Following the release of a series of brand new singles, we caught up with the songwriter and front-man behind Winchester 7 & the Runners, to find out more about his musical background, his creative pathway, and his plans for the future. Here’s how it went.
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Hi Winchester (Can I call you that?) – thanks for the interview, how have you been holding up during lock-down?
Hi, Rebecca. Thank you for having me. Still kicking, fortunately.
For those who don’t know – when did you first start making original music, and who or what would you say was your greatest inspiration?
I remember wanting to be a songwriter from an early age. I started playing bass guitar, formed a few bands, and wrote some songs before finding that writing them all on a bass felt rather limiting. I mistook that sense of limitation for a lack of talent and my enthusiasm faltered.
Then, one day, I found myself at breakfast while on vacation with my family in Kona, Hawaii. A local musician plugged his ukulele into an amplifier, loaded the lyrics and tabs for some songs that I knew on an iPad, and started to play.
The Brits have a few phrases that I really like. Of them, I believe that “gobsmacked” well summarizes my reaction.
Once back on the mainland, I immediately purchased a ukulele, set about finding lyrics and ukulele tabs for songs that I wanted to learn, and relied on my earlier musical experience to teach myself to play. I don’t feel limited anymore.
The recent releases showcase your unique sound really well – this indie ukulele rock approach. What got you into playing ukulele instead of guitar, and how do you make it sound so heavy on the recordings?
Thank you! Well, before I started playing bass, I actually gave the guitar a try and had a great difficulty forming chords. Years later, while visiting the doctor, unrelated, of course; I learned that I just have very stubby fingers.
It was with that revelation still fresh that I first heard that Kona café musician. For me, it was a watershed moment as it occurred to me both that a ukulele might prove a more manageable scale… and that if it can be amplified, it can be distorted! Which suits me fine. I may not play traditional Hawaiian music, but my indie ukulele rock still started there.
Set-up-wise, I use a low-G tuning, wound G and C strings, a custom added pickup, Vox amplifier, and a couple effects pedals. I’m also thankful to work with a wonderful mix engineer.
What or when do you define as The Golden Age?
That’s a great question. It could be this very moment, really, as I expect that it is of our own design. However, when writing the song, I imagined that, for a time traveler, it was the moment when they returned to find a long-lost love.
Also, when making the video, I chose to digitize some of my grandfather’s old 8mm film from the late 1940s and early 1950s. I imagine that that it had not been seen in well over 60-years and was surprised to discover that it included footage of my grandparents at around the same age that I am now.
So, for me, it was rather “golden” to get to spend some time with my grandparents such as I’d never seen them. My grandfather passed away when I was three-years old, so it was too the first time that I had ever seen moving images of him.
There’s a lot of nostalgia in your songs, style-wise and conceptually. Do you tend to favor the past over the present, or is music just a good way to revel in happy memories?
Well, my early bands included 50s, 60s, 70s, punk, new wave, and early alternative rock covers in all of their sets. I think that playing that material provided me a fundamental grounding. I draw upon those influences today to create happy new memories in which to revel.
Despite the full-band set-up, this is something of a one-man-band project. On that note, what does a live show look like, and do you ever hope to collaborate with session musicians or do you prefer to keep it simple?
Shhh….don’t tell Jack (drums) or Phil (bass)! [Laughs]
Short answer: we don’t play many; but, I’d love the chance to collaborate with other musicians and filmmakers.
Longer answer: When I was in college, apart from being in a rock band, I learned traditional film, photography, radio, and television production. I worked in a dark room, spliced reel-to-reel, shot and edited film stock, and was exposed to some of the intricacies of the studio.
But, when I graduated, there was a recession (familiar, I suppose – my timing is impeccable) and though I had classmates who ultimately achieved industry careers, I had no such luck in finding an opportunity to get started. So, I chose to put aside my music and those interests, all in one go, in lieu of getting a proper job.
Now, that change in direction has worked out ok for me and my family. But, if you’re asking yourself, “Can you really shelve all of that without regrets?” The answer is clearly “no”.
Still, I’m a product of the MTV generation. So, when I observed the prevalence of stationary camera videos on YouTube and became familiar with modern multi-track recording software, ukulele in hand, I decided that I might have something to contribute.
So, instead of live shows, I have focused on writing and recording new songs and filming supporting music videos with new releases typically occurring within 45-days. In that way, I’ve been able to draw upon all of that bottled up creativity to pair the music with a visual element.
You never know what the future may bring though. I think that collaborations and live performances could be awesome.
Where are you based right now, and what was the live music scene generally like – before the pandemic?
I’m out of Atlanta. We have a healthy live music culture including several festivals and large venues that bring in a variety of acts. While that all has certainly been impacted, I believe that it’s in the early stages of coming back now. I do expect that some of the distance technologies that have been used by artists to innovate during lock-down will continue to serve a role though.
Do you have big plans creatively for when things start to return to some state of normality, and is live performance usually important to you?
Well, I’ve been filming content that is within driving distance and writing and recording songs for a forthcoming EP. So, I’m mostly focused on that; but, I’m also looking forward to when I’m able to safely travel abroad again.
What are your thoughts on the mainstream music industry at present, and what one thing would you change about it if you could?
I’m probably the worst to ask about mainstream music. I know that I like a few Taylor Swift songs and, of course, Grace VanderWaal. I mostly listen to alternative, indie, and classic rock.
Overall, I think that there’s a lot of talented artists out there. However, the ongoing battle between the labels and streaming services seems to make it difficult for artists to find the support that they need to easily be heard. If I was to change something, I suppose that would be it.
If you could sit down to lunch with anyone at all, past or present, who would you choose – and what would you ask them about?
I would, undoubtedly, choose Sir Paul McCartney. Given the ability to form sensical conversation, I’d ask how he so capably reinvents himself and challenges perceptions while people so frequently maintain a set of expectations and belief that they know his personal story. I’ve read well over 3000 pages on Paul and the Beatles and he still surprises me.
I’d probably not have the soup though…
What comes to mind if you’re asked to name one of the best songs ever written?
Well, if I’m still at that dinner and perhaps otherwise too, I’d readily suggest Yesterday by the Beatles. Its bittersweet love story and minor key changes represent 2-minutes, 3-seconds of no-time-wasted perfection that easily finds you humming along in the end.
What do you hope people take away after listening to your music?
I hope that they have a bit of fun and come away with a smile. Perhaps, given some awareness of my story, I also hope that it could inspire people to not forever abandon their dreams.
Is there a bigger picture or ambition in mind when you create and promote music, or are you just in it for the love of it?
Well, no one can fault me for a lack of ambition. With each release I hope to grow an audience who appreciate the work and support my efforts to make more and better still, for love… and maybe a Grammy. Billie Eilish won five working out of her bedroom studio. It’s not impossible anymore.
Is there anything else we should know?
Please check out our newly released music video for the Saint Simon Killer, which features footage shot within the Ghost Hunters featured Sorrel-Weed House in Savannah, Georgia; and listen for our upcoming single, In the Morning Light.
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