Artist Spotlight: Winter

    Winter is the moniker of LA-based singer-songwriter Samira Winter, who started the project a decade ago after immersing herself in the Boston indie rock scene in the early 2010s. Growing up in Curitiba, Brazil, Winter was exposed to different kinds of music: her mother would play a style of Brazilian music known as música popular brasileira (MPB), while her father got her into American punk. After attending Emerson College to pursue journalism, she fell in love with the sounds of dream-pop and shoegaze that were bubbling up, but soon realized she was more interested in being in bands than writing about them.

    Winter’s relationship with the project has evolved significantly since then, but the aesthetic throughline between her first LP, Supreme Blue Dream, and her latest, What Kind of Blue Are You?, isn’t coincidental. On her second album for Bar/None Records, out Friday, she seeks to reconnect with the original spark that led her to create the Winter alter ego and explore what she refers to as her “shadow self.” In a practical sense, that meant stripping away many of the lush, kaleidoscopic layers of 2020’s Endless Space (Between You & I) to make way for a more raw, restrained environment. She was able to conjure that vulnerable space with her co-producer Joo-Joo Ashworth, whose sister SASAMI guests on the ‘good’; Hatchie’s Harriette Pilbeam also features on ‘atonement’. The results feel darker and more purposeful but no less enchanting, setting gleaming hooks and gorgeous melodies against tight yet nuanced production. Much of the album revolves around channeling “all that’s in my head,” as Winter sings on ‘wish i knew’, and she hasn’t necessarily figured it all out; song after song, though, you feel it rushing in.

    We caught up with Samira Winter for this edition of our Artist Spotlight interview series to talk about her earliest musical memories, the project’s visual aesthetic, the making of her new album, and more.

    Every record of yours comes with its own distinct visual aesthetic. Did you always associate music with certain visuals in your mind, even before you started making your own?

    Yeah, that’s such a good observation. For me, music is a very visual experience besides being sonic. I grew up watching music videos when I got back home from school for hours. That’s probably one of the reasons. Also, the city I grew up in Brazil, Curitiba, there’s a lot of small cinemas that have arthouse films and international films, so I have a big passion for films and cinema. But I think on just a very essential level of myself, I like to close my eyes and sort of imagine visuals or colours and see what comes and just have my imagination be active in that way when I’m playing songs or writing songs. So I think in all those ways, I end up having these two be really locked in together.

    When you think of your earliest musical memories, what colours or images come to mind?

    I would have this thing where I would be in the ocean, in the beach in the south of Brazil, and I would be singing. It’s so powerful to be a kid – I feel like on some level, I was kind of imagining my future or connecting with like a magical reality, but I would just be singing and in the ocean, fantasizing. I would say that’s probably one of my first musical memories, so definitely the colour blue. And then I also just have a thing where I really liked, my whole life, observing lights, like the sun and little spots of light moving and things like that happened in nature with trees, or creating that myself. Those sorts of things were big visual inspirations since I was little.

    Do you remember what you were imagining?

    I wish I could remember more. I can remember writing songs and just imagining – because I was really into the Spice Girls, I also danced, so I think I just would imagine myself onstage a lot, performing. Also, I would imagine myself being in a music video. I remember when I saw the Coldplay ‘Yellow’ video, I would imagine myself in that video. And in movies and things like that, or create my own movie.

    Tell me about the origins of Winter as a project. When did it feel like something you wanted to pour yourself into?

    I went to school in Boston, and there I sort of immersed myself as a journalist because I studied journalism, in the noise music scene, seeing a lot of shoegaze bands. And the group of friends I had in college, we were really into – it was really dreamy. So I feel like I was influenced by a lot of the things that I experienced and learned about in college: twee music, French New Wave cinema, surrealism. And by the end of college, my last year, I was like, I’m gonna write some songs and make an EP, and it’s going to be under my last name, Winter. I think it’s always been a very sacred project for me. Since the beginning I would say it had this very special, ultimate-dreamy, star-projecting world. I definitely would say it’s more of an escapist project for me, the relationship I have with it. And in a way, it can connect to what we were talking about before with being a kid and daydreaming. I feel like it’s kind of like being an adult and finding that escapism, that imagination.

