I'll be the first to admit that when New York City, New York-born Glam Metal veterans Winger initially 'burst' onto the scene via their stellar 1987 self-titled debut, I wholeheartedly ignored them. Already deeply immersed amid an uncompromisingly steady diet of Anthrax, Judas Priest, Metallica and How Will I Laugh Tomorrow When I Can't Even Smile Today/Controlled By Hatred/Feel Like Shit...Déjà Vu era Suicidal Tendencies, I had very little use for radio-ready anthems such as "Madalaine", "Seventeen" and "Headed For A Heartbreak". However, twenty-six inexplicably long years later, I now find myself intrigued by the group's efforts. Recently, charismatic group namesake Kip Winger, always a man of many words and very interesting stories, was once again kind enough to speak with us regarding, among many other things, his highly-anticipated performances with Colorado Symphony Orchestra...
Todd: What makes now the ideal time for a Kip Winger solo tour? Do you have a new album in the works?
Kip: "It's not really a tour. I started doing this exact thing sixteen years ago when my band (Winger) kind of disbanded. I was just going to promote my (debut) solo album (This Conversation Seems Like A Dream
, 1997). I did a Border Books
tour and I went out and played like four songs acoustic and then talked to people and stuff. Then just kept getting requests and it built into an hour and a half show over the past sixteen years. I basically play like a weekend or two every month. ...I did a month in Europe in September (2012), so I just keep it going all the time even though I don't have any new records out. The last record I did was the Winger
record a few years ago (Karma
, 2009) and my last solo record was in 2008 (From The Moon To The Sun
), but I keep going."
Todd: What type of set list have you been working with? Is there 'go-to' core of material that you typically use?
Kip: "I've been playing the same set for a while, but I always try to throw in one or two different ones or new ones I never played before. It just depends. I just keep trying to add stuff so that it is not too boring. Some are my true staples, like I always play the same first four songs because it's the way I choose to warm up my voice."
Todd: How have you managed to maintain your voice over the years? Have you received any formal trainings?
Kip: "I studied voice for years. I do all the exercises. I warm up, I warm down, I don't do drugs and I don't drink alcohol when I sing. There's a whole list of shit to do and not to do. I could bring Don Dokken back from the dead. It's not fucking rocket science, ya know? ...It's like 'If you do this, this, and this, you can sing again'."
Todd: One thing that's immediately evident during your solo performances is how 'large' everything sounds. Is there a specific pedal effect you use to capture such an immense amount of volume whenever you perform solo?
Kip: "It's just a stock Alvarez, actually. It's all in my hands, baby. I put my guitar through a compressor, so it's fucking loud and I crank up the bass so it gives the impression that there's a lot more there. It's just something I've worked on over time. ...It's a lot of the way I play, to be honest with you. I could give my set up to somebody else and probably wouldn't sound like that. The thing is that people say 'Oh, I'm going to see Kip Winger acoustic' and they think that 'm probably not that great because I can't play very well, I've probably lost my voice or it's going to be boring. ...Technically speaking, when you put a compressor on your guitar, you can hit it way harder and it won't break the speakers up. I beat the fuck out of that guitar, dude. I mean I'm really just banging on it. ...The compressor, the PA and the room...you have all those things at your disposal if you know how to use them. I did this exact show about five years ago where I was opening for Whitesnake. It was 80's bands like Slaughter, Warrant and Whitesnake. I was going on in between the set changes and my thing sounded so much bigger because I had the whole PA just for my voice. It's like impressionism. If you have a five-piece band or a four-piece band in a venue, there's going to be less space for each instrument because just the physics of it all. When I do my thing I have all the space reserved for my voice and my guitar, so it leaves the impression of being massive. It is pretty big, but if I am singing with my band, it's a smaller sound in the voice because of the rest of the band. There is a little bit of physics at play on how massive it sounds. I do play really hard and loud and sing all the stuff, but it's to my benefit when I play solo that I get the PA all to myself."
Todd: What ultimately kept Winger from 'imploding' like so many of your counterparts? Friendships and trust?
