Sitting on a couch, killing time typing on her phone, Alex Winston is back in Paris. One year after our first meet, Alex seems a little different, serious, more mature a little less crazy maybe. An happy and warm reunion…
Since the last time we met, you have now released an album. Did it change anything for you when music became your job ?
Alex Winston : It’s been an interesting year for me, very eye-opening. When i saw you the last time (february 2011) everything was very new, very exciting. It’s still very exciting to play music but it was a sort of rush over. I was very overwhelming seeing the world. Things have calm down a bit and kind of found that sort of momentum. The first tour we just got drunk, all the time. We were young and kind of stupid. I feel like this year i’ve really grown. And i had to deal with all sort of situations, i an not on the same label that i was on when i spoke to you last. I made the record a year ago and it took another year to put it out. So there been a lot of frustrating things that happened but it’s definetely been a growing period for me. I had the chance to tour a lot and completely over here, i haven’t been to the US yet. I did a little bit in the US. Last year i have been in the UK and Europe.
You never tour in the US, really ?
Alex : No, my last show in the US was a year ago (Alex have been playing in New York and Washington DC since we did that interview). After my last show i started to record immediately in New York and then playing shows in the UK and in here a little bit. I’m excited to go back home. I love doing this obviously but i do get a little homesick sometimes. And i’d like to experience my own country and try to make it there as well.
How to you feel about your first album ? In one hand, it’s the beginning of the story but on the other hand it’s the result of years of practicing, rehearsing, songwriting…
Alex : If i’m being completely honest, i’m really proud of what i did in the amount of time and circumstances. Some songs are kind of old and are on the «Sister Wife » ep. I wanted to released a completely new album but that wasn’t quite realistic. I did the best that i could. It was an interesting experience because it was all very quick. I wrote the songs and recorded them in the spent of 2 months. I’ve always been more interested in other people more so than myself. A lot of the songs are not that introspective. In my personal life i’m kind a like in the back, just hanging out and watching people. At the time i was watching a lot of documentaries and i was really i was fascinated by this sort of niche American culture. By people doing things differently than i do them and i tried to understand. And that’s what the record ended up being about. Other people situations and get it into a pop song.
Speaking of which, i was listenning to the songs « Velvet Elvis » and « Benny » and i was wondering if your album is dedicated to the outcasts of America ?
Alex : Maybe in a way… I think that « Benny » and « Velvet Elvis » are very different. « Benny » is about something that absolutely disgust me. And « Velvet Elvis » is about something that i find different and interesting and sort of beautiful in someway. But « Benny » is about a real life preacher who goes around professing that he can cure people of their illnesses and end up just taking their money and not curing any of them. But people just desperately want to believe in him. It comes off as some sort of brainwashing manipulation. That is why the song is sort of like very simple. I wanted to sound like a wave, brainwashing. What happened was very heart breaking to me, to see the kids who couldn’t walk and go to the Benny shows because in the end all they want is to be able to walk and play with their friends. And he’s just taking their money. « Velvet Elvis » is a bit more fun and it’s about a different kind of love. A lot of people, when they think of America they like to write about Hollywood, American dream and like… I’m just not interested in that. I’d rather talk about what is behind the scenes. You don’t hear that much about them. America starts to make reality shows about niches, polygamy and all and i find that interesting.
Do you watch « Big Love » (the TV Show) ?
Alex : We’re watching it again right now. It’s one of my favourite shows. Sarah, my backup singer, has never seen it so we’re like going through it right now.
There is differents sides on your album, classic pop songwriting, modern production. A little bit from the Motown, a little bit from the sixties girls groups, electro sounds… Who are you in the end ?
Alex : I don’t know (laughs). I think it’s really hard to explain. I’m sort of influenced by all sort of different things. And i’m kind of scattered. And i don’t really think that i fit into a certain mould. I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing. And i think it’s the reason why sometimes it’s been kind of slow for me. It hasn’t been just like : « Oh, she’s like this ». It feels very DIY to me and i think maybe it’s gonna take a while for people to come around to what i do. I’m changing a lot and i don’t have a certain thing to hold on to. And i don’t want that. I want to be able to do whatever i’m inspired by. Right now i’m writing a western album. Just because i want to. I don’t know where i fit yet but i don’t know if it’s a bad thing. You could say Kate Bush, i’ve heard that before.
I told you that the last time (laughs)…
Alex : I like to do different things all the time. I want to keep changing.
It’s hard to be like that in that industry, people like to pigeonhole artists…
Alex : I do get that and i even understand why. But i think on the record you can tell the difference between old and new songs. Whether it’s good or not. I don’t know. I was in a different place when i was writing it.
