album. We actually wrote the album as you hear it. There’s a few songs out of order, but “Deal With the Devil” was day one, “Stone Cold Killer” was day two, “Pull Me Under” was day three and so on. We didn’t finish the lyrics in ten days, it was really the arrangement of the music with a few melody ideas. So you kind of know where you’re going, you have your template. Then I worked on the lyrics for two or three months at least. Got stumped on a few, and brought in some extra writers. You know, record the drums. Then bring everyone back to do the real tracks. Then mix it for a month and master it and all that. So it took about eight months.
The title Karma is said to be representative of Winger “completing its full musical circle” – can you tell us what you mean by that?
I thought Karma was a cool name for a record. I felt like the band has had so many ups and downs that it was really more representative of our experience as a band that we’ve had some bizarre karma. Then I thought “karma” that’s a cool record. I think Reb’s interpretation of the title was that the band has come full circle, but that was never really what it meant for me. For me it was really just that we’ve had a lot of bizarre experience, and I thought that the karma of the band has been very interesting.
I see that there are tour dates in Europe for Winger starting in March, are you planning any follow up in North America?
Yeah, we’re booking gigs now. They’re just coming in on my calendar. We don’t have many, they’re just booking them now to be honest with you. June 19th at the M3 festival and June 20th at B.B. King’s. We’ll start from there and go on. We’re going to Europe in March and we’ll be in Europe for a month. We’re doing Brazil in May. So we’re just putting the North American thing together now.
For rock fans who may wonder what you’ve been up to in between Winger albums they might be surprised to find out that you’ve been composing a lot of classical music and in fact your first symphony premiered last year with The Tucson Symphony Orchestra. How does it differ writing classical music compared to your other projects? How do you prepare for that?
Well, I’ve been preparing for that for twenty years. I started studying serious music compositions in about 1984 really and then I was on and off until 1996. In 1996 I studied four years at UNM with a guy named Richard Herman. Private study, because I never had time to go to a university. I studied music theory and composition for about four years with him. I’ve been working with Michael Kurek for years now. I don’t take many lessons, but I enrolled at Vanderbilt for a lesson and became really good friends with Michael. Now whenever I need help on something I’ll work with him. I’ve always approach rock music kind of like a classical guy. Everything is very orchestrated in its place. I’m not really a jammer. So the idea of working with classical is not any different. I’ve always known that I was going to be heading into classical music from the very first record where I put a string quartet on the beginning of “Hungry.” In each record I left breadcrumbs of a trail that lead me into classical music. For those who know my music, they would know what songs those are – “Rainbow in the Rose” and that kind of thing. For me it’s not very different, but I’ve been studying it for so long.
You’ve also got a side project called Blackwood Creek which is a band you’re a part of with your brother and a childhood friend. You guys started the band when you were pretty young, what inspired you to go back and revisit that and to release the album?
Really did it on a lark. We were talking on the phone one day and thinking we could get together and jam. So they came out and we worked out some stuff. The riffs were really cool, the ideas were good and the chemistry was there. So I just started working on it as a labor of love. Took a few years to put it together, finally got it finished. I think it’s very representative of what we did then – 70’s three piece rock, very straight ahead kind of with a new edge. We had a lot of fun doing that. I was never a lead singer per se, we were all singers in that band, so it’s very harmony heavy and it really sounds like what we use to sound like – only better because we’re better musicians now.
There’s a bonus track on your From the Moon to the Sun CD that you dedicated to the late Dimebag Darrell. Listening to the lyric, it’s clear that it wasn’t just a song dedicated an artist you admired, there was obviously a deep friendship – how did your paths cross?You’re the only one who’s ever mentioned that. It’s so funny, I put that on there and I’ve never been asked a question about that. So, thanks for noticing that. I met him a couple of times and we hung out and we had a considerable amount of drinks (laughs). I didn’t know him that well, but he was such a deep human being and incredible soul. We hung out a few times. I had warm feelings towards him that I think he had towards me. We had mutual musical respect for each other. He was an amazing guitar player. That song really grew out of those few meetings I had with him where we just kind of hung out. For anybody that knew him, knew that he was a really really deep soul. I mean, the guy was like a saint; very wise. He would just say a few words and there was so much wisdom. So that song came out of the feeling of knowing him and how wise the guy was and what a tragedy it was that he had to die that way, so young.
Given all the projects you’re a part of, which style of music is most rewarding for you to make?
I would have to say, for anybody that has heard my classical stuff, I would say that that is probably the most rewarding at this point because it’s been so long coming. But, when I finished Karma I was really happy with it on all levels. I felt that Karma was the one rock album where I nailed it on every level, and there wasn’t anything in there that I felt like “Well, I could have done that better.” I mean there was a few things but all in all I was really happy with that. So I think I enjoy really just learning new things and trying to get better at what I do. That would be a hard question to answer right at this point, but probably when I’m sitting and watching at the San Francisco Opera House next month thinking “Wow, this is really cool,” that will probably be the height at that point.
You live in Nashville now which seems to be where a lot of musicians are ending up. Can you tell us about the music scene there and how it’s been beneficial to you?
To be honest with you, I’m an outsider in Nashville. I’ve lived here for seven years and I still consider myself an outsider because unless you really are emerged in country music, you’re not a part of much of the scene here. There is a really heavy singer and songwriter thing, but I’ve traveled so much that I haven’t really engaged myself in the scene. So, I wouldn’t really be the guy to ask. But, I will say studying with Michael Kurek at Vanderbilt is singlehandedly the most cathartic, skill changing experience that I’ve ever had. So, ironically, in a country town for me to have come so for in the classical world is really what I would say about that. The other thing, the work ethic in Nashville, on all levels – country musicians and writers, is extremely high. Higher than anywhere else in the world, I think. Also, there are more talented people per capita than anywhere else in the world by far. So, from that point of view, it’s a really cool town, because being a songwriter in this town is a really respected job. In a lot of towns, where I grew up, you were kind of looked down upon if you were a musician, but Nashville is a cool place for that.
We just rang in 2010, what are you most looking forward to this year?
Oh, I don’t know. I just go with the flow. The premier of the ballet is going to be huge for me, and our European tour – summer gigs with the band. I’m looking forward to all of it. I’m looking forward to writing some new music this year and connecting with the fans. It’s funny, we go out on tour now and half the fans are twenty years old. So, the music seemingly has stood the test of time and I feel lucky to be doing it really.
For more on Winger:
The Official Winger Website