Better Days Comin’: Kip Winger Discusses Prophetic New Album
Twenty-five years after the success of their platinum selling debut and nearly five years since the release of their last album “Karma”, Winger is back with “Better Days Comin'”.
Produced by Kip Winger, the new album is yet another testament to the band’s musical legacy. Together with guitarist Reb Beach (who’s also involved with Whitesnake), Winger has once again provided us with a collection of songs that combine tasty riffs, infectious grooves and inspired melodies.
Rounded out by drummer Rod Morgenstein and guitarist John Roth, Winger’s production on Better Days Comin’ stretches the limits of the band’s musicianship. Songs like “Rat Race” showcase the classic Winger sound (but with a heavier edge), while the prog rock influenced “Tin Soldier” dabbles with various time signatures.
Winger himself has said that for this album the band has drawn from its past to elaborate on the future. One listen only reinforces that fact. Better Days Comin’ indeed.
I spoke to Winger about Better Days Comin’ as well as his early years in music and session work. He also tells me what continues to excite him about the band.
It’s been five years since the band’s last album (Karma). What sparked this new Winger project?
I honestly didn’t think five years had already gone by. Getting everyone’s schedule freed up is a bit of a trick, but we had a wide open schedule where Whitesnake had taken some time off. We had been meaning to do it for a while, but this was the soonest we could get to it.
How would you describe “Better Days Comin’?”
I would describe the album as a combination of everything we’ve done as a band up to this point. There’s a little bit more of every ingredient. Stronger elements of everything we do. I also took a lot of care in how I recorded this album. The sound is a lot cleaner and cooler sounding, so there’s definitely an element of production in play as well.
What was the writing process like for this album?
From the very first album, the process is the same. Reb and I will sit down with a drum beat and come up with riffs. For “Seventeen” I remember Reb just came in one day and said “Hey, I’ve got this riff.” So I programmed some drums and it was off to the races. It’s been the same ever since. We’re very riff oriented.
Where you do you come up with lyrics?
Lyrics are sometimes the bane of my existence [laughs]. If I don’t immediately come up with an idea soon after listening to a track, I’ll send it off to my go to lyricist – Donnie Purnell from Kix. He hammered out “Rat Race” and “Midnight Driver Of A Love Machine”. They’re perfect. Ballads are something that I can really sink my teeth into. “Ever Wonder”, “Storm in Me”… even “Better Days Comin'”. That song just uncorked in the first day.
As a producer, does there ever come a time when you’re completely satisfied with a song? How do you know when a song is finished?
I know from an orchestration point of view when a song’s finished. If I’m listening to a song and it goes by without me hearing anything else (which also includes taking something out) then I know that it’s complete. Now mixing is a whole different thing. Sometimes you get to a point to where you just have to let it go. But it basically all boils down to the fact that I hear things in a very certain way, and what you hear is what I’m hearing.
Tell me a little bit about your musical upbringing.
Everything in my family was about music, so I knew very early on that I was going to be a musician. I took the Yamaha piano method at age six and by the time I was seven I was already playing in a band with my two brothers. Back then, it was all emotional. I was never really that cerebral about it. I was the guy who would use music for the emotional escape.
Did you study music theory in school?
I studied classical guitar at sixteen and got open to the idea of baroque music, which was cool. But it wasn’t until the whole ‘Beavis and Butthead’ thing took hold that I decided to really start studying music. I was 35 when I started working on counterpoint and harmony. I’m fortunate that I’m now able to traverse across these huge landscapes of artistic orientation. It’s become my life.
How did you get involved in session work at Atlantic Records?
Beau Hill was living in Denver where my brothers and I grew up. His band Airborne had been signed to CBS and he was making demos for the new record. My manager met him backstage one night and he wound up producing our demo. I eventually became his go to bass guy for the music he was writing as well as his assistant at Atlantic in New York. So whenever someone like Alice Cooper needed bass for a few songs or a tour he’d call me in. Beau was also the one who introduced me to Reb.
What sparked Winger?
When I was on the road with Alice I would listen to all of the bands who were opening up for us. I realized that what they were doing was something I had already been doing for years and it inspired me. Since I already knew a great guitar player (Reb) I decided to put a band together and try to get a record deal.
After 25 years, what continues to excite you about Winger?
That’s simple. It’s composing for the band. Writing songs that push the limits of the guys who are playing them. Just listen to “Tin Soldier” from the new album. I wanted to encapsulate my interpretation of prog into a four-minute song. It’s in a poly time signature and there’s no one better than Rod Morgenstein to play drums over that. If you listen to the solo section where we let him do his thing, that’s what excites me. I want to compose music that showcases the virtuosity of these guys.
For more on Winger, check out their Official Website