“I guess I pulled a Houdini — I disappeared.”
Avant-garde pop singer Alex Winston isn’t talking about magic tricks, but her return to music. Following the release of her 2012 debut album, King Con, Winston went through a lot of transitions. She stopped working with her manager and label, and she didn’t really know how to move forward from that point.
“The first time around it wasn’t fun, it was really difficult,” recalls the 27-year-old of the time surrounding King Con. “[After its release], I was really depressed for a while and had really crazy writer’s block. I didn’t write a song for six months.” For the first year and a half following King Con, Winston’s depression took hold, and she couldn’t find inspiration for her own project. She even made an album of a country-western ilk, which she said would “probably never see the light of day.”
When the Brooklyn-based singer finally landed a new record deal, her inspiration returned. She was able to shift her focus back to the music she wanted to make, the kind hailing from a veritable ton of life experience — something that shines through on her sophomore album, This Ain’t Luck. “Almost everything on this record is about my life,” Winston explained. “I needed those experiences to happen so I could write these songs, but at the time I felt really blocked.”
With This Ain’t Luck, this sonic shift is apparent mere seconds into the first listen. Her tracks are more danceable, and you might find the music comparable to Marina and the Diamonds, especially on her first single, “Careless.” Heavily influenced by female musicians like Björk and Mary Margaret O’Hara, This Ain’t Luck borrows from both the traditional and the obscure reaches of pop.
The shift between King Con and This Ain’t Luck can be reduced to one simple fact: That one’s conceptual, while this record pulled from Winston’s personal life entirely. The majority of King Con was written long before its drop, while This Ain’t Luck sees Winston working in a more immediate capacity, with an urgency that stays true to the transformative nature of the record and the process that went into it.
“I’ve been calling [This Ain’t Luck] a coming-of-age record a few years too late,” added Winston. “I got my heart broken really for the first time in the last two years — I’ve battled depression for a long time.”
Winston has seen her share of physical challenges, too, having hemorrhaged her vocal cords after a particularly nasty bout of sickness; she had to cancel several performances as a result. “It was really scary,” said Winston of the experience. “It was the first time I ever damaged my vocal cords. I was like, ‘Oh wait, my throat is my livelihood!’ ”
With all of the past few years’ difficulties, Winston has learned a lot of lessons about life and herself — especially in the determination department. “I learned what I want, and I’m not really afraid of doing it,” said Winston. “I just don’t have the energy to care about pleasing other people at this point. I’ve had to learn, if something feels uncomfortable, don’t do it, and to trust my gut.”
Alex Winston will play songs from This Ain’t Luck at the Mercury Lounge on July 7. The show is sold out, but tickets are available on secondary markets.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 6, 2015