I have listenned to your Black Keys cover on your soundcloud, it was interesting…
Alex : It kind of came out of nowhere. I don’t even know, sometimes i like to fool around and i start covering a song. It’s not intended. When i really really like a song i like to mess around and try to see what i can do to make kind of my own in a way. I’m a huge Black Keys fan. You know what i like about them the most, aside from the music ? They just seem to be good people. Ohio guys, down to earth, who recorded in a garage. There is something that i like about that.
What i like about them is the fact that they really seems to be into music. They are both producers, they are both producing other bands…
Alex : Of course. They don’t seem to be manipulated in any way. Which is cool. They were not like an internet sensation that blows up. They probably tour in a van for years, worked their asses off and made records on no money. It shows, you can tell. I really like them.
You’re for Detroit and i know for a fact that you’re an huge rock n’roll fan. Would you like to cut more rocking songs ?
Alex : I would. None of the songs that are on the album are really rocking. When i wrote « fire ant », i wanted to go more on that direction. More experimental in that way. I miss playing electric guitar and in most of my old bands, that’s what i did. A bit heavier and a bit darker. I kind of went into the exact opposite direction. I try to keep darker lyrics. The western EP i’m writing is going to be more focused on the electric guitar and heavy percussions and stuff like that. It’s going to show more.
You started out as an opera singer…
Alex : I’m not sure that i can classify myself as that. I was at the radio station today. I heard this incredible opera singer practicing in the other room. She has the most magnificient voice. I was standing outside at the door, waiting for my recording and i was like can you leave ? I have to go on, and when this woman is in here… I have to go sing after her... She sounds so incredible. But yeah i did that for a while.
Were you influenced by opera and how ?
Alex : I was but it was very regimented. Opera is beautiful but i was learning it was very much about singing what’s on the paper and try to replicate it. Where is your personnality in that it is so restricted ? So when i start singing with other bands i had somehow to unlearn a little bit to think it’s ok to mess up. It took me a while to find my voice after that. But i do think that subconciously somewhere that i like to fall back into those opera practicing because i did it for so long.
How long ?
Alex : Ten years. I think it’s in me somewhere now. But i was happy to be done when i was done.
Tell me about your song « Sister wife » i have been noticing the lyrics « Hey there sister wife, get the hell out it’s my night ». Is it a statement ?
Alex : It’s about sharing something that you love with other people whether it’s a relationship, a possession. The idea of having to be a big enough person to share. I hate sharing. You have to learn how. I look at that sort of relationship and i thought how the hell did these woman do that ? How does that work to have one husband and however many wives and just be ok with. Fall in love with someone and then say that’s ok you can sleep with her now. And i just thought how ? But i guess we all deal with jealousy everyday.
You’re touring a lot. Is it an hard life being on the road all the time ?
Alex : It is. When i talk to my parents, my brother and i don’t think they really understand what it’s like. They think it’s very glamourous. It’s not. I love playing shows. It’s really a different way of living. Detached from reality. I don’t go by Mondays, Tuesdays… I go by dates. It’s not a 9 to 5, five days a week kind of deal. It’s a big adjustment. But i really like it. I do.
And when you’re touring like that, do you have the time to sightseeing a little ?
Alex : That’s the cool thing. The last time we did the blogothèque and we walked around the Louvre. But i haven’t been able to just take a day off and hang out in Paris. I take what i can get.
And in Europe ?
Alex : I had some time off in Germany. In Berlin but i got the flu. I was throwing up the whole time. I had a doctor to come shoot me in the butt with a shot. I got so sick and no one spoke english and i was puking. Awful. That would have been my day off in Berlin.
Alex : That was terrible, i was all alone. I had to call my label at 6 o’clock in the morning, you’ve got to call me a doctor. A little lame to say the least…
A little word on Run Rumspringa…
Alex : That’s an Amish tradition. When the kids turned sixteen or seventeen, they get to go on a rumspringa which that means they get to go in our world do whatever they want, have sex, drink. Really whatever they want. But they have to come back and make the choice. Do i want to pursue other things or be committed to Amish lifestyle ? And if they leave they’re excommunicated, they can’t come back.
Fire ant ?
Alex : Fire ant is a pretty personnal song. Fire ant are really nasty, evil. A person was really destructive in my life. She was getting in a middle of a relationship i was having. She kept crawling on me and bite me and it wouldn’t stop. That song is dedicated to her. She was red hair (laughs)…
Debut album « King Con » available.