It's not a new thing to find a creative soul in NYC. It's a city which is heralded as the epic-centre of cultural happenings and a hub for artistic endeavours in each borough. What is significant, is how each person can tell a unique story that differs from the person sitting next to them.

Take Alex Winston for example. If you were to merely read about her online you could be forgiven for just thinking 'oh another singer based in New York.' But talk to her for longer than a minute and you swiftly begin to realise just how wrong you were. Alex Winston is a singer but she's also an honest-individual who doesn't shy away from talking about the difficulties she faced towards making her upcoming-sophomore album. I got to sit down with Ms. Winston a few days back and learn not only who she is but also where she hopes to go.

When was the start of recording this album and did you know you were even making an album at first?
I had about a hundred false starts towards making this album and a lot of that was trying to make the album when I thought I was ready but wasn't. And I went through a pretty extensive period of writers-block where I just couldn't pin down the sound I wanted for the songs. That all rounded itself out about nine months ago.

It's interesting because you don't seem to hear people use the phrase 'writers-block' so much anymore. With that, were you able to recognize right away that you were experiencing writers-block or did that take a while to notice?
I think it was quite immediate because I just kept feeling a wall towards writing. I think that came about from depression and just an unshakable lack of motivation towards writing. I felt very stuck creatively and I felt like there was just a massive block in my life.

Wow, and that has to be such a hard thing to go through when you love performing and just being involved in music as well.
Exactly. It definitely was.


"I can never write while I'm on the road, my brain is just in two completely different places when I'm touring and when I'm writing music."


The last time I saw you was when you supported Grouplove. How did that tour differ from your previous touring experiences?
The last couple of years I've spent a lot of time touring in the UK doing my own headlining shows and I never really had the opportunity to play the rest of the US. I've done East Coast shows and New York shows but not an extensive US run before, so getting to tour with Grouplove was a great opportunity to do that, as well as playing in front of someone else's audience. It was great gaining fans that way, and just being around those people (Grouplove) was the best part. They're such great people and their crowds are full of people that are just accepting towards new music. There's a bit of a quality among them where they'll trust whoever it is Grouplove tasks with opening for them.

Yeah that definitely is a great thing about their crowd, they're a very welcoming audience.
Yeah, their shows are as far from a standoffish environment than you can be. And also we got to do some dates with them and MSMR so that was one of the best experiences ever.

It must've been! Especially with how close you are with Ryan (Grouplove drummer) and Lizzy (MSMR singer), that had to have been such a great time.
[Laughs] it was! Just a big family tour sort of.

Did you write some of the album while you were on the road?
No, I never do that. I can never write while I'm on the road, my brain is just in two completely different places when I'm touring and when I'm writing music.

That makes sense to me though. Like one of the things about touring is that you're always waiting around but at the same time your mind is always 'on' sort to speak so I'd imagine it'd be a difficult thing to sit down and just write for a couple of minutes.
I don't even pick up the phone when I'm on tour [laughs] my mom wants to kill me because of it. There's so much attention that a tour requires that whenever I'm on one my brain kind of shuts off.

I know what you mean. Whenever I've done traveling for festivals or with bands I've found the aspect of juggling tour life and regular life quite difficult. So does that mean the majority of the songs were written here in New York?
A majority of them were, yeah. I also wrote a bit in LA, especially with my good friend Dan. We wrote about four songs together but the album was mostly recorded here.

When you were writing with Dan do you feel that you two kind of inspired one another?
Absolutely, and that's definitely why we wanted to keep writing/doing music together. I think collaboration has to always be like that, when there's a connection and complementation of one another.


"Going out and living life, having your heart broken, having a great night out... it's all very important."


What would you say has turned out to be a major difference in how this album was made in contrast to the last one?
I feel excited about where I am now honestly. The last time I was juggling around labels and there's just a lot of madness towards making/releasing a first album. I honestly didn't even know how the album was going to be released while I was writing it [laughs] so with this time I'm actually quite relieved more because I know I always want to do this and I'm happy with the outcome.

And going back to the writers-block, it can be such a harrowing thing to deal with but in reality a semi-positive, in that you'll experience so many other things in your life that now you have more to write about.
It's funny you say that because when I was having that block I was going through a very transitional period in my life. And whenever I thought I didn't have much to write about I actually had an entire albums worth of material. I never expected it to be that way, especially while living it, you don't stand in a shitty situation in your life and think right away 'this is going to be a song' you know? But it took me a long time to realize that was what I should be writing about. Going out and living life, having your heart broken, having a great night out... it's all very important.

I bet if the Alex of today would go back to talk to the Alex back than about this album she wouldn't believe it at all.
Definitely not at all [laughs].

Do you find the location/frame of mind that you're in is very important towards how your songs come out?
Mmm....maybe. I actually don't know fully. I think I need to just be in a comfortable environment. I don't think the specifics are as important to me as just having space and quiet. The studio environment I was just in had the perfect vibe to me, and writing in my apartment as well.

That's great to hear because I've noticed a duality with some other musicians when it comes to that. I've been to apartments where you wouldn't have known at all that a musician lived there.
Well you know of how Nick Cave does it too right?

How he puts on a suit, sits down in his office and writes?
Yeah that! That just has to hit the spot in feeling like you're doing something. I don't wear a suit when I write [laughs] but I do get having the right gear and just mode.

Was it difficult finding the right producer for this record or easy?
It was actually very difficult. I think picking a producer was one of the major things I kept over thinking actually. I just felt like a producer had to be someone that was going to take the album somewhere that I couldn't. That's partially true that that's what a producer does, but looking back now I think it was an aspect of confidence, especially because I produce now too. It became more about someone who could relate to me and could be passionate.