    It just felt like it was this really special thing that ended up developing, and it had a journey. And I think right now with this album specifically, I’ve felt something I’ve never felt before, which is, it feels it’s kind of connecting with like the original idea in my first album, which was also a blue album, and really connecting with the purest form of Winter. Also because of the pandemic and starting kind of fresh, it feels like a fresh slate.

    Why do you feel like you wanted to preserve that original inspiration?

    I think that what happened was, I started the project, and I think that happens with a lot of ideas and projects, and then I really wanted to have a band, so the idea sort of shifted a little bit in a different direction. And then I made an album that was in Portuguese – it wasn’t Winter per se, but I just did these different things, and I feel like Endless Space was a really beautiful extension of the language of what Winter is. But after those years of making records and doing different things and trying things out, I think when the pandemic hit and I had music to make and all these emotions to express, I went and recorded with someone that was actually one of the first people I ever met in LA, Joo-Joo. So it felt like I was kind of coming back into that first original space where it’s just me, songs to write, and a person that I really trust, wanting to make gazy, dreamy music.

    What do you feel like came to light as a result of that collaborative space you created with Joo-Joo?

    It felt really good to work on music with someone that had such similar music tastes to what I was wanting to do with the songs. It’s a very specific thing, but there’s a certain aesthetic of music that we really connect with. It kind of took me back to being in my early 20s, listening to music with my friends, and that’s how I felt with Joo-Joo. And it’s probably because that’s when I first met him and bonded with him, so there was this really cool energy to it where it was like, now we’re older, we have specific visions and we’re more developed – him as a producer, me as a producer – and that’s really cool, but we were bonding over this very early 20s kind of energy, and at the end of the day, having fun.

    With that said though, I feel like I was able to have an emotional excavation during this writing process. And when we were recording I really appreciated the moments – I would literally be in complete darkness singing the tracks. All of my vocal takes mainly were recorded in a really dark room. One thing that I really appreciated about the actual process is I really feel like we really valued simplicity. An album like Endless Space was very maximalistic, so many layers, so many pedals – it was just building on layers of tracks and creating that space of sound. This album, everything was just essential, everything served a purpose. And we really let parts kind of like ride themselves out. We’d be like, “Let’s just keep doing this for a little bit longer,” and so it really flowed well as a record, I think. I learned a lot from that style of production and I really value it, since I’m someone that tends to go for more maximal. There were a lot of limitations in the actual process that I think really served the production and the end results.

    You specifically said that the process was like “making music in a dark cave with an old friend and no one else existed,” which is kind of the vibe that ‘crimson enclosure’ gave me. Even though it’s the shortest track on the album, the title alone seems to evoke that kind of deep atmosphere.

    Yeah, I think that track is a really good example of the feeling of what it was like to be making that record inside the studio when everything was dead around us. LA is such a busy place, and during the time of making that record, it felt so apocalyptic, like no one else existed. No cars, nothing. It felt like we were making something in a vacuum. I think there’s something about shoegaze that feels very intimate, even though it can be so loud and distorted, I feel so at home with distortion. And ‘crimson enclosure’ is probably one of my favourite songs, it feels so good and it feels so warm in the static of the fuzz. And ‘crimson’, along with ‘good’ and ‘fool’ were all written in this week of pure non-stop rain in LA. So I think that added to this extra layer of apocalypse and loneliness and sorrow and self-deprecation. It was at the end of March when the pandemic was happening. It’s cool though, because I feel like now listening to it, when things have sort of changed, it still hits that spot.

    The title of the album, What Kind of Blue Are You?, feels both playfully inviting and introspective. What does it stir up in you?

    I feel like it’s a very non-literal question. To me, there’s moments where it’s like a really cute thing where it’s like, what colour are you? And then there’s moments where it’s like, What Kind of Blue Are You? What is your sadness? What is that thing that you’re going through? But I think in general, I want it to be a playful thing, and I want it to feel different to different people. A lot of the record and is really about embracing yourself and who you are and figuring your shit out, and I think for me, that title is also that, where it’s stepping into your own power and starting anew.

    On ‘write it out’, you’re actively trying to dig into your headspace. What prompted you to reflect on the writing process and what it serves for you on that song?

