Austin Winkler is emerging from being the voice of Hinder into a promising solo career with a debut album on the way this Fall. I spoke with Austin about live shows, his relationships with Tantric and Jacoby Shaddix, his favorite venues, finding inspiration and more.
Alex Obert: Who have your vocal influences been throughout the years?
Austin Winkler: I started off by listening to records with my dad, stuff like Aerosmith, The Yardbirds, The Animals and Rolling Stones. But then I started listening to Guns N’ Roses and bands like that. I’ve always been interested in a nasty vocal where the motherfucker can sing. But I think my style developed out of nowhere.
Alex Obert: Who have some of your favorite frontmen been over the years?
Austin Winkler: I loved Axl in ’87. Steven Tyler anytime. Mick Jagger. Freddie Mercury. Michael Jackson. I never knew who really influenced me until I had to put the guitar down when my old band started a long time ago. I always had my guitar in front of me, so I didn’t really know where my influences actually lied until then.
Alex Obert: What was the first concert that you ever attended?
Austin Winkler: First concert that I ever attended was The Beach Boys. I think I was like eight maybe. I remember singing when they were playing Kokomo as the fireworks went up at the end of the night.
Alex Obert: What would you say is your favorite type of venue to play?
Austin Winkler: To be honest, it depends on the energy of the crowd. No matter who you talk to, people will say that they love the energy of a small club. But you gotta be fuckin’ kidding, man. I love playing in front of fifty thousand people! (laughs) But if you have control of the crowd, that’s all that matters. Would you rather have control of twenty five hundred people or would you rather have control of fifty thousand people?
Alex Obert: And what are some of your favorite venues that you have played over the years?
Austin Winkler: Red Rocks was killer. I really liked The Gorge. Madison Square Garden. The Machine Shop in Flint, Michigan was always pretty cool. Good vibe there, it’s pretty much the Whisky of the East Coast, if you will. What’s the one over there in Hartford, Connecticut?
Alex Obert: The Webster Theater.
Austin Winkler: Webster, there it is! I’ve had some good times there.
Alex Obert: Do you happen to recall WCCC?
Austin Winkler: Yeah, definitely!
Alex Obert: Well the FM station went under and they have since become an internet radio station called iRockRadio. Prior to the end of the FM station, they had a classic rock format for a year and now they are back to their good old ways on iRockRadio.
Austin Winkler: That’s a cool story, hell yeah! It went from being strictly Hartford and now everybody can get it on the internet. And Hartford’s a good town, man. I like Hartford.
Alex Obert: Now that you are transitioning into a solo career, do you feel less pressure from labels and bandmates as you write this record?
Austin Winkler: It’s more of a creative process than political democracy. (laughs) It’s more of an artist thing than trying to wonder what’s right and what do our fans like. Not that I didn’t like anything I did with the band and whatnot, but it got to a point where I was creatively restrained. I’m a lot happier, but I don’t know if they are. At the end of the day, if you’re an artist and you aren’t being creatively fulfilled, you’re gonna self-destruct. And that’s what I did. (laughs)
Alex Obert: Did you have song ideas floating around in your head during your years in Hinder, but weren’t sure if your bandmates would be open to it? And now that you are embarking on a solo career, is it a realization that you can make it all happen?
Austin Winkler: To be honest, man, I felt myself kind of holding back creatively. I would write things and I would just tuck them away. I didn’t want it to become the subject of a political campaign or trying to see what we can do to change it up.
Alex Obert: How are we currently looking with a potential release for the album?
Austin Winkler: We’re looking at a Fall release date. I’m really glad I took my time with this and stepped away and really, really focused on it. I tried a whole bunch of different kinds of things. A couple things were wicked and a couple things were shitty. But I always got to be creative and do what I wanted to do. I think people are gonna be pleasantly surprised. It’s quite a bit different spin on it, man. It’s quite a bit different from Hinder or anything that I’ve even ever heard. That’s the feedback I’ve been getting. It’s kind of like a new genre-esque thing I’m doing. It’s always gonna have that rock element to it, regardless of what I do. I can’t ever escape that because of my voice and my roots. I’ve been playing around with little bit with these new sounds on pop radio and alternative radio and rock radio, just fusing them all together. It’s definitely different and I think it’ll be pretty awesome. Or people will be like “What the fuck? That took a left turn!” (laughs) At the end of the day, what kind of artist would I be if I just went around the mill and didn’t try anything? If you want to try something new, you have to be bold and stand behind it. That’s what you gotta do, man, regardless of what people think about it. I’d like to see what people take away from the new music.
Alex Obert: Which of these upcoming songs to think has the greatest potential to be a radio hit?
Austin Winkler: I have the mentality that I don’t wanna put out a song that I wouldn’t think had the potential to be a single or a radio hit. I could sit here and go through the whole record with you. It’s all about believing. If you believe in it and if others see it for what it is and get it, I think that’s the main goal.
Alex Obert: Social media and YouTube have both been extremely effective in getting new music out there to fans.
Austin Winkler: That’s definitely something that I would count on to help me out. Ideally, I’d like for it to be spread through social media and radio. The thing is that I am branching out into more of a mainstream kind of sound. The reason I’m doing that is because I want to reach more people and more audiences. You look at how many spins rock radio gets, like 2,200 maybe. You look at pop radio, it’s like 18,000. Do the math. I’ve had pop radio success, I’ve had rock radio success. I just want to reach a bigger audience with a bigger kind of sound.
