Kip Winger Explores His Classical Side You might remember the hair band Winger and its MTV hit "Seventeen." The band's namesake, bassist Kip Winger, has another side: classical composer.

Kip Winger Explores His Classical Side

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The band Winger is maybe best remembered for its late 1980s rock anthems like "Seventeen."


WINGER: (Singing) I'm only 17. Seventeen. I'll show you love like you've never seen.

SIMON: The group also became the poster child for the demise of hair metal. Despite that, lead singer and bassist Kip Winger has held on to his rock roots. As Wisconsin Public Radio's Maureen McCollum reports, he recently released a new album. It doesn't sound the way you might expect.

MAUREEN MCCOLLUM, BYLINE: Kip Winger formed the band that bears his name after touring with Alice Cooper in the mid-'80s. He saw the success bands like Whitesnake and Def Leppard were having and thought...

KIP WINGER: I can do this. No problem.

MCCOLLUM: The musicians in Winger could play. They wrote catchy songs and, of course, they had the hair. MTV viewers ate it up.

WINGER: Me, being the Peter Pan of rock that I was, doing double pirouettes with my bass, you know, a real ham in the camera - it took off.

MCCOLLUM: But with popularity comes derision. Winger became the butt of jokes in a Metallica video and on "Beavis And Butthead"


MIKE JUDGE: (As Butthead) These guys live on the edge.

JUDGE: (As Beavis) Yeah (laughter). The edge of what cliff?


MCCOLLUM: But that wasn't what did Winger in. It was grunge.

WINGER: Fast forward to - with no record deal, no publishing, can't get a gig, we're uncool, all this stuff. At that moment, I made a pact with myself to only do music for my point of view.

MCCOLLUM: The band has continued to work and record fairly consistently, if with a little less hairspray. But it's not the only thing Kip Winger does.


MCCOLLUM: Turns out Kip Winger began studying classical music composition seriously in 2003. He eventually traveled from his home in Nashville to New York to learn from acclaimed composer Richard Danielpour. The first orchestral piece Winger wrote is called "Ghosts."


MCCOLLUM: Through a mutual friend, Winger met noted choreographer Christopher Wheeldon, who eventually set "Ghosts" to dance for the San Francisco Ballet. The company's music director, Martin West, had the idea to record Winger's music after performing it around the world with the ballet orchestra.

MARTIN WEST: You know, if you told someone the bass player from Alice Cooper was going to write you a piece, you wouldn't necessarily expect quite such sophistication.

MCCOLLUM: He says Winger has keen ears, a good feel for rhythm and is the first to admit he's learning on the job. West senses that Winger may feel like he has an uphill battle in proving himself in the classical music world.

WEST: I think he does feel he has something to prove. I personally don't think he has anything to prove. But for him, I think he would love to be known as a classical composer of note. And that's very difficult for anybody to achieve. But as far as I'm concerned, he is. And I'm happy to be his advocate and play his music.

MCCOLLUM: For his part, Kip Winger says he's always been interested in classical music and ballet. He studied ballet as a teenager. He put his two loves together in another piece. The title track from the new album, "Conversations With Nijinsky."


MCCOLLUM: It's inspired by the legendary Russian dancer Vaslav Nijinsky who choreographed Stravinsky's "The Rite Of Spring."

WINGER: When I compose, I dance around the room because I studied ballet. I know all the moves. I'll dance around my room and try something out. What do you think of this, Vaslav?


MCCOLLUM: Kip Winger says his main interest has always been writing music. In 1990, he told Seventeen magazine he's, quote, "never been interested in being a great instrumentalist. It's always been the composition of music, whatever form it comes in that inspires."

WINGER: And I've known that since the beginning. If you listen to the first Winger record, there's a string quartet on the beginning of a song called "Hungry." I was leaving bread crumbs for where I was going. There's a bread crumb on every album.

MCCOLLUM: Just like Gretel in the fairytale, Sabrina Kuehn followed those bread crumbs. She drove four hours from Minneapolis to see Kip Winger play a solo acoustic show for hundreds of fans at Brat Fest in Madison, Wisc. But she was one of the few there who's actually heard Winger's classical work.

SABRINA KUEHN: We have a running joke. We call him the maestro because he is fantastic. He's underrated. And, you know, I think people that poked fun, you know, he's getting the last laugh.

MCCOLLUM: Maybe not the last laugh, but at least Kip Winger is doing what he wants.

WINGER: This is the kind of music that I really should be writing 'cause this is the most inspiring to me. And the thing is that if you have inspiration to do something, then it's not so difficult.

MCCOLLUM: For NPR News, I'm Maureen McCollum in Madison, Wisc.


SIMON: You think BJ Leiderman was in a hair metal band when he had hair? He did write our theme music. This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

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