    ‘write it out’ is really a play on journaling and figuring things out as you write them. I write a lot on my notes on my phone app and I journal pretty much every day, and that’s kind of how I can process things and have that conversation with myself. So I feel like it’s a little bit meta, where it’s like, I’m writing a song, I’m literally writing it out, talking about how to process life in that way and talk with yourself. It was actually pretty quick of a song to write because I was in a lunch break at the barista job that I had, and I was like, I’m gonna write a song to work on with this coworker that I had that we’re talking about writing music together. I was like, “Okay, sit down, write it out…” And the whole concept just came to me and I finished that song that day. And then I was like, “You know what, this is a Winter song. [laughs] I’m keeping it.”

    What’s that moment like, when you realize this is a Winter song?

    I think it happens pretty quickly, but I’ll get tingles and butterflies in my stomach and I’m just like, “Oh, I really like this. I want it for me, I want it for Winter.” [laughs] But it’s funny with songs – for me it’s such an ebb and flow of, “I love this” and then, “This song is so bad.” And then I’ll be like, “Wait, this is really cool.”

    Because you journal and you write a lot, do you also get that feeling of: This could fit Winter, but I kind of want to keep it outside of that world, I want to really keep it for myself?

    Yeah, it’s something that I’ve been learning how to navigate over the years. Because I do like a lot of different types of music and I’ve made different types of music, I think sometimes I’ll write something and I’ll like it, but I’ll be like, “This is definitely not Winter.” A lot of times I’ll have songs in my dreams, and last night, I had one that was kind of like drum n’  bass bossa nova. And I was like, “Wow, that would be so cool.” But then it’s like, where is the line of what Winter is? And I think that’s something that every artist figure out, is how far is your language? What are the boundaries of what your project is?  I definitely have a lot of songs at this point that I really like but aren’t Winter songs.

    What are your memories of writing and recording ‘sunday’?

    It’s such an interesting one, because there’s this juxtaposition of, I wrote it in such an upset state of mind, because it was right around when everyone was going through a lot of social media getting cancelled, and the music scene that I once belonged to, a lot of really ugly truths came out. And I just felt really worried about the impact of social media on younger women, so it was kind of about social media and feeling like I’m being followed, and just being worried about how it affects our mind. But then at the same time, musically, it was inspired by the Sundays, which is why it’s called ‘sunday’, and it’s such a pretty song. It’s a bit of a fever dream of a song. The whole writing process of it was about something that I was really upset about, but the actual musicality of it I think is really sweet.

    What purpose do you feel like that juxtaposition serves? You said before that Winter is kind of an escapist project for you, but do you feel like the music world is kind of enveloping those dark themes?

    I think sort of the way dreams are – you know, dreams operate on symbolic language. And I think music is similar, where things don’t have to be super literal. I think for me, like, my essence and my soul is very soft. So in a way, it’s kind of like conversing and talking about these things that are really traumatizing and upsetting, but the language that I used was a very dreamy, beautiful, soft language. It’s interesting, because I feel like this record, out of all the records, was the least escapist for me, except maybe a song like ‘wish i knew’. But I think there’s a beauty to how you say things, from the environment you create to the language that you use. And I think that is a part of Winter’s language: sometimes it’s being upset and using distortion, and sometimes it’s being upset but using very watery sounds to express it.

    Why do you think it turned out less escapist? Did you feel the need to ground it in something more personal or real?

    I think in my life, there was a lot of big realizations. And honestly, coming into the studio made me feel, like, normal. [laughs] So I think this whole record was a very grounding experience. I think there was a voice inside of me that just naturally came out as being more real, more raw, and very transparent in how I felt, with no extra layers and not too many pedals. I just wanted to be straight to the point. And I think working with Joo-Joo really allowed that too, it was just way more raw and super honest and vulnerable. It was more like a diary would be like, or an honest conversation with a close friend.

    What do you hope listeners take away from the album, and what do you hope you find inspiring about it in the future? What do you want it to remind you of?

    For the first question, I think the goal with Winter has always been, but I would say specifically this record since we’re talking about it, I really always want people to feel like they can be themselves and live their dreams, allow themselves to dream, and to embrace who they are and not care about what other people think. I would say that’s probably a big theme, just be whoever you want to be… whatever kind of blue that is. [laughs] And then the second question – I would say I’m always in the process of using up my well and then filling it up, using up my well, filling it up. So I just hope that with this album, I can really, similar to the first answer, be as true to myself as I possibly can. And be that in a public sense as well – just be super discerning and precise in what Winter is and how I express it.

    This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.

    Winter’s What Kind of Blue Are You? is out October 14 via Bar/None Records.

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