Alex Winston is ready to take on the world. The Detroit-born, New York-based singer-songwriter is just 23, but she's far from a rookie. From her musician father to childhood opera training to teenage forays into the industry, Winston's future as a musician has never been in doubt.
"I don't have any hobbies," Winston said during a brief break from a London recording session. "I don't have anything else I'd rather be doing."
Now, with the release of her debut mini-album, "Sister Wife," Winston gets the chance to go full-speed ahead. And her six introductory songs showcase an artist with the kind of mass appeal that could keep her charging forward for a long time.
A giddy energy courses through Winston's material. She plays sprightly songs that are centered on her chirpy vocals and lilting melodies, pop nuggets that are irrepressible with their energy and immediacy but never too saccharine. "I wish I cared about the things you care about/But I don't," she coos on "Locomotive," a sort of anti-love song that is the highlight of her debut. It has a vocal hook like super glue, guaranteed to stick in your head, yet only gets better with repeated listens.
Winston has been grouped with the likes of Florence + the Machine and Marina and the Diamonds - "the quirky girl pop thing," she calls it. But besides the fact that they are all women with distinctive voices, there isn't much to tie those artists together. Winston takes her inspiration from more classic sounds, particularly Chuck Berry and the Motown legends from her hometown. The elegant simplicity of those artists is what appeals to her.
Berry "could take four chords and make five songs," she said. "And they're all interesting and all have great melodies. It's great music, but it's not overcomplicated." Winston also mentions the Supremes as a favorite. "I just love gang vocals, a wall of sound and melodies that carry the song." When she plays live, a trio of backup singers helps bring this vision to life.
Developing a sound that she calls her own is Winston's proudest achievement to date. As a teenager, she worked with many producers and managers who told her what songs to sing and how to sing them.
When it came time to write her own material, she said, that control "stunted me creatively. Singing other people's songs for so long, I was like, 'How do I even do this?'" Nevertheless, those early experiences were valuable.
"I just feel really grounded," she said. "I've been through this to an extent, and I know not to get excited about the [stuff] that isn't real. This is the first time I feel ready to be going constantly," she adds excitedly. Now it's only a matter of time before listeners catch up.
--David Malitz, March 2011