Alex Obert: Who is playing on the record with you?
Austin Winkler: As of right now, I’ve been doing my own thing. I’ve been doing everything with it. I’m trying a bunch of different producers on one song to see how they do it. It’s kind of a new modern twist on rock and roll, to be honest.
Alex Obert: And when you worked with Tantric, what did you take out of that?
Austin Winkler: I worked with them while I was actually still in Hinder, it was a while ago, spring of 2013. It was cool, man. I think Hugo’s a good songwriter, he’s the mastermind behind the band. We had a lot of fun writing together. It took away the fact that he has a passion for music and that’s why we click so well. I’m a very passionate person too, especially when it comes to music. That was really a pleasant experience.
Alex Obert: With all this passion you have for music, where do you find inspiration for your lyrics?
Austin Winkler: To be honest, it can be movies, it can be me having a conversation with somebody or it can be something personal that happened to me. And then I just take it from there. I get one line and I can write a whole song around it. I’ll have a conversation with somebody and be like “Oh! That’s a great idea for a song.” I can’t go into a room and just be like “Okay, what do I want to write?” I mean I can and I’ve done it, but it just didn’t do anything for me. I have to be inspired for it to mean anything to me.
Alex Obert: Do you take a notebook around with you to write down when an idea pops into your head?
Austin Winkler: That’s the beauty of the iPhone and voice recording, man. Always coming up with ideas and keeping an open mind to it comes to songwriting.
Alex Obert: Have you thought of a guitar riff and recorded it on your phone by verbally sounding it out?
Austin Winkler: Absolutely!
Alex Obert: So you develop a bond with a band like Tantric, who in this business can you truly say you’re friends with?
Austin Winkler: One of my really good close friends is Jacoby from Papa Roach. We’ve written together and actually came up with a really, really good song. I don’t know if it’ll ever see the light of day though. But he just one of those guys that I’ve always looked up to before I was even touring with him. When I was eighteen or nineteen, I drove two hours to see him in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He jumped in the crowd during Broken Home and I was rubbing his head and singing into the mic with him on that song. Then fast forward five, six years later and we’re touring together, I would go out every night and sing that song with him. Pretty cool to see how things pan out.
Alex Obert: Would you say he was a mentor to you?
Austin Winkler: Absolutely, man. Chilling with a guy like that that has so much charisma and passion, I would watch him every night and just see how he controlled the crowd. I learned a lot from him, for sure.
Alex Obert: How did it feel to get on stage with Camp Freddy? That’s definitely a unique and memorable gig!
Austin Winkler: That was one of those things that kind of came together and I was like “Hell yeah!” When you’re on the stage with professional legends that have been doing it forever, it all just comes easy. They know what they’re doing and you just click, it’s effortless. Pretty amazing.
Alex Obert: With all the music you’ve put out there and the life you’ve lived, have you ever considered releasing an autobiography someday?
Austin Winkler: (laughs) Yeah, man! I could do an autobiography and ruin some people’s lives. It’d be pretty fun. I’ve definitely thought about it. I’ve toured for fuckin’ ten plus years. As a signed artist, I have opened for a Tool cover band in Chicago at a pizza place and told we weren’t worth the twenty dollars in beer that they gave us. And then I’ve been compared to Steven Tyler and Joe Cocker in Rolling Stone. I’ve done it all. I feel that I’ve definitely worked my way through the trenches to get to where I am.
Alex Obert: How did you keep pushing through after those pizza place gigs? Some bands might’ve put their instruments down and never looked back.
Austin Winkler: It comes with who you are as a person. You have to get it and not take anything too literal. I’ve been compared to some of my musical idols in rock and roll history in Rolling Stone. You have to keep your head about you, man. It’s also motivation as well, that goes with anything though. Tell me I can’t go and fuckin’ do this and I go “Oh, I can’t? Well that’s the first thing I’m gonna do.” No matter what it is. Your parents say you can’t cross the street and go hang out with this kid or that you’re never gonna be in a band that tours and makes money, it’s just a motivational thing when somebody tells you that you can’t do something.
Alex Obert: What advice do you have for aspiring rock bands when they face troubles with labels and bandmates and all that?
Austin Winkler: Don’t ever lose focus on what you started it for. That happens so often. Don’t ever lose sight of playing in the garage because maybe you blink one day and you’re playing Rock am Ring in front of a hundred thousand people. You shouldn’t lose sight of what you initially started doing. I’ve definitely fell victim to that. But always perfect your craft too. Always better yourself, no matter what the situation is. Take guitar lessons, take vocal lessons, take piano lessons. You can always be better at it. I think a lot of bands just get comfortable because they realize where they’re at and they’re doing gigs, so they’ll just keep doing the amount of work that got them to where they are. Don’t work at a certain level, always try to elevate and shoot for further things. Don’t flatline, that’s what I felt like I was doing.
Alex Obert: Before we wrap up, what you have to say to the fans that have continued to stick by your side as they watch you blossom into a solo artist?
Austin Winkler: Thank you for your patience. I’ve taken my time with this record in order for it to be the best it can be for them. I think they’re gonna enjoy this new sound and this new style.
Alex Obert: Well said. I’d love to thank you so much for your time and a great interview.
Austin Winkler: Thanks, Alex!