Interview with Kip Winger – 1st album in 9 years, recognising the demons within us and more

Kip Winger discusses Winger’s first new album in 9 years, and acknowledging the demons within us all.

Interview by Mark Lacey

“Everybody has inner demons. We all deal with a self-doubt and self-criticism and things that you’ve experienced in life that were traumatic, and they tend to continually shape your thoughts and cripple you in ways that you wouldn’t think of, especially when you’re older. I had a lot of traumatic stuff when I was a kid that is now surfacing more. Things that have happened. Voices in my head. And I think a lot of people could actually relate to that if they could admit it”.

When Winger’s debut was released in 1988, it injected a new musicality to the hard rock genre, and opened up a path that spawned two further exceptional albums including ‘In the Heart of the Young’ and ‘Pull’, However, by 1994 the band had parted company and gone on to other projects. Since their reformation in 2001, Winger have continued to record, and produced three further studio albums, but competing outside interests, including Reb Beach’s guitar-slinging duties with Whitesnake, and Kip’s recent theatre and ballet endeavours, have kept Winger somewhat in the wings (no pun intended). It’s been nine years since 2014’s ‘Better Days Comin’, and now the band are back and in fine form with their newest album ‘Seven’. It’s a welcome reminder of their musical legacy; testament to their friendship, and perhaps two fingers up to the naysayers!

MGM: This is being billed as the 35th anniversary of Winger, so what do you think Winger stands for in 2023?

Kip: There’s very few bands that still have their original members. I think Winger is such a misunderstood band. I know what I stand for, and I think the band could be represented by me. I try to set a very high bar in making the best records that we can make and not caring about all the prejudice that we’ve suffered over the years, and we pretty much steadfastly held to our own ideals. I think we’re very misunderstood. So maybe we’re the band that stands for people that are misunderstood.

MGM: So many of the bands that were being lauded back in the eighties and early nineties, when MTV were not being quite so kind to Winger, have fallen by the wayside, and yet you’re still going strong. Your music has really stood the test of time.

Kip: I appreciate that. The thing is that I never considered myself like a rock star. I was always like, okay, how do I make this song better? How do I make this chord progression work? How do I modulate? I was always so into the actual composing that I was always focused on that, it was only just a by-product of wanting to compose music that I had to think about marketing, or what’s the T shirt going to look like, or anything like that. Of course, when I was younger, it was a little more like I wanted to be a rock star. But as time has gone by, and it was always about the music, but it’s so much about the music now, that all I want to do is compose my next thing.

MGM: You’ve highlighted that the original four members of the band are all still together. That’s quite some feat after 35 years. What’s the secret to that longevity?

Kip: It’s very specifically just because we’re really good friends. We never got in fights. We just have a great time; everybody’s really funny, and it’s just a great hang. I wouldn’t be doing it if it wasn’t; life is too short to hang in a situation where you’re doing it just for the money or something like that. Even when we weren’t playing much, we were still texting each other all the time. We’re just good friends.

 MGM: Fans who have seen you play your acoustic gigs will have seen that camaraderie in action, as you’d often phone Reb, Rod or Kane Roberts mid show.

Kip: I still do that at my solo shows. Reb never answers.

MGM: The new Winger album comes out on Friday 5th May. This is your first album together since 2014’s ‘Better Days Comin’. What’s prompted you to put it out now?

Kip: It really just comes down to timing. Everybody was doing their own thing; Reb was really busy in Whitesnake, and I was busy doing a musical I wrote called ‘Get Jack’ that took me three years and then a lot of symphonic work. You know what, I never listen to my music that I’ve published, but last night I listened to that, and I thought, wow, there were some cool songs on that. I was thinking about putting the track ‘A Song for Nothing’ back in my solo show.

2019 is when we got together to do this album. And then COVID kind of wiped us all out. So, it would have been out a little earlier, but it was just basically because the timing wasn’t working and we were all very busy.

