Winger Comes Full Circle
By BRIAN HEATON
Being used as a punch line on the MTV cartoon "Beavis and Butt-head" certainly derailed Winger in 1993. The band's days as a popular arena act came to abrupt end, as critics and hard rock fans dismissed the group and record sales plummeted.
Sixteen years later, Winger confidently soldiers on with the release of its fifth studio album, Karma.
Written in just over a month by lead vocalist/bassist Kip Winger and lead guitarist Reb Beach, the new record was described by Kip as a hybrid of Winger's self-titled debut and its more eclectic third album, Pull, with a healthy dose of up-tempo songs.
"On Karma, I wanted to focus on the most 'pure' elements of the band – the riffs, melodies and arrangements," Winger explained. "But [I also wanted to] cast a very live feel over the project, therefore I didn't want to do too many overdubs."
The result is a release full of Beach's torrid guitar solos and chunky riffs, with impressively catchy choruses. The most notable aspect of Karma, however, is the number of aggressive tracks on it. More than half of the record is made up of head-banging rockers, something very much by design, according to Winger.
"We wanted material that would rock, because a lot of our tunes are mid-tempo and don't translate so well live," the vocalist said.
On the Road
Winger is more of a part-time band these days, getting together as schedules permit. Kip has a blooming career as a solo artist and composer, while Reb is busy as a touring guitarist in Whitesnake. Drummer Rod Morgenstein is an instructor at the esteemed Berklee College of Music in Boston, Mass., and guitarist John Roth keeps busy with his own solo projects.
Fans need not worry about seeing the band live, however, as Winger has plans for further tour dates in 2010. But extensive treks around the globe may be impossible for the group.
"I would like to do as much touring on this record as possible, but yes, we are all doing other stuff," Kip admitted. "I love performing with Winger because those dudes are awesome musicians and it's a blast to hang, but it is what it is for now."
Although some artists with more than 20 years in the books refuse to play songs written earlier in their careers, or at the very least, express annoyance at having to perform them, Winger is not one of those bands.
In addition to performing a healthy dose of Karma during upcoming dates, Winger is sure to bring out the band's signature tracks. As Kip explained, seeing the positive audience reaction from cuts such as "Madalaine" or "Can't Get Enuff" keeps the songs fresh.
"Music is transforming, so if you have a favorite song and go see a band, you want to relive the emotional high you get from that song," Winger said. "Why wouldn't [a musician] enjoy that? It's an honor to have people love something that you have done."
While revisiting the band's musical past remains a part of Winger's current plans, overcoming the "hair band" stereotype has been more of a challenge. Kip has heard all the digs about his music, but the frontman remains exceedingly proud of Winger's history.
He once called his group the "hair band Dream Theater," expressing his belief that Winger's music is not just for nights of Aqua Net and spandex, but also the ears of devoted musicians and song writers.
Featuring a catalog that includes progressive and epic numbers such as "Supernova," "Rainbow in the Rose" and "Blind Revolution Mad," there are a number of songs from Winger's repertoire that support the singer's claim. Yet, the image of Metallica's Lars Ulrich throwing a dart at a poster of Kip in the video for "Nothing Else Matters" still dogs the band today.
The stigma may be unfair, but Kip has no regrets. Critics be damned, the singer is certain once you see his band play, all doubts about Winger's musical credibility will be erased.
"I've seen many club bands attempt to play 'Seventeen' but I've never seen anyone play it correctly," Winger said, referring to one of the band's signature hits. "Winger has always been a band you love or hate. I'm used to it and it's funny at this point. For any disbeliever, I invite you to come see us [play live]."
Karma -- which Kip explained was a natural album title that summed up the band's bizarre history -- follows Winger's critically acclaimed fourth studio record, the aptly titled IV, which was released in 2006. A thematic album, IV's lyrics center on the lives of soldiers during wartime. But despite IV's musical depth, Kip felt it went over the head of some listeners.
"Some people really did not understand that record," Winger admitted. "I was having a revelation about chromaticism and was experimenting through a lot of ideas."
Not surprisingly however, IV resonated well with the military. The United States Department of Defense spotlighted the song "Blue Suede Shoes" for lyrics that honored the service and sacrifice of the United States armed forces and their families.
Gen. Howard Cross presented Kip with a plaque and an American flag during the taping of the TV program "Legends and Lyrics" that the singer was appearing on.
"That was one of the most important moments of my life, a very humbling experience," Winger explained. "I write songs that mean something to me and any song writer's hope is to have a positive effect on people. [It was] a true honor."
For more information on Winger, visit www.wingertheband.com. All concert photos courtesy of Winger and Frontiers Records.
Copyright 2009, Brian Heaton. All Rights Reserved.