An Interview with Kip Winger

Interview by Ray Van Horn, Jr. - January 2007

Somewhere on the course of heavy music’s path, it was decided that the name Winger be stigmatized for eternity. Maybe it was the quick and sudden rise to fame that Kip Winger and his entourage enjoyed in the late eighties, or maybe it was because at one time, Winger was perceived as an ultimate “chick band.” Even The Beatles were scrutinized in their early years for the very same reason. Wherever the tide turned for Kip, one thing is for sure, a lot of people know less about the man and his personal turmoil that goes beyond becoming the butt-end joke on an MTV cartoon. Kip Winger has faced greater losses, namely the tragic loss of his wife, and maybe that will make people pause a second and reflect. Sometimes people hate without knowing why they hate; it’s part of the human fallacy, to go with a common belief instead of trying to find some sort of empathy and understanding. As Winger re-forms after a thirteen year hiatus, empathy fuels the rally toward their fourth album, one that attempts to put a more realistic spin on the soldiers laying down their lives in the Iraq war. Kip Winger has spent time entertaining at soldier bases, and through his own introspection, brings "Winger IV" out bearing his message of empathy. Even Beavis and Butthead can’t guffaw through that. I want to start off with the early years, and I’m sure the average fan might not realize that you originally started the band as “Wingerz” and you guys opened for bands like Twisted Sister. What was that whole experience like? Was it intimidating trying to roll with a band like Twisted in the early goings of your career?

Kip Winger: We were filled with piss and vinegar back then and we were like ‘We’re going to open with Rush!’ I was more intimidated by how many people came to see the show. Pound-for-pound musician-wise, it wasn’t a problem. They were cool by letting us open for them and stuff. It was a little intimidating because we were from Denver and they were really popular, but musically it wasn’t intimidating. You went through an intense period of songwriting—something like 57 songs, I believe—that you wrote in 1984. I know you wrote Kix’s “Bang Bang,” but I didn’t know that you’d written “Gail” for Alice Cooper’s "Raise Your Fist and Yell" album, which is my favorite song on that album and is actually my favorite Alice album. I know you have a strong affinity for classical music, which is reflected in the harpsichord melody of “Gail,” and as Winger is known for more straightforward rock, I imagine a song like “Gail” is like a quiet little feather in your cap?

Kip Winger: I appreciate you noticing that. It was really a cool thing for me. I remember they asked me to do some kind of classical thing and yeah, it was a little counterpoint exercise. I was really happy about getting it on there, though I was kind of bummed out about the way it ended up—there was one little element of the sound that didn’t make it on the album—but it was really cool and I was happy to be on that album at all, you know? It’s a cool song. Especially the way it leads brilliantly into “Roses on White Lace!” I know at one time you studied dance and you had a brief stint in a musical in Colorado. What do you feel that added to your showmanship in the eighties, if anything at all, and do you feel it’s something that musicians ought to investigate themselves on their career paths?

Kip Winger: Not necessarily. I’m a little eclectic. I’m kind of a weirdo, you know? (laughs)

Kip Winger: I studied dance and was really into it. I felt like I got a lot out of it for what I do in performing and everything, but I couldn’t recommend it. The discipline is just grueling, you know? Most people don’t really want to do that, so mostly for me it was just a different artistic set of modes, all adding up to where I wanted to be musically. I went through a lot of ballet and I listened to a lot of classical music because that’s what they play when you work out. Nowadays people are starting to see the parallels between heavy metal and classical music, but back then, I can imagine if you were trying to tell people when you’re playing hard rock that you had a lot of classical influences, they looked at you funny.

Kip Winger: Yeah, I mean for me, I never drew lines that separated them. It was all twelve notes in western music and they’re all connected, from my point-of-view. I was kind of shocked when people thought it was stupid or whatever. I was like, ‘Huh?’ I didn’t get it. Going back to Alice for just a second, you and Kane Roberts became known through the "Constrictor" and "Raise Your Fist and Yell" albums, and as Alice regained his footing in the eighties, it gave a taste of the high profile rock'n'roll show that you would go on to have with Winger. Particularly in a revival period for Alice Cooper, what kind of knowledge did you gain from that whole experience for your future endeavors?

