Rocks Off has known Houston singer-songwriter Winter Wallace since at least 2000. We know plenty about her, and she knows plenty of embarrassing things about us. We know that she is scared of the Loch Ness Monster, which isn't so weird. What's worse is that she knows we are almost mortally terrified of centaurs. But not until the past year did we ever hear her music in full. We were too busy being scared of centaurs we guess.
Tomorrow night at Gallery M2 in the Heights, Wallace and her band release their new LP, Holiday. Robert Ellis and Finnegan are also on the bill, making it a solid night of some Houston's brightest young music folk. (And young folk music.) Holiday is a staggeringly beautiful and harmonic work, with Wallace's voice doing astounding acrobatics throughout.
It doesn't hurt that her backing band more than ably backs up the punch of her breathy tone. We hear swatches of Regina Spektor and Carole King in Wallace. When the music swells and gets more aggressive Wallace's voice doesn't so much float over the top of as much as it becomes firmly entrenched inside it.
We caught up with Wallace on the eve of the release party for Holiday and talked to her about working up these highly emotional songs, and working with Grammy-winner Steve Christensen on the tracks.
Rocks Off: Tell us about the new album. Beyond the production it sounds like a heartbreaker.
Winter Wallace: I know the term "heart and soul" is used loosely these days but I'm going to use it with all of the sincerity I can muster. I've put my heart and soul into this album. I've been uncomfortable, angry, devastated, delighted, euphoric, bemused, embarrassed, and just plain content during the making of this album.
When I wrote the very first melody I was 17. Now, I'm 25. The things I have learned in those eight years of growing up and literally turning into a different person are all inside that little disc.
The concept of Holiday is that feeling we all discover at some point, the feeling that you can really take a holiday from your own life just by being "inside" of another. Is that good or bad? I mean, I don't know. Certainly it could go either way. For me, it was good.
RO: Our favorite track is "Marionette," with that insane chorus. It sounds like it will fill an arena one day. Like lighters up and stuff.
WW: It's a track about my mom and my sister and I, after my dad left. We were alone in a pretty big, old house, with a lot of work to be done. My sister and I were young but we had to pull our own weight in a big way back then.
The song is a little bit about that and then also a little bit about marriage, not only my parents, but also other marriages. You know there are so many amazing things about a person, but at the same time, everyone has life-altering realizations that good things can turn sour.
RO: Our second favorite cut is "Here's To Everything" with that stomp. How did you get that sound?
WW: "Here's To Everything" was my first ever recorded song. Dan [Workman] and I sat down, and I shared the melody and phrasing with him. Then he said, "I know someone who I think matches your musical tastes really well." So in came Kevin Ryan.
Kevin, in my opinion, is this humble musical genius, who isn't satisfied with any of his work (or wasn't then, anyway). He and I worked on things together, and he would come to me with tiny pieces of ideas and I would say, "I imagined it more like this, and with this being a cello, etc" and he would re-write and come up with amazing things.
Kevin composed "Here's To Everything" and the big "stomp" sound was his doing. Kevin Ryan, Dan Workman, and Steve Christensen are an unstoppable trio.
RO: What was working at SugarHill like, with all that history surrounding you, and also working with Steve Christensen?
WW: I've been recording there on and off for almost a decade. My first ever recording experience was there which unbeknownst to me was setting the bar pretty dang high. After that, I tried to record elsewhere and soon realized I was already a little spoiled.
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SHOW ME HOW
I guess people who are smarter than me can sit around and discuss the amazing intricacies of the equipment at SugarHill, but to me it has nothing to do with that. Dan and Steve have so much experience. You can pretty much just shoot them a sideways glance and they already know what you need.
The other part of it is they really love what they're doing. The whole place has this positive everyone loves everyone feel to it, and when I walk in, I feel at ease. It's the whole "home" versus "house" thing. It's a home, for sure.
And working with Steve, well the guy is incredible. When I did my first three songs there, we would record for eight hours, and mix for eight hours on each song. That is a long time. Obviously, I knew nothing about mixing, and I'm pretty sure my first time meeting Dan I asked him something like, "What kind of engineer are you?" (laughs)
I think I was waiting for him to say, electrical or robotics, or something along those lines. In his patient Dan way, I'm sure he slowly said, "Sound...." Recording with Dan is so much fun because he works so fast that there's never any idle time when you're standing in the vocal booth, or in my case, a vocal room with no lights on and one candle.