Kip: "Respect. I love those guys. ...We're the best of friends. We never fought over money. There was always totally transparency in the money thing. Money is what fucks everybody up. It was always totally transparent with the money. And then we genuinely like each other. We didn't break up, we just disbanded because when the 80's thing went down, it was like 'Okay, we know we can't get a gig, so what was the point?'. So we just waited until we got some offers to get back together. It's a barrel of fucking laughs, really. Everybody in the band has a great sense of humor. The other thing is musical respect. There's not many bands with guys like (drummer) Rod Morgenstein and (guitarist) Reb Beach in them. And our secret weapon is (keyboardist) John Roth. Nobody knows how good that guy is. I'm the MD at the Rock And Roll Fantasy Camp and we have a lot of counselors from many generations yet very few of them are on the level of my band. ...They're really good."
Todd: Do you feel Winger was simply misunderstood? The group always seemed to have a unique
Kip: "Everybody missed the point. The point was that a lot of the bands that came out of that era... ...I don't mean to be disrespectful, but I personally, I am a musician. I'm not a 'Rock star' type of guy. I don't care about the photo shoot or any of that stuff. Musicianship is what I care about. I grew up in a band with my brothers (Blackwood Creek) and for me, the most important thing was that the other bands knew we were good. I was always writing my shit for the other bands, not the audience. That's probably why I was never massive and why I never sold a gazillion records and am totally rich. I don't know. But a lot of the bands that made a lot more money than we did were not as focused on the musicianship. It's nice to see good musicians do well like (Dream Theater keyboardist) Jordan Rudess. Nobody deserves to be famous more than him, in my mind. ...We came too late. We were surprised that we sold so well, but we came too late, man. The 80's thing was winding down by the time of our first album. Bon Jovi hit it all right. He had the right time the right song, everything."
Todd: In retrospect, how much of an impact do you feel you or Winger as a group had on the various genres?
Kip: "Are you kidding me? I wouldn't have a clue. If somebody told me that I'd influence anybody, I'd be like 'Really cool', but I don't know anything about that. ...Every once in a while, I meet musicians that talk to me about my music that actually get it. It's very rewarding and that's why I do it. I like to actually talk to people about music. ...Sometimes, I meet guys who talk about that and that's where it's at for me. I totally dig the fans that say 'I love that song' and all that stuff, but it's at a deeper level for me when it's somebody who understands what I am actually doing, ya know? I don't really know how to answer that. That would be for somebody else to say. To some, we didn't even make a mark and to others, we were the greatest band that ever was, ya know?"
Todd: What initially prompted your forays into the Classical music genre? Was it an easy transition to make?
Kip: "I always tell this story, but I'm always trying to make it up because I don't really know how to translate it. When I was young, I took some lessons but I was too lazy to practice, even though I had really latched on to music. I had always know I would be a musician. And then I played in a Rock band for a while and learned to play Black Sabbath, but it got boring very quickly because was not enough. Then I studied Classical guitar and got hooked on Baroque music a little bit. I was like 'Oh my God! You mean you really can play that fast?' When I first heard (acclaimed Jazz fusion guitarist) Al De Meola, I was like 'Oh my God! That's possible?' ...I had studied Classical guitar when I was sixteen while I was doing the Rock thing and I was listening to Bach and digging on the way it felt. And then studied Ballet and heard a bunch of Classical composers. It was like 'What the fuck! Who wrote that?' It was always about who wrote it. That was always the question. It was like 'Oh my God! I can't believe somebody actually wrote that music. A human being wrote that'. That was always my big question. It was really the idea of challenging myself by saying 'Well, I should be able do that if they can' because what's the difference? It's all about the training, really so I just sought out the training because emotionally I was always far more connected to Classical music. Rock music is one thing, but Classical music can really do all of it. It's funny because it's where I was came from yet it took years for me to be able to do it."
Todd: Was there a specific collaborative scenario that finally led you to writing a first Orchestral Arrangement?