MGM: Most of the songs tend to be written by you and Reb. Is it the same with this album, and how does it come together?

Kip: It’s always been the same from day one. We sit down with a drum machine and write riffs and pick the best riffs. And then I come up with a melody and we kind of try to figure out if the riff is the verse or if it’s the chorus. I’m usually left to write the melodies and the lyrics myself, but Reb’s written some melodies. I did three songs by myself. ‘It all comes back around’, ‘Voodoo fire’, and ‘Do or die’. Not for any specific reason. It’s just when Reb and I wrote all the material, I had those songs, and we just picked the best songs. John Roth and I wrote ‘One Light to Burn’, but the core sound of the band is Reb’s guitar playing and my singing. That’s really what we stick to.

MGM: Fans who’ve heard the first two songs might have noticed a slightly darker, and slightly angrier edge to this music versus the work you’ve previously recorded. Is that a fair observation?

Kip: Yeah, that’s fair. It’s got some dark subject matter. Wait until you hear ‘Tears of blood’. That one’s great. It’s a track about people’s inner persecution. I have a lot of demons and I mention demons in ‘It all comes back around’ and maybe that could be a running theme about all my inner demons and stuff. It’s a pretty intense song.

MGM: What are the inner demons that you’re wrestling with Kip?

Kip: Well, I think everybody has inner demons. With humanity, basically we’re all the same. We all deal with a lot of self-doubt and self-criticism and things that you’ve experienced in life that were traumatic and they tend to continually shape your thoughts and cripple you in ways that you wouldn’t think of, especially when you’re older. Like, I had a lot of traumatic stuff when I was a kid that is now surfacing more. I don’t think I’m different than anybody. I think we’re all like this. I’m just being very honest about what’s going on. Things that have happened. Voices in my head, so to speak. And I think a lot of people could actually relate to that if they could admit it.

MGM: The lyrics on your first single ‘Proud Desperado’ include messages like “Nothing is clear in a river of tears” and “Where are Your heroes?” Has someone upset you, Kip?

Kip: Interestingly enough, I couldn’t bring that song home. I had some words for this, but I can’t make it work, and I ran into Desmond Child. He helped me with the words on that. That’s written by me, Reb and Desmond Child. And he really contributed a lot to that and did an amazing job. But it’s a dark setting. The interestingly thing about this album, it’s got all the original members on every single track. So, it’s really the definitive Winger album. It’s a little dark, but it’s like real life. I’m not trying to write meaningless rock songs. It’s a piece of art unto itself; and it’s going to have its own meaning to different people in different ways.

MGM: With such a lengthy career, how do you balance the fans’ appetite for your older material, whilst still keeping it fresh for yourselves as musicians and performers. Your original fans will always want to hear the songs that they grew up with, but they’re also written for a different time in your own lives. 

Kip: My approach is like; people love the song ‘Seventeen’ for what it is. Oh, and by the way, this is all the other stuff that I’ve got. I make a point, as you’ve seen in my solo shows, to really present the whole story. Of course, in the band, the band is the band. I’ve got Rob Beach, Rod Morganstein, Paul Taylor, and John, Roth, and we present as the band. So, it’s the legacy of the band. But me as an artist; I never have subscribed to like, oh, my God, I have to do this one thing because that’s how they know me. Moon Zappa said something very interesting to me. She’s like, “All you are is the last thing you did”. And I took that with me, and I thought, yeah, that’s really interesting because the last thing I did was this album. So right now, that’s what I am. But over time, you’re a conglomeration of all these things that you’ve done. So, yeah, I’m ‘Seventeen’, I did that, but I’m also all these other things. I’ve made composing the single most important thing that I’ve done, and composing in a very different way than most people would conceive of, like all my classical stuff. That has been my compass. That’s one demon that I don’t have; being trapped in the past.

