Kip Winger’s journey in music begins as a rock god in the band Winger, then curves through classical music study, and intersects with a Grammy nomination. In an exclusive interview, Jenna Jakes discusses music, creativity, and classical with Kip Winger.
JJ: First, I want to send a huge congrats to you on the Grammy nomination and the #1 for Conversations with Nijinksy. A lot has happened in the past year: the Grammy nom, #1 spot on the charts, and the latest I read is that the Nashville Symphony will feature Conversations with Nijinksy this upcoming season. How does that all feel for you? I would imagine it is a combination of different things both personally and professionally.
KW: It’s amazing. I just watched a video I did twenty years ago where I said in twenty years I would like to be doing orchestral music. It’s a good feeling to know that I made good on that promise to myself; it coming into fruition. It came with a lot of blood, sweat, and tears, and it’s very rewarding to have it pay off. With the Grammy nomination, I was shocked because my whole approach to this is a labor of love. To be acknowledged; to be in a group of composers that esteemed is a huge honor. I appreciated that a lot and having Nashville Symphony is incredible because I think they have won 11 Grammys. So, I’m very excited about it and pushing forward.
JJ: One of the things I notice in all your music is the ability to write a story. Your music, whether classical or rock, takes us somewhere emotionally, visually, etc. For example, while listening to Conversations, I was transported somewhere. I couldn’t stop listening and with each listen I unfolded another part of the story. I didn’t just feel the emotion of the music, I could see the story happening. Is this a goal when you write?
KW: It’s very hard to describe. People hear music and they say, “I was just following what I hear in my head. ” So, I largely follow what I hear in my head. For me, it’s like going into a trance state. I hear the music. When you have an idea and are working that idea, there are a lot of variables that come into play. But, with a lot of hard work comes the ability to manifest what you’re hearing. For example, let’s say you’re a karate student. You’re never going to kick your leg really high and do all the fancy tricks without practicing. Or if you’re a ballet dancer, you can’t do a double pirouette to the knee without the work. After the hard work, comes this extra element of transcendence and the harder you work with the rudiments, the easier it is for the transcendence to work through you.
Early in my life, I had this transcendent feeling in music and my music developed over time through sheer force of wanting to become better at my skills. It took a long time to gain the skill to unlock what I was originally hearing . After I gained enough skills, I was able to kick in to the transcendent effect of what artists generally see, which is you see something in an instant and you have to go backwards to find out how to manifest it.
In regards to the story with the Nijinksy piece, I was reading books, his diaries, and a lot of information about him. I was imagining him choreography these works. I was literally in a conversation with Nijinsky about things <such as>…how does this work…what would you do here? Imaginary, but never the less, telling a story. With Ghosts, <writing/composing> came out of a deep place of emotion for me.
When I’m writing, it’s highly emotional. I think that there’s an emotional narrative, and music often means something to different people at different times. So, my narratives that I might be feeling might be something different for you.
(Conversations with Nijinsky: I. Chaconne de feu · San Francisco Ballet Orchestra.C.F. Kip Winger: Conversations with Nijinsky, Ghosts & A Parting Grace ℗ 2016 VBI Classic Recording. Released on: 2016-10-14. Conductor: Martin West. Orchestra: San Francisco Ballet Orchestra.Composer: Charles Frederick Kip Winger)
JJ: Related to creating a story is that you work in multiple genres of music. It would seem to me that working in multiple genres would really help you overall as a musician. Do you find that working with rock and classical together helps you be better at your craft?
KW: Yes, but it really comes down to what you’re hearing. Going back to the previous answer, you’re better when you own your skill. My life put me in a situation where I grew up in rock bands. I was in a band with my brothers and I was very influenced by that whole world: 30 years of rock, prog, classic rock, pop, 70s pop, etc. That’s ingrained in me to begin with, but I got to the point in rock music where I couldn’t push any further because there is a limit, unless you want to do progressive music like Dream Theater, but I wasn’t interested in that. Mostly, when I close my eyes in creativity and inspiration, it’s always in the form of a classical backdrop. I was faced with this issue of “this is what I’m hearing, but I’m basically illiterate.” At 35, I set out to do what you would do at twenty years old going to music school. I had to go backwards to get my education.
And yes, I do find that one feeds the other. I’m always searching for ways to have an orchestra have a more powerful sound. But, that wouldn’t have happened had I not taken the time to understand the other side. Learning classical composition and writing music in that world is like learning French. You can’t go to a French restaurant, speak English, and order exactly what you want in the most literal way. You have to learn how to speak French. It’s a whole other language. It doesn’t have anything to do with the rock world other than the notes. That’s really the only comparison. Emotionally, there are tons of comparisons. A lot of similarities in emotions, but not much in articulating.
JJ: You had mentioned you try to put a bigger sound into classical. Does any of the classical cross over into the rock that you write at all?
KW: No. I’m not really a fan of putting a rock thing together with a classical thing. Straight concert music with a rock band doesn’t work for me. It always ends up being the orchestra accompanying the rock band and it takes away from the nuance of the orchestra.
(Ghosts: I. Misterioso · San Francisco Ballet Orchestra. C.F. Kip Winger: Conversations with Nijinsky, Ghosts & A Parting Grace. ℗ 2016 VBI Classic Recording. Released on: 2016-10-14. Conductor: Martin West. Orchestra: San Francisco Ballet Orchestra. Composer: Charles Frederick Kip Winger)
JJ: It seems like you aren’t the kind of person to rest on your laurels. You’re always moving forward. Are you working on newer stuff now?
KW: I’m in the middle of writing a theatre piece that’s similar to an opera, but it’s not opera singing. It’s more of a musical. You can go to the website getjackmusical.com, or the Facebook page Get Jack Musical to check it out.
JJ: Very cool. Where do you think that will go from there?
KW: I have no idea. I never embark on a project with an expectation. You can’t create artistically pure by expecting the outcome. You just have to water the plant and see what it turns into.
JJ: Finally, what can fans expect at your acoustic show?
KW: It’s a mix of all my material from Winger and my solo music. People are shocked when they see it. It’s not Kip with a guitar sitting on a bench under a tree. It’s a rock show. It’s very powerful and it’s interactive with the audience. I highly recommend it because I have so much fun doing it that everybody in the place has a lot a fun.
Kip Winger’s journey in music began in the rock world, then curved into classical music study, intersected with a Grammy nomination, and continues to push forward. For more information on Kip’s latest projects, news, and to purchase music, you can visit his website at www.kipwinger.com. Kip will be at Phat Headz in Green Bay this Friday, March 10 for an acoustic show. Get your tickets at Rockerchix Promoters.
~Jenna Jakes, WOGB