Alex Winston would like to clear something up. “First, I would like to say that I’m not an Elvis-obsessed person,” she says. It’s an assumption people might have made after seeing her in a white studded jumpsuit or after hearing her threaten to “Kill the bitch that bats an eye at Elvis” on her Velvet Elvis EP.
Winston says the King only indirectly inspired the EP’s title track. The idea for that song came from the documentary Married To The Eiffel Tower, which is about objectum sexuals or “people who fall in love with inanimate objects.” Winston’s inanimate object of inspiration? A velvet Elvis painting she saw in a second-hand store in her hometown of Detroit. “In the ’70s, if some girl who was an objectum sexual saw this painting, she would definitely fall in love.”
OK, Winston is not an Elvis fanatic. But is she a Mormon?
It’s a fair question after listening to the song “Sister Wife,” where, amid layers of chiming synths, tinkling bells and puffing percussion, Winston sings about vying for the attention of a shared Mormon husband. Turns out she doesn’t have a polygamy fascination, but she is interested in the idea of “feeling like you have a sister wife because you have to share something that you love and don’t want to share.” Instead of embodying the people in the songs on her EP and her debut album, King Con, Winston is simply finding inspiration in role-playing.
So if she’s not an Elvis maniac or a competitive Mormon, who is Alex Winston? Winston is a 24-year-old singer/songwriter who lives in Brooklyn but grew up in the suburbs of Detroit. Her dad owns a scrapyard there, but music has always been his passion. Winston remembers him dragging her to guitar conventions when she was only 5. “He wanted me to start playing [guitar] when I was 7. I was like, ‘No way, you’re crazy. I can barely read.’” At the age of 10, she started playing guitar and taking opera lessons, lessons she pursued for a decade. Winston still appreciates opera, but in terms of her own frolicking, Kate Bush-styled pop music, “It’s not like Puccini inspires my songs,” she says.
Winston played in bands in high school, but it wasn’t until she was 18 that her songwriting skills started to congeal. She made demos of her original material on her computer and shared them with other artists and producers in Detroit, but many of them were more interested in reshaping her sound rather than working with what she was offering. She found a better fit in the New York-based producers and DJs of the Knocks, whom she met through a friend. “What I really liked about them was that they weren’t trying to change me,” she says. Feeling a little stunted in Detroit and wanting to be closer to her team, Winston moved to New York.
Winston wrote the King Con songs over the last two years, and she recorded most of them at Brooklyn’s Mission Sound. The first time she played her material live was during CMJ 2010 at Public Assembly. “I ended up showing up to the venue at 1 o’clock, and we weren’t playing till about 6. So I thought, ‘I’ll calm my nerves, I’ll have a couple drinks, whatever,’” she says. “By the time we started playing, I was a little drunk. [That] was not a good show, but I definitely learned a lesson.”
If the buzz on Winston began that CMJ, it escalated considerably in 2011 with the release of her music video for “Sister Wife.” Most directors pitched her polygamy-themed ideas, but none of these compared to the winning treatment. “The first thing I read is ‘cat puking blood,’” she says, “and I was like, ‘Of course!’” The final video was based off of a 1970s Japanese horror film called House, a gory flick where cats do indeed puke blood. “We were trying to capture that, but I don’t think a lot of people got it. They were just like, ‘This is fucking weird.’”