- Thu, 2010-09-09 15:07
21 year old Alex Winston spends her time collecting old instruments, watching punk documentaries and staying up all night making music in her basement. When we caught up with Alex she was yet to play outside the US, informing us rather excitedly of her desperation to visit far shores. She's just released The Basement Covers EP, a series of quirky pop interpretations of Mumford & Sons, Teddy Bears, The Rolling Stones and Jack Penate, resulting in comparisons to odd, catchy female artists rolling in thick and fast.
Our rather delightful conversation with the bubbly Detroit popstress centred around her only hobby; music. We chat about her love of simple melody, her strange collection of instruments, watching Bjork play live and her lengthy, organic process of sewing together layer upon layer of sound before she can decide whether a song is even worth pursuing.
"I Like Music because… music is beautiful.” Alex Winston
ILM: Hello Alex! Where are you at the moment? Are you in the studio?
Alex: No. I’m in my bed.
ILM: You’re in your bed?!
Alex: Haha! I’m a complete night owl. I write all my music at night. I probably go to bed at like five or six in the morning, so I get up at like ten or eleven or tweleve...
ILM: I wish I was in my bed :(
Alex: Yeah...it’s nice in here!
ILM: Tell us when you first fell in love with music?
Alex: I don’t know the exact moment but I grew up in a very musical household. My dad’s a musician as a hobby, he’s collected instruments all his life and it was important to him that I played. He bought me my first guitar when I was seven. Aside from that, it’s what I always wanted to do. When I was little I wanted to be a composer when I grew up. It was always there.
ILM: Who have been your biggest musical inspirations?
Alex: Um...it’s weird because with influences for me it’s not so much style, I admire certain people’s careers. I love old 50’s rock and roll. Chuck Berry is a really big influence for me. He was one of the first people to do what he does. I love him because his songs are so simple and so good. He really knows how to write a pop melody with wonderful lyrics. I really admire that! I’m also a sucker for female singers, anyone with a real voice – Joanna Newsom, Alison Krauss, Kate Bush. Really profound female singers that are doing something interesting. I love a lot of old country, Patsy Cline and Hank Williams.
ILM: Out of all the live shows you’ve seen, which have been the most memorable?
Alex: Bjork! I saw her about three years ago and she just blew my mind! I went with someone who wasn’t even a Bjork fan going into it, but then after they were....! That was inspiring and really moving. I aspire to be like that. It was such a breathtaking show, every aspect, the aesthetics, her voice, the whole performance was just incredible!
ILM: How would you describe the heart of your music? What sounds and structures do you tend to lean upon?
Alex: I don’t consider myself a good musician by any means! I’m not the most skilled guitar player or piano player, even though I play all these instruments. All my songs are very simple, I try and keep them like that. I really love writing melodies. I think that’s what carries my songs, coming up with something interesting over something basic. That’s my favourite part. I love writing lyrics as well, but the melody is just the main part for me.
ILM: Do you remember the first song you ever wrote?
Alex: I used to write little songs when I was twelve. My mum’s saved all the scraps! I remember the first song that I sat and recorded by myself. It was called Wanna Make You Smile. I wrote it when I was fourteen in my basement with a four track.
ILM: How do you make music now? What keeps you awake for so many hours at night...
Alex: I’m a really big fan of GarageBand, the recording programme on my computer. It’s really hard for me to sit with my guitar and say to myself “ok, let’s write a song!” Usually I want to build around something. I’m such a control freak with my music. I want to hear something as close to the final product as possible. I try and write every part of the song, that’s what keeps me up! I’ll try and do 120 tracks on one song in one day. Then I’ll take it to my producers. I like to give them something that’s nearly done. Even simple songs have a lot of layers. I have to hear the drums, guitars, piano and bass before I even know if I like the song.
ILM: Do you have a lot of discarded songs?
Alex: Yeah! I have a ton! I have loads of unfinished songs, verses, choruses....!
ILM: Why do you decide you don’t like something?
Alex: It’s the excitement at the end of it. It depends on the kind of song. A lot of my songs are very upbeat, if I can dance around to it and if I find myself coming back to it more than once then I know it will work. Also, it depends whether it’s something my producers will like.
ILM: Does their opinion matter a lot to you?
Alex: Oh yeah. I send them stuff ALL the time. Sometimes they’ll send things back and say “I know you can do better.” And they’re always right!
ILM: How do you approach lyric writing? What inspires your words and phrases?
Alex: Usually I’ll just sing what comes out of my mouth as I’m working. That usually ends up being the final lyric choice. Not because I haven’t thought about it, it just tends to make sense with how I’m feeling. I’ll build around it that way. Lyrics are often the last part of my song, it’s all quite organic.
ILM: So it’s all very natural to you...
Alex: Yeah. I don’t carry a notepad. I probably should! Haha! I always come up with lyrics after I have the melody.
ILM: How does this whole experience relate to playling live?
Alex: I’ve yet to play a song with my new project and new music! I love having fun with my songs, I hope they make people feel good – I feel good playing them! I don’t just stand there, I like to bounce around and have fun! Hopefully other people will want to do the same! It’s been a couple of years since I’ve been on stage, so I’m really excited!
ILM: Will you be nervous before your first show?
Alex: Um...yeah...but the reason I’ll be nervous won’t be for my songs, it’s because I now have a really big band! It’s gonna be interesting, there are eight people in my band! A lot of components!
ILM: What have you been listening to recently?
Alex: I’ve been listening to a very random mix! A lot of Spiritualized, Joy Division and some eighties stuff. A lot of early punk, Minutemen and things like that. Randomly I’ve also been listening to nineties and early 2000 RnB, like Boys II Men! I don’t know why. I become obsessed with certain things. I’m really into punk documentaries at the moment, but I’ve also been watching loads of youtube videos of RnB acts that I loved when I was thirteen years old! Hahah! Those are the two things I’m obsessed with right now!
ILM: What are your future plans?
Alex: I know that I want this to be my career and my life. I’d like to be writing music and recording myself for a while. Not necessarily as a pop star, I would love to just maintain a musical and creative career. I love being on the road. I’ve yet to go overseas. I’ve played almost every state in the US! I’d love to travel with my music. I want to write with other people and for other people...
ILM: Come to the UK!
Alex: I want to so badly!
ILM: Hopefully soon!
Alex: Yes! My manager is from there too. I’ve been making friends! A lot of music people are coming over here from the UK, I want to go there A LOT!
ILM: Anything else we should know?
Alex: The problem is I don’t....well, this is a dilemma in my life right now, I don’t have ANYTHING going on in my life apart from music! I need a hobby! Music is all my life revolves around. I suppose the only other hobby I have is that I love to collect instruments from places I’ve been around the country. I love old instruments!
ILM: Ooo! Cool! How many do you have?
Alex: I don’t even know....an accordion, numerous guitars, so many little melodicas, harmonicas and little shakers. I love instruments, beautiful instruments. I really want to get a Pedal Steel (pictured) but they’re expensive and hard to play! I know I should be getting better at all the instruments I already have, but I just keep collecting more!
ILM: Do you have a favourite in your collection?
Alex: I LOVE, love, love my accodian. It’s so beautiful. It’s white and gold with pearl keys. It’s the hardest instrument! I thought I’d be able to play it because I play piano, but I totally over-estimated my ability! It’s so hard! I also have a red Gibson 339 guitar which they gave me! I love that! I’ve done so many cool things with it and played loads of places with it, so it’s really special to me now!