Austin John Winkler began turning heads as the frontman of the platinum selling rock band Hinder, selling millions of albums in the process. This chapter of his musical journey resulted in numerous hits, including Hinder’s breakthrough “Lips Of An Angel.” After parting ways with Hinder in 2013, Winkler questioned his role in the often cookie-cutter world of rock radio. As a result of serious soul searching, he took a different approach to songwriting. Instead of trying to adapt what he thought fans wanted to hear, Winkler took risks and embraced his creative freedom as a solo artist, while still writing from the heart to connect with listeners on an emotional level. Fearlessly charging headfirst into the project, the results proved undeniable. After a three-year hiatus from the music world, Winkler returned with the release of his highly anticipated solo EP entitled “Love Sick Radio.” Winkler’s lyrics, distinctive voice and passion for music is stronger than ever and provide a new modern twist on rock and roll. The six-song EP features guest appearances by Sophie Summers and country star Jessie James Decker. Currently, Winkler is working on new music for a potential 2016 LP release and is deep in the throes of preparing for his debut solo show, which will take place at The Whisky-a-Go-Go in West Hollywood on Thursday, July 7. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Austin John Winkler to discuss his new musical course, the challenges he faced along the way, the making of the “Love Sick Radio” EP and what fans can expect when he hits the road this year!
Let’s start by talking about your formative years. How did music first come into your life?
Oh, man. One of my earliest memories of music that stands out was hearing Aerosmith’s “Janie’s Got A Gun.” I think I was about 7 or 8 years old at the time. I was blown away by everything about it. I had always loved music but this song really stood out to me. I heard it for the first time and then I sat by the radio and waited to record it the next time it came back on! [laughs] That is one of my earliest memories. Once I saw somebody play acoustic guitar, it was really phenomenal. I pointed to it and said, “Anything involving this!” [laughs] That is kind of how it all started for me.
At what point did you decide to pursue music as a career? Was it an obvious choice?
Yeah, man! You know, I never had a backup plan. I knew this was it. I knew I was going to make it happen and I would do anything to make it happen. It was an obvious decision and I think it payed off! My family and really, really close friends always motivated me and gave me lots of inspiration on the way. It is a beautiful thing to have received so much support over the years and see it flourish. It feels really nice
What went into the process of finding your creative voice early on as an artist?
I had always sang in the car and I loved music so much, I found myself in a cover band. We didn’t really have a name but we covered everything from The Nixons to Led Zeppelin. I was kind of getting bored and I guess you can say my creative cup wasn’t filled! [laughs] I started writing songs and the other guys didn’t want to play them. I guess that is how I meshed everything I had learned and all of my influences. When I started writing my own songs, I really didn’t have anything to go off of or anything I needed to sound like, so it morphed into its own thing and found its own personality.
Where do you look for inspiration these days? Is there anything you’re drawn to?
For me, it has always been about real life experiences. I have found that if I sit down and try to make something up, it lacks passion. Any real life experiences I go through, I try my best to translate into words that people can relate to.
You had a tumultuous few years but came through the other side and returned with a new EP. Was there a point where you questioned carrying on with music as your career?
Absolutely not. I have just done everything at my own pace and I hit hard on the road, as I was on tour for 10 years. I just took my time with this project and it has payed off. I have been getting a lot of really good feedback. Today, we are in the studio in Venice Beach rehearing and it is awesome!
That is great to hear. Let’s talk about the “Love Sick Radio” EP. What were your goals or expectations going into the process?
I didn’t have too many goals or expectations, to be honest, because there was no pressure. There was no pressure, I got to take my time with it and explore different sounds. I must have written 40 or 50 songs and from there we put together this EP to give fans a little taste of what I have been doing and what direction I am kind of going with this project. It has been a lot of fun because there are no limits. I can do whatever I want and it is great!
How did the title of the EP, “Love Sick Radio,” come about?
Oh, I guess you can listen to “Clique 2 Follow.” There is a lot of stuff on the radio that I am not particularly a fan of. It gets so much exposure and it kind of made me sick! [laughs] Sometimes, it kind of makes my stomach turn! I have some love songs on the EP as well and the title just kind of popped out!
What can you tell us about your songwriting process? Has it changed much through the years?
It hasn’t changed too much. Like I said, I write from personal experience but nowadays it is a little more broad because I am able to do anything I want. Whenever you are writing for Hinder fans, fans of rock radio, they expect a certain kind of formula that you go by. With this project, I don’t have that and there are no rules. It can be pop, rock or reggae. The thing is, you can’t take the rock out of my voice, so that is kind of the thing that ties it all together and it still has the kind of sound I have always had.
You have two great guest appearances on the EP with Sophie Summers and Jessie James Decker. What can you tell us about those collaborations and the challenges you faced in bringing these songs to life?
I had written with Jessie a couple of times over the years. Originally, she wanted me and producer Ted Bruner, to write a duet for her record. The song that we wrote and I sang ended up being so personal to me, it ended up being on my EP. She did a really good job on it and loved it. She flew in and sang on it and it turned out to be a really, really good track. It is definitely one of my favorites. When it comes to challenges, there were definitely some frustrating times and some developing errors, if you will. [laughs] You would like to think everything you write is gold but it is definitely not! You just have to get back in there and start over. For example, “The Plague,” I actually wrote that with Sophie Summers. She has this interesting kind of approach to songwriting and is a really hard worker. I think our voices compliment each other really well on that track.
Looking back on your body of work, how have you most evolved as an artist along the way?
I think I am a little more grounded from all of the experiences I have been through. As far as evolving as an artist and a songwriter, I think it comes down to not having any limitations and not being afraid to step outside of the box. Early on, I felt like I fell into a cookie cutter kind of thing. It is so much more creatively fulfilling getting this art that is inside of me out. I never realized how much it bothered me when it was a straight and narrow path of songwriting. Now that I have all free reign to do what I want, I feel like there are no limitations and it is a lot of fun!
You have seen the music industry change a lot over the course of your career. What excites you the most about being a musician in this day and age?
I think social media has given fans a chance to get a little closer to the artists. It is good to have so much exposure out there for your work. It really gives the fans and the artist the opportunity to connect on a more personal level. It is like a family! It makes a huge thing a little more tight knit, if you know what I mean. That is pretty exciting, I think.
What is the best lesson we can take from your journey as an artist so far?
The best lesson I have taken away is to try to be involved in every little piece of your project — every little millimeter of it! Also, don’t let anybody change it or alter your artistry. That is what I have learned in this business, not to let other people do that, no matter how convincing they might be. It is music business, not music friends at the end of the day! [laughs] You have to watch out for that!
Where do you see yourself headed musically in the future, both short and long term?
Right now, we are rehearsing. We have a couple of private shows on the books but our first public show will be at The Whisky on July 7 in Hollywood. We are looking to get out an LP, hopefully, before the end of the year! Then it is just tour, tour, tour!
What can we expect from your live performances these days?
We will be playing the new “Love Sick Radio” EP for sure. I will also be playing some old Hinder tracks and maybe a couple of covers. It is a high energy, well-rounded, musicianship filled show! [laughs]
Thanks for your time today, Austin! I am looking forward to catching you on the road very soon and what you have in store for us with the forthcoming LP!
Right on! Thank you!
Keep up with Austin John Winkler and connect with him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. See him perform the ‘Love Sick Radio’ EP live at The Whisky in Hollywood on July 7th – Click here for tickets!