WINGER - “Running In A Hamster Wheel As Fast As You Can”

April 30, 2014, 3 years ago

By Aaron Small

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WINGER released their sixth album, Better Days Comin’, on April 22nd in North America via Frontiers Records. Given the fact that their previous album, Karma, was released four and a half years ago in 2009, the question beckons, why now for a new Winger album? What lit the fire to create new music? Vocalist/bassist Kip Winger replies: “The fire’s always lit with me; it just depends what I’m working on. I’ve been writing a lot of classical music that takes a lot of time. Reb (Beach, guitarist) has been in WHITESNAKE, John (Roth, guitarist) is in STARSHIP, and Rod (Morgenstein, drummer) is teaching at Berklee. We all have a lot of outside stuff, though we play shows consistently. We just decided to make another one.”

Prior to hearing a lick of new music, Winger fans will undoubtedly notice the striking similarity between the artwork for Better Days Comin’ and the artwork for Karma; the basic differential being a white background versus a black background. Why the overlapping imagery? “Dude, honestly speaking, I just told the artist I want it to look like A Night At The Opera by QUEEN. That’s where it came from. I wanted it to be white with the new logo – no frills. There was no genius intentional thought behind it, sorry to disappoint you. Every album cover, every album title, by us and probably most bands… they think and think and think, then all of a sudden somebody just says something out of the blue that’s cool.”

“With Pull (released in 1993), we were racking our brains and… actually it was based on a joke. At the time, the Beavis & Butthead thing was in full force and – are you familiar with skeet shooting? It was like, everyone’s waiting for us to put a record out so they can yell ‘Pull!’ Cause we were the band that sucked back then. That’s where that came from. And Karma was just like, God, we got some heavy karma. Boom – Karma’s a good name. Better Days Comin’ was the name of a song and I told it to a friend who said, ‘that’s a great name for an album!’ Yeah, good idea.” Simplicity works sometimes. “I used to outthink myself in the early days. You know, it’s not one of those concept records where everybody’s… I’m kind of over it. I just want to rock some tunes, and focus my long-form energy into a classical piece. Rock is instant!”

Seeing as Kip mentioned the controversial topic of Winger on Beavis & Butthead, it’s fair game for discussion. Despite the fact that plenty of water has passed underneath the bridge, an inextricable connection will always exist. Looking back on that famous fiasco, the 52-year old Nashville resident admits his feelings have changed since the mid ‘90s. “Yeah, absolutely. When it happened it was like, oh great, we’re fucked! We can’t get a job. It’s an unfair association I think because people… we’re a very misunderstood band. How could I not be bummed? Now, I like it actually because it’s brought a certain amount of interesting irony to our story. People who know the band, know we didn’t really fit that bill. The Internet has our music out there now, and people are listening to it without prejudice; especially young people. We have a lot of younger fans in our audience. They’re not relating to that (Beavis & Butthead); the music has a lot of staying power. I’m no different than anybody else dude. Anything in your life that was huge that happened to you shaped your life, that’s what it did to us.”

Musically, there’s a big difference between Winger’s best known song ‘Seventeen’ (released in 1988) and ‘Rat Race’ (released in 2014), and understandably so; a 26-year gap separates the tunes. Although just over a quarter-century has passed since the debut of ‘Seventeen’, it’s still the signature Winger tune and Kip never tires of playing it live. “Have you ever tried to play ‘Seventeen’? ‘Seventeen’ is actually a very complicated song musically. There’s a lot of cover bands out there that don’t even try to play this shit. And here we are; the band that sucks – it’s a joke! Honestly speaking, for me, ‘Seventeen’ and ‘Rat Race’ aren’t that far apart. What’s far apart is the way we recorded the songs. In the ‘80s it was the huge snare that covers up everything, and the guitars aren’t that loud. That was never my intention. On Pull, we turned the guitars up and we didn’t have too many samples. It was more in your face, and that’s more what the band sounded like actually. If I remixed ‘Seventeen’ like that, it would sound a lot like ‘Rat Race’; a heavy sound with not so many processed drums.”

The “rat race” is something most “normal people” experience every week from Monday to Friday, the daily 9 to 5 grind, which has realistically become 8 to 6, battling traffic and congestion on subways and highways. But being a professional musician seemingly excludes Kip Winger from that category. “Are you kidding me man? I’m self-employed. That’s all you’ve got to think of me as. When you’re self-employed, you’re fucking running in a hamster wheel as fast as you can. That song’s totally about me; I didn’t write the words though. I farmed the words out to my buddy Donnie Purnell who used to be in KIX. When we write tunes, if I don’t find a lyric in the first ten minutes, then I pass it on. Lyrics never came easy to me. I spent a year on the lyrics to Pull and they’re really good, I’m satisfied with them; and I don’t want to have to do it again,” laughs Kip. “If a lyric comes to me and I know I can write it, then I’m good to go. Like ‘Storm In Me’ and ‘Ever Wonder’… there’s just other things that I’m better at. The heavy rock stuff – I tend to go SPINAL TAP, so I need help with that. Actually, ‘Midnight Driver’ is a bit of a nod to… it’s a parody of ‘Detroit Rock City’ by KISS with the car opening. ‘Rat Race’ was just a tune where Reb played a riff and he didn’t think I’d want to do a song like that, with that particular beat. But I said, let’s knock it out.”