Kip Winger: A lot of stuff. I learned about touring, especially, because we were always on tour and I really got to see firsthand how that all went down and that was important. When we made the records, I got a little more experience with making a record. Some of the biggest influence was how to deal with the press, learning how to hang out and do interviews, seeing what that was all about. It was really a good all-around rock star boot camp. It was pretty cool, he was a cool dude. He was always very encouraging to doing your own band. He was the one who suggested that you just use your last name for the band, right?

Kip Winger: He was, actually. He thought it was a cool name, though I never liked it. We had to use it because we ran out of ideas and at the final hour we were getting sued for using Sahara. Right before you put out the first Winger album, you had a contribution to Bob Dylan’s "Down in the Groove" album. That had to have been something, particularly right when you’re about to hit stride as a solo artist. How’d you get involved with Bob Dylan and what are your perspectives on working with him?

Kip Winger: Actually, I was just kind of in the studio and I got asked to play bass on a song that they were working on. I was just lucky enough to be in the studio at the time and to just happen to end up on it. I never hung out with Bob Dylan or anything. I’m just really psyched that I got my name on the record for actually playing on that thing. Regardless, there’s not a lot of people who can say they’ve played with Dylan in any sense! I want to borrow the title of your first solo album, "This Conversation Seems Like a Dream," to describe Winger’s rise to fame in the late eighties. From a rock fan’s perspective, it came so quickly, though I know it took a little bit of time for that first album to catch on. Once it did, did you feel the whole events thereafter were something like a dream?

Kip Winger: It was kind of like ‘Wow, how did that happen?’ We put that record out and the record was dead in the water for the first six months. We were just lucky enough to figure out how to make it all come together. MTV was really a big part of it because once “Madelaine” got on MTV, the fans started reacting and then radio picked it up and figured that the songs were cool. It all started to happen and we were like, ‘Wow!’ The stars started to align and all sudden we sell 30,000 a day! It was kind of weird. I don’t know what to say about it. It was just one of those things where it happened really fast. It wasn’t like a dam that kind of works up from the bottom, you know, like playing clubs and then 30,000 albums and then 50,000 and then 100,000. The stars align and there we were. I was personally into thrash in the late eighties and honestly, I found it real difficult to adjust to all that was happening in the metal mainstream at the time, but I always stuck by bands like Ratt and I even took to Winger, actually. You guys took some nasty lumps after "In the Heart of the Young" came out, but I’ve read that a lot of bands—many of the bigger names in the industry—could be found at your gigs. It’s kind of a vicious cycle when you stop and analyze it all.

Kip Winger: There was nothing I could do. I didn’t know any of the people doing it and once you’re out in the public and your name is out there, they can do whatever they want. There’s not much recourse, so people just decided to pick me as the fall guy for the eighties hair bands! (laughs) A lot of bands singled me out personally, which was kind of a drag, but it kept my name going! Musically, I’ve got no problem with anybody. I’ll take on anybody. Bring it on! You bring me any single musician from any of those eras and I’ll take them on. You know, it’s interesting that (a certain well-known band) turned into what they were claiming I was all about! They turned into the poser guys, and that’s exactly what they were claiming me as. It’s weird how that happened! Anyway… It’s been thirteen years since the "Pull" album and you’ve rallied the lineup back from that album for "Winger IV." In that time, you’ve had a long period filled with trials that I don’t think most people are aware of. With your side projects and three solo records including "Songs From the Ocean Floor," you’ve had a chance to do some soul searching musically. Where has all of this personal introspection taken you that led to the reformation of Winger? 

Kip Winger: It’s interesting, because really what I do is I just keep trying to get better as a musician and try to find more interesting ways to work with music. My solo records continue to be a big experimental fertile ground for coming up with new ways to use my voice musically. I don’t like to get caught into any one genre. I had gone far enough with that where I could come back to the Winger stuff and kind of compose a record that sounded fresh and also was interesting and challenging musically and lyrically. I probably couldn’t have done that had I just kept going on with Winger. It was really those interim years that were giving me the experience to break out of the mold, so to speak. If you listen—or if you were to figure out some of the actual riffs and stuff—they’re really complex riffs. They have nothing to do with much heavy metal. Not all of it, but there’s stuff in “Right Up Ahead” for example. It’s a really complex riff and there’s some stuff in “M16” and “Generica” where I just tried to push it out there as far as I could and still keep it inside of a rock song. I think "Winger IV" is the first record where I was really able to look back to what I was hearing in my head without fumbling through my inability to skillfully portray what I’m hearing in my head. This is the first time where it’s exactly what I’m hearing in my head. I know "Winger IV" is a bit of a shout-out to the troops overseas, since you brought up “M16,” and there’s also “Blue Suede Shoes” and “Livin’ Just to Die.” It sounds like Winger is lending a bit of empathy when there’s a lot of heavy music that’s protesting the whole cause. I’ll leave my personal politics at the door and leave you to your comments on the matter.

