Alex Winston – nice smile, pretty tunes, wields a massive knife
Alex Winston – all flowing walnut locks and earthy smiles – is sitting outside the Moby-owned Manhattan vegetarian restaurant, TeaNY, discussing this awesome hunting knife she owns. It’s about a foot long, shiny, sharp. You know, a real man’s knife. The weapon is an artefact from her bizarre former life, a prezzie from ex-touring partner Ted Nugent, the gun-slinging, right-leaning axe-widdler.
“He loved me. But Ted is crazy,” says the 22-year-old, whose vocals are, in contrast to the Nuge’s cat-scratched pipes, as wistful as seaside watercolour. “He also taught me how to shoot a gun in a dressing room. He was like, ‘Look at my new present!’”
Back then, Winston – now earning comparisons to Marina & The Diamonds, thanks to her similar looks and her winsome ‘Basement Covers’ EP – was in a pop-rock band svengali’d by Peters & Peters, two producer-songwriters in her home city of Detroit (they’ve worked with Black Eyed Peas, Kid Rock, and, yes… Nugent).
By 19, she was opening for artists as diverse as rock’n’roll legend Chuck Berry and country rebel Miranda Lambert. “I let the [producers] lead me. It was an awesome experience… but it was always, ‘Sing the way a good singer should sing.’ They would say [my voice] is too nasally. And I was like, ‘Fuck it.’”
Photo: Lulu Rubens
So this bird flew to NYC. Through friends, she hooked up with remix duo The Knocks (Rihanna, Flo Rida, Ellie Goulding), who encouraged the singer to pen her own material. What emerged was a bait-and-switch: pixie-light, twinkling melodies and very intimate lyrics. “They’re borderline dark,” says Winston, who namechecks PJ Harvey, Florence Welch and Dolly Parton as her patron saints. “I know the songs are so poppy, but I’m not trying to be in Katy Perry-land with, like, magical unicorns and shit.”
She’ll debut her bipolar setlist for the first time live at New York’s CMJ music festival (and at the NME showcase there) accompanied by an eight-piece band. Seriously, eight people? “I have three girl back-up singers,” she says. “And now I officially have an entourage!”
Need To Know
• Winston is addicted to eBay. “I buy ukuleles and old weird shit. I just bought an Elvis comforter. I’m waiting for it to come and it hasn’t. I’m sorta worried.”
• Her current reading material: Slash’s autobiography
• She’s learning how to play the accordion after seeing an HBO documentary about a kid who’s a virtuoso
Words: Nisha Gopalan
This article originally appeared in the October 2 issue of NME