Winona: A virtual woman without a past fronting a band with an infinite future and one that have just released ‘Rosebud’, an album of glacial electro pop. Mysterious? Not really, the reality is that Winona is the combined imagination and vision of Craig Armstrong and Grammy nominated composer, player and programmer Scott Fraser; their sound complemented by the delicate vocals of Lucy Pullin and the spoken word interludes of French actress Laurence Ashley and as Craig explained to Gigwise, the premise behind the project was extremely simple and self serving.
“Scott and I decided to make some music for fun rather than for an actual project. We both like old synthesisers, vintage synths and stuff and we just said lets get together and make some music. It was actually Lucy who said I think you need to let people hear this. We actually had no intention of letting people hear it; it was literally just done for a laugh really.”
Craig continues to explain his hesitance at releasing the album: “I was a bit reluctant to release it, because if you meet up with a friend and make some music you don’t really imagine it coming out. We didn’t even record it particularly well because it wasn’t actually meant for release as such and that was one of the problems we had when we were mixing it because it was recorded in such a slap-dash way.”
Having established how Winona came about, the question has yet to be asked, who exactly is Winona? “We felt that because the basis of the project is Scott and I, obviously we didn’t really have a front person so we just made someone up.” Says Craig “We called Tom Hingston, an amazing graphic artist to design a front person for the band and she was called Winona and that’s her on the cover, we just thought we’d have a virtual front person.”
Line up and material complete, the experience of releasing an album that was initially never intended for mass consumption was an anxious one, but one that appears to have paid off: “I’m just glad people have reacted well to the Winona thing because sometimes if you like something yourself, it doesn’t mean it translates into the public.” Says Craig “I think the fact that Winona is off the cuff struck a nerve with some people; I mean it’s not really that serious.”
In Craig’s words, Winona might not be “that serious” but playing live was inevitable as he goes on to explain: “For Scott and I, Winona was initially a studio project, but Lucy and Laurence were very keen to do some gigs. The music is very filmic and I think what we’d like to do at some point is get someone to make movies for each track, so going to a Winona gig would be like going to the movies in a way. But at the moment we can’t afford to do that so that’s a bit of a pipedream.”
Pipedream or not, the group have already played a clutch of live shows which on the face of it were collectively enjoyed by both Winona and audience alike: “We’ve played Paris, Dublin, Loch Lomond and we went to Brazil and did gigs in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo and it was good, we enjoyed it.” Craig continues “I mean obviously its going to be great when the records out because it’s quite hard playing to a bunch of people who haven’t heard what you’ve done. But saying that it did go down well so hopefully next time we play and people actually know our stuff it will be even better.”
It’s fair to say that the vast majority of people are unfamiliar with both Craig Armstrong, but the chances that you’ve heard his work before are extremely high. A Royal Academy of Music graduate, founding member of Texas, Hipsway and The Big Dish, Craig has also worked with Bjork, U2, Massive Attack and Madonna, but he’s best known for his film compositions (‘Romeo + Juliet’, ‘Moulin Rouge’ and ‘Ray’ to name but a few) and has plenty of awards that bear testament to his immense talent, including three Ivor Novello’s, a Golden Globe, a BAFTA and a Grammy. But Winona has enabled Craig to indulge in making music purely for the sake of it as he goes onto explain:
“There’s a certain point in your life when you want to enjoy music again rather than thinking of everything as an end product and Winona’s not about that, its just done for the sake of doing it.” Craig continues, “I think that’s why Winona came about and I think that’s the best thing about Winona is that it’s not just me, its actually a collaboration between two people and a few singers. I think that’s the main difference because with the film thing you’re kind of on your own and you’ve got to kind of do everything yourself.”
And not surprisingly for a musician of Craig’s calibre, he continues to be very much in demand. Having most recently worked on ‘Elizabeth: The Golden Age’ he’s currently in Los Angeles working on his next project: “I’m working with Edward Norton on The Incredible Hulk for Marvel. As a kid I was a big Marvel fan and it’s a wee bit different for me because obviously I’m not very well known for my action movies, but because as a kid I was such a fan of The Incredible Hulk I decided to do it.”
So back to Winona, a project between friends, which escalated into a musical collective and resulted in an album release, with a virtual woman without a past fronting a band with an infinite future; but what does the future hold?
“We’re actually quite far on with the second album and we’re going out to Berlin in May. We’ve rented a recording studio there for a couple of months to do the second album. We’ve got quite a few ideas at the moment so it’s going to be good. We decided to go to Berlin because we’re big electronic music fans so we wanted to go to the home of electronic music to do the second one and maybe we’ll be lucky enough to work with some German artists as well.” Craig continues, “I think with Winona its just fun and if it ever felt like work I think we’d just stop because it’s not about that, its about having some friends round, getting the computer on and making some sounds. I don’t think any of us see Winona as a career path,” laughs Craig. “It’s literally just making music and enjoying it.”