Kip: "As you know, I was in (The) Alan Parsons
(Project). ...One day, Alan called me and said 'Hey, man are you into writing an Orchestra arrangement for this thing I am doing for (ukelele virtuoso) Jake Shimabukuro?'. Like fucking twenty years ago, ten years ago or even six or seven years ago, I wouldn't actually have been able to do it. The first thing I called my wife and then I called my Publisher. I'm like 'I can't do this', but they were both like 'No, you're doing it.' I wrote the Arrangements and then we did it. We recorded it live with Alan Parsons handling the Engineering. The Nashville Orchestra guys did the shit and it was like 'Okay, I've done that'. All of a sudden, it was like, 'Okay I can do that now. It was awesome.' It was like fifteen years of fucking hitting the books. ...The one big thing I've learned from the Europeans is that Americans aren't taught how to think. In the European countries, they actually teach you how to think. so I had to learn how to think. That was the biggest hurdle for me because I dropped out of high school at fifteen. ...I went back for a GED but, I wanted to play music and Rock, ya know? Later on, it was like 'I don't know how to think', so thinking was really critical in my journey to become a Classical composer. I most definitely took the long way around."
Todd: Fundamentally speaking, what are the primary differences between writing and recording 'Popular' and Classical music? Taking everything into consideration, which genre is the easiest for you to be creative with?
Kip: "Well, I think ultimately it's different because Classical music is solely organic. You have to understand what is actually possible. ...For example, with a violin, you have to know that the bottom note is a 'G' and that you can't write below that. You have to know exactly how to make it so when they read it, they will express themselves the way you want them to. In Pop music and my solo writing, I can sit around and experiment for months on end and change whatever I want to in the studio with electronics. It's much easier to do solo music because you can fuck around with it until the cows come home. ...Classical music is like 'Okay, here's the music, now play it'. It's like a preemptive strike on the Mixing. Everything is about the volume levels and the expression. Now, it's much easier, but there was a point where I couldn't even understand it, so it's a totally different ball of wax. I basically just got really bored with sitting in the studio and fucking around with drum machinery and synthesizers. It's cool. I like that type of music. Fuck, I love Katy Perry. I love to listen to it, but you know when I write stuff, I don't know... The whole thing is about putting the music in front of people, really. The benefit you get from orchestra players is that if I write a piece for thirty or sixty people, you get the lives of thirty or sixty people within the music. It's like your whole life times sixty because all they have is this whole life of music. They are putting everything into the one line, and that's exactly what you hear. That's why it is so fantastical to me. I don't think anybody really realizes that each individual person has given their whole life to that one line of music. They are putting their whole life into the one line that you wrote and it's just so amazing. Plus, it's different everywhere you go and that's why all these orchestras can sound so very different."
Todd: At this point, what is your least favorite aspect of touring? I would imagine all the travel can get brutal...
Kip: "The travel days are just a waste of time. It's a lot of time wasted because you could be doing other shit that's much more important, you know? ...I've got my going through the airline thing down to ten steps, but it's a fucking waste of time. It's all about the one and a half hours you're on stage or the two hours you are doing it. And then it is the twenty-two hours of being a fucking zombie. It's not like I'm traveling in a Learjet with my cook and stuff. That would be pretty cool, but I chose a much more difficult path. I mean I could still be trying to write hits and stuff, but for me, I know that on my death-bed I'll be thinking 'What did I really write that was worthy?' ...That's really going to be the key question for me because you can't take the money with you, man."
Ghosts: Suite No. I (2010) ***
Karma (2009) **
Then & Now: The Making Of Pull & Winger IV (DVD) (2009) **
From The Moon To The Sun (2008) ***
Winger Live (CD/DVD) (2007) **
Seventeen: The Demos (2007)**
Demo Anthology (2007) ***
IV (2006) **
The Very Best Of Winger (2001) **
Songs From The Ocean Floor (2000) **
Down Incognito (1998) ***
This Conversation Seems Like A Dream (1997) ***
Pull (1993) **
In The Hearts Of The Young, Vol. II (DVD) (1991) **
In The Hearts Of The Young, Vol. I (DVD) (1991) **
Live In Tokyo (DVD) (1991) **
II: In The Heart Of The Young (1991) **
Trash (1989) **
The Videos, Vol. I (DVD) (1991) **
Winger (1987) **
Raise Your Fist And Yell (1987) *
The Nightmare Returns Tour (DVD) (1986) *
Constrictor (1986) *
* with Alice Cooper
** as a member of Winger
*** as a solo artist