When Winona Oak's music first came up on my Spotify discovery, I fell in love with her ethereal voice and shimmering melodies that I couldn't get out of my head. Her last EP "Closure" had some of my most-streamed songs this year, and her concert in LA was probably one of the last shows I saw before we all shut-down. We talked to her about her powerful new EP, crazy dreams, and why it's so important to talk about mental health.
How did you get started in music?
Winona: I've always been writing since I was a kid, and it took some time to find the right people, but when I met Neon Gold and Atlantic, I felt like I finally found my family. It takes some time because you can meet some bad people. Especially if you're a young girl, I feel like it's even more important to surround yourself with people who have your best interest. I started playing violin. I would perform at small events, but I'm from a pretty small place, so I didn't know I wanted to be an artist, but it happened pretty naturally, weirdly.
Tell me about your new "SHE" EP?
Winona: I feel like it's more of a statement piece, the CLOSURE EP was more pure heartbreak, and the "SHE" EP has "With Myself," which is one of my favorite songs I've ever written, and "SHE" is more of a character I created. "The Light" is more about mental health and being on the bottom and trying to find your way back and wanting to feel the light again. I feel like I'm more vulnerable and more personal than ever. I'm very excited to share it with the world.
Why is mental health so important to talk about now and especially for the music industry?
Winona: I think it's always important, especially in times like these, and I feel like the music industry can be difficult, especially when you're surrounded by the bad people. When I was younger, I didn't always meet people who had my best interests. I'm a pretty vulnerable person and I had a lot of anxiety and panic attacks. Sometimes, I feel like the world is upside-down. I think it's important to talk about it and normalize those conversations.
How has the pandemic affected your career?
Winona: There was a long time before I could create anything at all. I feel like I had a lot of pressure on me because I saw that a lot of people were super creative, and I thought, "Oh my god, so I have to be one of these people?!" I didn't have any inspiration; as soon as I didn't have that pressure on me, it was easier to create. My songs are based on personal experience, and I wasn't meeting anyone. I had to write about my past. Creatively, it's been harder. As long as we can survive and keep our mental health in a good place, we don't always have to be at the top.
Wasn't one of your songs inspired by a crazy dream?
Winona: I'm one of those people that always remember their dream. They always affect my mood; if I have a bad dream about someone, I can be mad at them for the whole day. "Piano In The Sky" was about a dream about a piano-playing high above the clouds. I was trying to reach for it. I had one of those moments where my whole body just froze, and I could only move in slow motion, and the piano was disappearing. For me, it was representing all of the things I had been running from and things I don't want to face, but I have to.
What has been one of the biggest challenges for you in your career?
Winona: I think it's to be always totally honest and true to myself. To be myself, that can be a challenge because people always have expectations, and I have expectations. I have to do what's right in my heart and what represents me the best; that can be hard.
How do you stay motivated in such a competitive environment?
Winona: It's hard not to compare yourself to other people, but I'm trying just to do my own thing, my own journey, and compare myself to me. I want to see my own growth and how I'm becoming better at writing and evolving the way that I create melodies. I compare myself with me and my own journey, and that helps a lot. You can find inspiration from other people, but people will always compare you to other people anyway. So I can't be that person.
And what would be your best piece of advice for young women in general?
Winona: Don't put someone else's needs in front of your own and to love themselves. Society is fucked up; society is always trying to tell us that we're not good enough; we're not skinny enough, we're not curvy enough, nothing is enough. I feel like the best advice is just to love yourself and be true to yourself and never ever put a guy's needs in front of your own. I wish I could've told myself that years ago; it would've saved me some heartbreak.
And are you excited for this pandemic to be over?
Winona: Yes! I want to go back in time and play shows. I miss hugging people; I just want to be close to people again, sing and travel, and be on the stage with my band.