Donnie Purnell isn’t the only guest lyricist to contribute to Better Days Comin’ as Kip’s wife Paula “co-wrote ‘Out Of This World’. Then there’s a woman named Stephanie Lewis, who’s a very well-known songwriter in Nashville who helped me out on ‘So Long China’. Mark Hudson from THE HUDSON BROTHERS, who I knew in Rock And Roll Fantasy Camp, he and I wrote the words to ‘Be Who You Are Now’. ‘So Long China’ contains an interesting lyric. On the surface, it seems that Kip is saying goodbye to the country. But that quickly becomes too literal, and it’s apparent the song is actually about a woman named China. “That is so awesome! Dude, it’s a goodbye song to a girl. It’s got nothing to do with the country; it’s all about a chic named China. I love though that it projects the imagery of the country. I didn’t mean to do it, but I’m glad it happened because I had no intention of that. Of course I thought of it, but I didn’t have that in my mind when I wrote it, not at all.”

A reference to THE ROLLING STONES can be found in ‘Queen Babylon’ which contains the line, Exile On Main St, obviously the title of Mick and Keith’s classic 1972 album. “That’s another Donnie lyric. I wrote a bunch of lyrics for that, then I sent them to him and he finished it off. You know how hard that’s going to be to sing live? I am so not looking forward to that. I’ve got to figure out what I’m going to do, that’s going to be a fucking bitch.” Elsewhere in ‘Queen Babylon’, Kip and Donnie actually created a word – sexecution. “I’m glad you caught that, ‘cause not everybody does.”

In addition to the regular version of Better Days Comin’, a deluxe edition is also available. In this day and age where CD sales are dwindling is it really necessary to have two purchase options? Would it not make more sense to put everything into one piñata and let the fans hit it ‘til their heart’s content? “Ah… that’s an excellent question. I don’t really know. I’m totally on the fence about that.” The deluxe edition does contain an exclusive bonus track, ‘Another Beautiful Day’. “That track is a heavy track, kind of like ‘Storm In Me’. It’s a cool track. I’m kind of bummed out it didn’t make the package; and that originally was my call, ‘cause I don’t like albums over ten songs. So I told the label, don’t put more than ten songs on this; and if you do, make one a bonus. They did that, and I kind of regret it ‘cause it’s a cool tune. I’ll be honest with you – I agree. Nobody wants to pay more to have to get all the shit. Actually it’s a great idea, and maybe I’ll make that the marketing campaign for my next album – no deluxe edition. You get the whole fucking thing and that’s it. People would probably appreciate that; unfortunately on this one, I went with the label’s idea. But, you get a making of (on the deluxe edition) that’s by far the best making of that we’ve ever done. It’s 20 minutes; it’s like a short film. It really shows you everything about what we’re like. It’s very well done in terms of just recording us at work. It’s not a documentary; it just shows the band making the album. And you get two other videos with it as well. It definitely makes it worth the extra few bucks. I’m with you though. The marketing ploy of this version, that version, this version, that version – it’s because nobody’s making any money man.”

Videos for ‘Rat Race’, ‘Midnight Driver Of A Love Machine’, and ‘Tin Soldier’ have already been released, with two more in the pipeline; clips for ‘Better Days Comin’ and ‘Queen Babylon’ will surface shortly. “With the ‘Better Days Comin’’ video, you can download the footage and cut yourself into the video. We did a hippie-vibe video; it’s exactly what the song sounds like, a ‘70s vibe.” It almost borders on funk. “It’s totally funk. PARLIAMENT FUNKADELIC meets PETER GABRIEL; it’s our version of that. We have that side to us. ‘Better Days Comin’’ is our answer to ‘Down Incognito’ – that’s where you can make the correlation. That’s what we said specifically, we need a ‘Down Incognito’ on this record, and then we wrote ‘Better Days Comin’’.”

2014 tour dates for Winger are somewhat scattered as Kip is juggling solo and full band dates, divided amongst festival appearances and headline shows, both overseas and domestic. Is a 30-date North American tour in the works? “We want to, but those don’t exist anymore - MÖTLEY CRÜE and ALICE COOPER - that’ll be one of the last tours like that you’ll ever see; unless it’s METALLICA or BON JOVI. My mission in life is to understand music, and that’s it. I’m not really here to sell the shirt; I’m here to learn about how music functions. That’s my job and what I’m focusing on doing. If people buy our shit – I’m going to market it of course, I’m not saying I’m a hermit in a hill that’s a purist. I’m saying my basic function and personal goals in life are to know music. This lifestyle has afforded me the ability to study music, try to get better, and present to the public the very coolest stuff I can personally come up with. And that’s really it.”

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