Kip Winger: Well, I don’t agree with the war and you can read it in “Can’t Take it Back,” which is like a letter to the White House, but I really support all the guys and women that are doing it over there. I guess it sounds cliché, but I’ve played military bases and I’ve actually sat around and hung out with those guys, and they’re cool guys! Can you imagine actually doing that? It’s where I got the idea. I was like, ‘Holy fuck!’ I couldn’t imagine going through boot camp with a fucking M16 on my back and hearing ‘Okay, you’re going out there, there’s a fucking bunch of insurgents. You’re on the front line, go for it!’ I couldn’t fucking imagine doing that, you know? Absolutely. 

Kip Winger: So I wrote “Right Up Ahead” and “M16” specifically about that, what it must fucking feel like, not like (sarcastic singing voice) ‘We support youuuuuuuu, you’re an American!’ none of that kind of bullshit! I’m like, ‘Wow, your head must be splitting open trying to fight for something you believe in,’ but when you’re right in the middle of that, you have to wonder. It’s gotta be hard, you know? So I’ll support them all day long. I’m not really into it. I think it’s a mistake and I think they completely did it wrong. That’s how I feel as well. You can’t hate the people that are there, but you can hate the powers that be.

Kip Winger: They signed their lives away when they joined the army or Marines, man. They have no choice. I agree. Switching topics, I’ve seen Reb (Beach, guitarist) doing a lot of press the past few years, so I’ve figured a Winger reunion was inevitable—particularly in light of the metal revival we’ve got going on right now—but does it feel normal again having the Winger guys around you, or does it feel different after all of this time?

Kip Winger: It’s very normal, because we’ve always been such good friends, but definitely it’s strange. Rod (Morgenstein, drummer) and me had a little thing going when we played…we’re a good live band, yet we’re always pissed off that we weren’t bigger than we were! (laughs) We were like, ‘Fuck! We’re so good, this is great, but we suck because nobody comes to see us!’ Rod’s familiar from being in Dixie Dregs, and they never really got that big, either, so it’s kind of a legacy of our lives to be cranking out good music but it’s not a band that a lot of people really got, you know? It’s kind of crazy, because it’s not just Winger, a lot of the bands from that period ... you have your diehards from the day, but let’s face it, most of that demographic have all moved on, they have families, don’t give a shit about rock music, much less music at all, really. This is stuff I see all around me, so trying to get your demographic back and reach out to a younger generation I’m sure is like playing catch-up from when grunge killed everyone off.

Kip Winger: Yeah, but grunge came and went faster than rock! There were only a few good bands out of that whole thing. It just came and went and it left the same way we did. It was just a bunch of people feeling sorry for themselves. I mean, Chris Cornell came out of it and he’s fucking killer, and there’s a few other people, but I mean, it didn’t produce that much, I didn’t think. We were just offshoots of other bands from the seventies, you know? Grunge was just weird. It came along because everybody was…it was inevitable because the hard rock bands, we were all just a little too happy. That’s true, there was a lot of party and feeling good ambience to the whole thing versus now where everything is…well, that’s it right there. There’s too much of everything, too much choice, too much shit, there’s just too much! 

Kip Winger: Yeah. I don’t have a lot of hope for the music business, honestly. It’s really in disarray. There’s not a lot out there with record sales dwindling. It’s pretty brutal, actually. I mean, Tower Records are out of business! Dude, there will be a time when kids won’t even know what fucking CDs are, let alone records! It’s strange. No doubt. I’m fearing the day my walls of CDs become obsolete! Last thing, are there days anymore that you’d just like to give Mike Judge a kick in the ass?

Kip Winger: I just don’t get it. I’d love to ask him what the fuck. He even put my name in a King of the Hill episode like ten years later! God, I really must’ve done something to get under his skin!

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Copyright © 2007 by R. Scott Bolton. All rights reserved.
Revised: 31 Jul 2018 23:38:08 -0400