Meet Winona Oak: The Alt-Pop Artist Who’s On the Rise
Winona Oak talks her latest EP, Patti Smith, ’90s Chanel, and her frustration with the music industry still being dominated by men.
When V talked with alternative pop artist Winona Oak, she was sitting in the sunlight of Los Angeles drinking instant coffee. Her state of apparent relaxation comes as no surprise; her EP CLOSURE was released just last month and Oak is already working on another set of songs due out later this year. The Swedish-born artist is also preparing to go on tour beginning in March with the London-based duo Oh Wonder.
Winona Oak began seeing popularity with her 2018 feature on the Chainsmoker’s hit “Hope,” but she’d been in the industry for a while by then. After meeting the Australian electronic artist What So Not in 2017, Oak co-wrote and was the featured artist in three of his songs. Now the singer-songwriter is carving a path that is purely her own.
Read more on Winona Oak below as she talks about her childhood, Patti Smith, vintage clothes, and why she wishes for more progress in the music industry.
V Magazine How was it adjusting from Sweden to LA?
Winona Oak I have a really good group of people around me so they make me feel at home wherever I go. It would be much harder if I didn’t know anyone here since it’s such a big city and if you’re lonely, you’re really, really lonely. I guess I was pretty lucky to have a good group of friends and people here already.
V On your Spotify, it says your childhood was surrounded by the forest and animals. Do you feel like that plays into your writing and music?
WO My childhood is what keeps me really grounded. Growing up in a supportive environment, I never had anyone hold me back and tell me that I had to chase down a specific career or sound a certain way. I just played what I wanted and I think that definitely shows up in my music.
V Tell me about your song “Hope” with the Chainsmokers.
WO The song was about how easy it is to confuse hope with real love. We talked in the studio about it a lot but it was a very personal song for me. I think we’ve all been in a situation where someone is holding you alone on a line and it feels like deja vu but there’s that little glimpse of hope that makes you want to stay. I realized that sometimes you date bad people and it’s easy to get confused about who they really are when you’re in love.
V Let’s talk about your new EP CLOSURE that came out earlier this month.
WO The EP is a collection of personal songs from the past five years. It’s still crazy to me that it’s finally out in the world when I wrote some of the songs five years ago and I was only 20. All the songs are very personal, so it’s release was kind of scary because it’s a big part of me. I’ve been looking for closure, I think everyone’s always looking for closure, and it’s hard because you’re looking for answers that you might never get. Part of naming the EP CLOSURE was, for me, thinking of closure as forgiving myself, accepting the journey of life and how I can never change the things that have happened but I can learn and grow from them.
V What’s your favorite part about working in the music industry?
WO Music is so powerful. I’ve been coached by and meeting so many new and inspiring people every week. But being able to take my big emotions and turn them into songs and have people relate to them and feel comfort is so cool to me, the value of that is so beautiful.
V Are there any downsides?
WO The music industry is a very male-dominated industry. I think we’re probably moving forward, especially compared to 20 years ago, but it still makes me angry every time I see female artists doing things they don’t want to do and being forced to fit in a box or getting over-sexualized. Everyone should be whoever and do what makes them happy. But that’s what I love about artists like Billie Eilish, she’s so cool and so talented and I think about how women 50 years ago couldn’t do that.
V Who’s one of your favorite artists?
WO I love Patti Smith. She’s such a queen and she does a little bit of everything. She’s fighting for the environment and doing all these important things but still creating music and poetry and books. She’s owning it. She’s always done what she’s wanted to.
V Who wore your favorite look at the Grammys? What about the look caught your eye?
WO FKA Twigs. I loved her performance and she’s just a cool person. There was something dark and twisted about her look, almost like a magical creature. Billy Porter’s outfit was also really cool with the hat.
V Explain your own style a little bit, where do you get inspiration from?
WO I love to have statements, like a crazy coat but keeping it simple underneath. I go into a lot of vintage stores and find inspiration everywhere. There’s a lot of Scandinavian designers that I love at the moment and of course finding beautiful pieces from high fashion, like ‘90s Chanel and Gucci. I’m kind of known for being the girl with the crazy coats, I’d say I have a rock vibe that’s also classy. Whenever I’m having a bad day I just dress up. There’s also this app called Good On You, where you can find some really great environmentally conscious brands that make clothes using recycled materials and things like that.
V What does 2020 look like for you and what’re you most excited about in the coming year?
WO I’m excited to finally play my live shows because I can’t wait to go on tour. I’m going on tour at the end of March with Oh Wonder, which is my first tour ever. We’re playing at so many beautiful venues, like the King’s Theater in New York. I’m also going to release more music and I’m working on another EP. I feel like now that I finally have my music out there with CLOSURE, I can go to the next chapter and write more songs and keep sharing them with people.