MGM: You’re about to embark on the busiest touring year Winger have had for almost nine years. UK fans will be pleased to see you’re coming back with the band for the first time since 2014. With so many dates on this tour, how do you prepare for that mentally and physically?

Kip: I try not to think about it. When I think about it, I go into a panic because this stuff is really hard to sing and I’m really terrified. I’m classically trained, I work out, I don’t drink, I do everything to make my voice work, but sometimes it just doesn’t. So, I try not to think about it. I never look at my schedule until, like, the week before. I’m just like, ok, what are we doing this week? That’s it. I try to look away.

MGM: When you hit the UK, you’ll be supporting the Steel Panther guys. They might have started out as a bit of a parody of the industry, but they’ve become as successful, if not more successful, than a lot of the bands that they imitate. How did that tour come about?

Kip: I texted Michael Starr like, and said let’s do some shows. I mean, they’re buds, we’ve known each other a long time and they’re great musicians, and they’re fun. I just love those guys. They were like, do you want to go to the UK with us? I’m like, yes, let’s do it.

Their success is a testament to the people, and the fun vibe of the eighties. People like that. It’s not my thing, but I was there. That’s what I think is going to be so special about these shows; you’ll see the original thing and then you’ll see those guys doing what was kind of a parody, that has turned into what it actually was. I just think it’ll be a very special event.

MGM: Since you did the ‘Better Days Comin’ album in 2014, you’ve concentrated a lot of your time and energy on the ‘Get Jack’ musical and the ‘Ghosts’ ballet production. You’ve really diversified. How important was it for you to show different sides to your musical persona and explore different styles of composing?

Kip: I always wanted to write classical music. I never thought it was actually in my reach to have performances. I started studying it at a very low period in my life because I thought, you know what, screw it. I hear this music and I wasn’t good enough to manifest it, so I spent 15 years studying how to do it. I’ve been very lucky to get commissions and have major orchestras play my stuff, and the ballet was a huge success. I’ve known that I was going to do orchestra music since very early 16, 17,18. It took longer than it should have, to be honest with you, because I was kind of afraid that nobody’s going to play my shit. But it’s really what I hear. I hear very complex stuff and I just wanted to try to figure out how to do it. The optic that I’m very diverse is really just a by-product of me wanting to write a symphony or write a ballet or write a musical, and next up, an opera. I just shut up and do it. I don’t sit around and go, “Well, I don’t know”. I just figure out, that’s what I want to do. I have this motto. When I’m on my deathbed, I want to look back and go, what did I get done of the things that I really wanted to do? I do them. And I don’t want to be sitting on my deathbed going, “Fuck, I didn’t do that”. And that’s kind of how that happened, just by osmosis. It looks very diverse, but it’s really fun actually, because it’s all working.

MGM: The ‘Get Jack’ musical had some performances around New York a few years ago. It seemed like a quite a unique concept, the idea of the murdered women going back to get even with Jack the Ripper. What was it about the story that captivated you? And do you plan to take that musical further?

Kip: I met this guy, Damien Grey, and he was like, hey, I have this idea for Jack the Ripper. And I thought, “Yeah, whatever, dude, I don’t want to do that”. And he’s going, no, you don’t get it. It’s really about the women. And I thought, oh, well, that’s interesting. So, we started working with bits and pieces from the script and I was like, oh, my God, this is amazing. I love this. We’re still trying to get it up and running. It’s a really heavy lift. It’s extremely expensive. We had a producer, and then COVID wiped out the whole theatre world.

MGM: You’ve been doing this now for 45 years, since as a teenager in Blackwood Creek. Did you imagine that your journey would take the trajectory it has? And what continues to inspire you to write, record, and perform as an artist?

Kip: Just that I’m replete with ideas and I’m worried I won’t be able to get them all done. I’m filled with ideas that I got to just keep working with.

Winger will be supporting Steel Panther during their UK tour from 14th – 23rd May;

For tickets and more information:

Winger’s new album ‘Seven’ is released on 5th May




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