How Pop Phenom Alex Winston Overcame a Vocal Hemorrhage for Her Second LP
The Michigan native talks facing down physical ailments and her fears of introspection
Last January, Brooklyn based vocalist Alex Winston suffered a hemorrhaged capillary in her vocal chords. It happened days before the brood-pop singer’s first concert in eight months, the bulk of which had been spent crafting an as-yet-untitled sophomore album, due for a July release via 300 Entertainment. “I was in the middle of a song, and all of a sudden I just had no control over my voice,” she recounts over coffee in early March. “I was wobbling. My bandmates just looked at me like, ‘What is happening?’ And I knew something was very, very wrong. My whole vocal cord was pretty much immobilized.”
That’s not what an artist trying to make a name for herself wants to hear, especially when her 2012 debut, King Con, went widely under-recognized by both critics and audiences. “I had such crazy writer’s block,” she says of the months and years following the release of her first full-length. “It was a pretty tumultuous time in my life, and I was just not inspired. It took me a long time to realize that this album was going to be about me.”
Judging from the first two tracks on her upcoming effort — the throbbing, radio-ready “Careless” and the heart-heavy battle cry “We Got Nothing” — it’s clear that Winston’s lyrics and melodies do face inward more than her previous work. “I felt like I owed it to myself to write about things that were happening to me and to not pretend like they weren’t substantial enough to write about,” she says.
To keep the LP in line with her goals, the 27-year-old performer enlisted producer Catherine Marks (PJ Harvey, Death Cab For Cutie), who came aboard months into the project’s development. “There was a very strong connection between us right off the bat,” she says of Marks. “She was so passionate about the songs, too, which was something that was really inspiring for me because I feel like maybe in her personal life, she was relating to what we were writing about.” (In addition to Marks, Winston also worked with producer-of-the-moment Ariel Rechtshaid, on the romantic woe that is “The One That Stayed.”)
Winston says that, thematically speaking, the new album plunges deeper than the sunnier King Con. “A lot of it is about depression,” she explains. “I went through a breakup. Now I’m really trying to be happy and trying to figure out what happiness is for me, but it’s not a sad album. It’s still a pop record.” To that end, Winston calls the LP “a very lush record and not very minimal at all,” and explains that the gurgling lead single was a bit of a red herring: “‘We Got Nothing’ is very punchy, and the rest of it really isn’t as much like that.”
A bubbly, soul-baring sound, Winston says, will be especially evident on a song called “Down Low.” “For me, that’s the most honest song on the record and still makes me really sad when I listen to it,” she says. “It’s about someone hurting me and the same old shit. Someone that you love more or want more than they want you and that’s been a theme for me. I was fighting writing about myself, and when we finally did it, I was like, ‘Fuck, this is what I need to be writing my album about.'”
A month and some last-minute vocal sessions later, Winston celebrated her completed album with a series of shows at Austin’s annual South By Southwest music fest. At the last one, the singer found herself plagued by illness once again. “I’m so fucking sick, you guys, but you all being here is making it all worth it,” she said. Wiping the sweat from her brow, Winston proceeded to flood the small Texas venue with a stream of anthemic stunners. Sick or not, she was done letting obstacles get in the way of her pop destiny.