EXCLUSIVE – Winger Interview
Winger produced some of the greatest songs ever to emerge from the hair metal era two decades ago and despite constant ridicule on MTV survived to fight another day.
That day has arrived with the release of the sensational Karma – one of the contenders for rushonrock‘s albums of the year – and a full UK headline tour next March.
Founder member Kip Winger took time out to look back on the hair metal glory days, the bittersweet taste of commercial success and why it’s obvious he’s in a band crammed full with his best buddies. Oh, and he even gives his verdict on grunge…
rushonrock: Was naming the band after yourself a brave decision?
Kip Winger: It’s really funny that that question keeps popping up. Alice Cooper suggested that we called the band Winger. We were actually called Sahara but right before the record was due to come out we were told that the name was owned by another band. It’s brutal trying to come up with a band name and especially when the pressure’s on. In the end we just said let’s call it Winger and it turned out to be fine. It’s not a Bon Jovi scenario – it’s not like I run everything. My band is a real band and everything we do is decided by all of us.
rushonrock: How good does it feel to have the Winger name back in the spotlight?
KW: We’re having a great time. I’d moved on but it’s great to come back with it. It’s great to play with my friends again and the relationship we have is excellent. It’s fantastic to be part of Winger again. We want people to hear the new music and if we do it right we know the fans will come and listen to us live. I’ve always tried to mix the old with the new with Winger and while we’ve kept some of the elements of the 80s there’s a modern sound to the new record.
rushonrock: Did the whole Beavis and Butthead thing bother you at the time?
KW: I think it ended up working in my favour but of course it didn’t seem as if it was helping at the time. We became the laughing stock of the music business just because two cartoon characters thought we sucked. On the whole people who watch that stuff don’t really have a mind of their own and they just accept what’s thrown at them. But I’ve ended up being vindicated for the music I was writing back then because I’m still doing it now and people still want to hear it. That’s part of the reason why Karma came about and why we gave the new album that name. I was talking to the other guys about what interesting karma we’ve had over the years. We went from making it really big to becoming the fall guy and now we’re on our way up again. It’s odd stuff that doesn’t happen to other people.
rushonrock: On reflection do you agree with the old adage that all publicity is good publicty?
KW: I think it’s 50/50 these days. Back then some people saw the show and just assumed we sucked. Other people were curious and wanted to discover what we were really like. And some people seriously defended us. We were a band who people either loved or hated and while we’re not a huge band by any means we’re still a band which some people still love now. We’re not a band which can fill Wembley Arena but the music we make is good enough. My focus has always been to make the best records I possibly can and I’m happy with where we are as a band in 2009. As long as I’m playing music I’m happy. I’ve played the Reading festival with Alice Cooper and I’ve played the local Borders. That’s karma.
rushonrock: Is Karma the coolest record Winger has made?
KW: I hope so. I think it’s clear that we’re a bunch of friends having a whole lot of fun. I’m still proud of Pull as we put a lot into that record and it just so happens it came out at the wrong time. It’s one Winger record which really doesn’t disappoint. It’s definitely an important record for us as a band but then so is Karma. Pull is the one to beat and maybe we’ve beaten it at last. Let’s wait and see.
rushonrock: Are there many bands around with a better lead guitarist/bass player combination?
KW: As individuals outside of Winger we’ve all played with some very big artists and we’re seasoned veterans with experience of the business. Collectively we’ve achieved a lot more than many other bands – I was with Alice Cooper for a while and Reb’s been with Whitesnake for years. Now John Roth, our second guitarist, is the lead guitarist with Giant and he’s on fire. As a band we have a certain synergy which makes our music unique. I wouldn’t call a band Winger with four other guys – without naming names I don’t want to be that singer who turns up with a whole band of new guys and still calls them the original band’s name.
rushonrock: Is there healthy competition between you and Reb now you’re back in tandem?
KW: We’re always trying to do the best that we can if that’s being competitive. I’m always cracking the whip in the studio because I don’t want to publish anything which isn’t top level shit. If I feel like Reb can do a better solo then I’ll tell him and he’ll do the same with me. But most of the time I’ll let the guys in Winger do what they want to do because they’re so good at their jobs. There’s healthy competition because every one of us wants to do a better job than we’ve done before. But we like to compete with other bands more than we compete with ourselves.
rushonrock: Twenty years after you burst onto the scene are you getting better and better as musicians?
KW: I work hard on my singing and I’m not the same vocalist I was on the first record, that’s for sure. I’m very aware of what I can do and what I can’t do as a singer. I don’t practice bass playing because it’s not a big thing for me. Rod is 10 times better than the early days and that might be because he’s done so much teaching. John has improved because he’s played 1,000 gigs and practice really does make perfect.
rushonrock: Is hair metal and melodic rock back for good after the nightmare that was the mid to late 90s?
KW: Back then grunge was flavour of the month but these days it’s come full circle and bands like Def Leppard and Whitesnake are selling thousands of tickets a year. Our kind of rock has become a vintage thing but that’s OK. It’s proved it has a place in history and while we’re not as big as the bands that I’ve just mentioned I think Winger has its place in the legacy of melodic rock.
rushonrock: How do you feel about bands like Pearl Jam and Alice In Chains putting out new records in the same month as Winger?
KW: You know there was a lot of good music coming out of the grunge scene in the early days and when Nirvana came along it was time for that music. The fact that the grunge bands are coming back doesn’t bother me. It’s just a fact that bands get back together and if they’re still popular they’re entitled to make new records. There’s plenty of people out there willing to pay money to watch live music so the more the merrier.
I’m a journalist specialising in sport and rock music. Can’t play either so I write about them instead.