Working It Out | An Interview With Winter Grain

Today, folk-pop duo & married couple Winter Grain shares new single “Passenger Seat” and its accompanying music video ahead of their upcoming EP Hollywood & Hard. Due out on December 3rd, it marks their second project produced by Grammy Award-winner Ryan Hadlock (Brandi Carlile, Vance Joy, The Lumineers.)

Inspired by the experiences of band member Kate Anderson who was left without a mother during the pivotal ages of 9-12, “Passenger Seat” is an acoustic country laced lament exploring those confusing and conflicting feelings that still followed her. Even though upon her mother’s return relationships were eventually mended, she knew that things would never be the same.  The band says on the single: “There’s a new, palpable tension to the song every time it’s performed because it captures both the joy and sadness: joy of a mother who realized her kid wanted nothing more than to be with her mom, sadness of a kid whose mom took three years to turn the car around.” 

How quickly did the chemistry form between you and Secily, Kate?

There are a few layers to this answer because Secily and I aren’t just band mates, we’re married! The natural chemistry I had with Secily was instantaneous. She was so easy to talk to; so inquisitive; so supportive in asking me to play her more songs even though I knew she was a better guitarist. Then I heard her play, and the fireworks started to go off. I caged all the relationship butterflies and focused on all the creative ones because I knew both of us were in relationships at the time. But on the deep, creative level I knew that I could trust her with my vulnerability. My songwriting process can be a tender thing and I knew that I could not only trust her, but that I wanted her to be a part of it.

Reading about the time leading up towards going to record at Bear Creek Studio, I saw that there was so much that was still up in the air.  The band wasn’t locked in completely and songs were still unfinished.  At any point did the realization of not being able to pull all this together come into your minds?

The thought of it all not coming together was kind of an all present realization. That’s not to say that we didn’t think things weren’t going to turn out well, but it was a constant effort. We knew from the get-go how special the trip and precious our time was going to be recording. And all the logistics that went into making it happen were just part of the mutual effort. For example, Melissa finding a place to rent her cello from, Tara picking what fiddle to bring because hers was being repaired… stuff like that. We felt insecure at times but we also trusted each-other a lot! Still do.

Then there were the moments we couldn’t have anticipated, like rewriting some of the sections to some of the songs the night before recording them. Or the fact that Secily had c. diff (a nasty little sickness) the entire time without even knowing it.  It was just a constant evolving and changing experience that kind of threatened us with that feeling you’re asking about. But honestly, we just owned our choice to be there; so much so that we rose above the fear of it. We had a blast in those late night sessions! Heck, we still have scratch-track recordings of the jams around that Steinway at night and they lift our spirits, remembering how it felt to create like that in a space so special.

Being in the military, Kate, did you ever see yourself being a musician?

Not like this haha! Not hand in hand with my service and certainly not out of Los Angeles. I’ve been in the Army since I was 17. You know, one of those patriotic kids that signed up on Valentine’s Day after September 11. So I always thought the Army would be my thing. A funny thing happens, though, when you take a poetic kid and throw them in Army scenarios: you get songs! On my first deployment back in 2003 I filled two journals, half with random musings of what happened that day and half with ideas for songs. I didn’t even know how to play an instrument other than a saxophone. The moment I picked up a guitar and actually formed chords though? That was it. I knew I was going to be a musician. I was about 23 at that point. My Dad has been a professional musician my whole life, so I was no stranger to what it meant, but I couldn’t have imagined then how it would lead to Winter Grain today.

What has living in Los Angeles done for the band in terms of being influenced musically?

We’re both firm believers on the beauty of music in how it can be made anywhere. It lives in you as well as around you. However, there’s something of irreplaceable value when you’re in a music city and are an active member of a creative community. You find more musicians, where the quality of craft is masterfully sought, more frequently. You find a surrounding city with actual culture, not just people visiting from around the world. There is a palpable creative cloud in L.A. that you know so many people are a part of: producers, musicians, actresses, videographers, photographers… just so much art. And having access to so many has really influenced our music sonically, but more-so, our elements that support the music.

What were some of the big takeaways from recording the latest batch of songs?

One of the biggest takeaways has to be simply the lesson of “Get it done.” What we mean is we saw the deployment Kate was going on coming around the bend; we knew we had a bunch of songs that we wanted to record; we had “Fists” that felt more and more pressing as a single to release after the 2020 election; we just threw it out on a lark to Taylor Carroll at Bear Creek. “Hey can we come in last minute and record some songs?” Ryan was game, Taylor was game and they said if we could get there in time and COVID free, we could get it done. So the first time we went to Bear Creek it was all very surreal and felt like we were making the most out of our lil’ Cinderella dream. But the second time we went it felt very much like a creative choice and an artistic choice and a business choice. We had an urgent feeling sweep over us and knew exactly who to trust.

Was there any influences in terms of artists and/or albums that the band looked to when writing over the past year?

This year has really been a doozy, so I’ve been listening a lot to Caylee Hammock, Ellie Holcomb and Carly Bannister, Lori McKenna, more Casey Musgraves, and the late (great) Nanci Griffith. I’ve been a Nanci Griffith fan my whole life, so when Nanci died earlier this year it really hit me hard. I’m also about to retire from the Army with my 20 year letter so I’m sure that those post service vibes will find their way into our next recorded tracks. I’ve always made a solid effort to not let my diary do the lyric writing but when you’ve been in the service since you were 17 and hang up your hat after 20 years, we’re sure our writing will reflect some of those emotions.

With Kate’s obligations with the Guard, the band is looking to explore the digital world more than some other acts.  What is on the horizon?

You’re 100% right! Now that we’re on the other side of the initial pandemic as well as my deployment, we really feel like we’ve grown as far as communicating in the digital world. Namely, Secily making all of our music videos in my absence and communicating to our fans via the internet. We simply plan on expanding in that direction!

Our guitarist from the album, Elliott Klein, moved to Amsterdam in the past few months. Also some of our best new musical friends, O’Neill and Jones from the UK, are active overseas. What we hope this means for us is to do a bit of traveling and solidify some of those musical friendships while also bringing it to Winter Grain fans in a tangible digital way! Of course, we have no idea what that looks like, but that has never stopped us before.