So I met this amazing woman who has now become one of my closest friends after this entire process [laughs]. Her name is Catherine Marks and she produced the album, along with me and my bandmate Tommy. I think we both caught each other at a very good moment in both of our lives. I just needed someone that I could connect with as much as someone who was skilled.

It's amazing to hear that, especially with what we mentioned before about making a first album/second album. The producer aspect to, it's almost as though the skies the limit for your second album but it has to make sense.
Yeah and all of that definitely contributed to the false starts that I mentioned before. Looking back now, I was just quite insecure but didn't know how to approach it or even recognize it. Making this album ended up feeling like the way making an album should feel like. It felt like how a band would approach making an album and at the end of the day I learned that that's how I want to approach making albums.

And that's fantastic as well because so many of the bands/musicians out there that we love have producers that they stick with over the years that just understand what it is that they want to do.
That's how I feel about Catherine and Tommy. I'd be more than happy to do another album with them like this.

And you'd never really have to worry about the album sounding the same because you're always going through new things.
Yeah absolutely, I mean I don't want the album after this to sound like this album [laughs].

Maybe more cowbell?
Well there is always room for more cowbell [laughs].

Very true. Is there a prominent aspect of your life that you feel shows on this album more than anything else?
Not exactly, but only because it's just an all personal album. The first album was a very story-telling type of album. It had nothing personal on it really and it was very...


"Things like heartbreak, being lonely, depression... these are things that everybody goes through and has happened to them. I just didn't know how to talk about it in a creative way and I just felt like I eventually had to let go of that and just write."


Observational?
Yeah exactly! It was more of a concept and with this new album it was like 'ok, these songs are about what's happened in my life. On one hand it was refreshing to write that way but it was also difficult because I just never thought that I'd be writing songs like this really. I had to come to terms with the fact that people wanted to relate to me.

My first album might've been quirky and fun but people didn't feel it was that accessible really, at least lyrically. I knew the meaning of the lyrics but I think it was difficult for some people. This album is more immediate in that you'll hear the songs and know what it is that I was feeling. Things like heartbreak, being lonely, depression... these are things that everybody goes through and has happened to them. I just didn't know how to talk about it in a creative way and I just felt like I eventually had to let go of that and just write.

Do you feel that this album is a reaction to how you made your first one in a way? That you had to get the quirky/fun side of you out to write the more personal songs?
It's just what I was into really, the way the first album was. I mean, I'd do things and write songs immediately about them, like people I met or documentaries and things like that. Songwriting was just a lot more fluid in that regard. This time around it was exhausting but it had to happen this way.

And now with the personal aspect of the songs I'd imagine there'd be a bit of worry towards whether or not people will understand you, yeah?
Kind of. I think with this album they will more so than the first one [laughs].

When you think about performing live now do you find it easy to strike a contrast between these new songs and old songs?
Yeah It's funny you bring it up because my bandmate texted me recently to ask what old songs I wanted to have on the setlist at 2:30AM. On my next tour I'm going out with Neon Trees, and their audience probably doesn't know me at all, so hypothetically I could go out and play completely new songs but I do find enjoyment from my old songs.

And they're also a part of who you are, so I'd imagine it'd feel strange not delving into them.
Exactly. I think we'll be doing three old ones! I'm excited about touring with Neon Trees because they seem to have a similar crowd to Grouplove and it'll just be great getting out to the west coast finally to play some shows.


"I just want people to enjoy it and do whatever the fuck they want with it honestly."


How did We Got Nothing come about and how different is the end product to how you had originally envisioned the song?
I wrote that one with Dan actually, along with Ariel Pink! It's sort of about the idea of losing...everything and realizing that there's no point in....it's kind of like love coming from having nothing. It's a specific story that I don't feel is as specific at the same time, because in life good things can come from bad situations all the time. There is a more intricate story involved [laughs] but the 'fuck it' aspect of dealing with a bad situation and just feeling positive, that to me is important.

Especially when there's a bit of an internal fight with just being a human when you think about it. There needs to be a moment where you accept the bad thing happening, whatever it is. When I heard the song it had a vibe of celebration to me. Of acceptance and being cheerful.
It does have those vibes and it's about accepting the fact that you can find love in a place that you didn't expect to find it.

Which is a beautiful thing about life as well. When you think about it really, the people you now love who are in your life. If you look back to when you first met them, you would've never expected to love those people I bet. After you finish writing a song do you find yourself feeling hopeful that the listener has a better understanding of who you are or do you feel that that's solely the listeners responsibility?
I think the latter of that. I just want people to take whatever they want out of my songs. I want them to know that it's a really honest expression of my self in the songs but I also want people to use my music the way I use music in general, and that's to find my own interpretations and meanings in songs. I just want people to enjoy it and do whatever the fuck they want with it honestly [laughs].


Alex Winston's forthcoming sophomore album is out this summer on 300 Entertainment. Check out 'Careless', along with her forthcoming US dates:

  • June Dates:
  • 06 - Seattle, WA - Showbox *
  • 07 - Portland, OR - Wonder Ballroom *
  • 09 - San Francisco, CA - The Fillmore *
  • 11 - Los Angeles, CA - The Fonda Theatre *
  • 12 - Las Vegas, NV - The Pool at The Cosmopolitan *
  • 15 - Englewood, CO - Gothic Theater *
  • 17 - Austin, TX - Emo's Alternative Lounge *
  • 18 - Dallas, TX - Granada Theater *
  • 19 - Houston, TX - House of Blues *
  • 22 - St. Louis, MO - The Ready Room *
  • 24 - Grand Rapids, MI - The Intersection *
  • 25 - Minneapolis, MN - Varsity Theater *
  • 26 - Council Bluffs, IA - Stir Cove at Harrah's Casino *
  • * = w/ Neon Trees