Vōx (pronounced wohks, and usually spelled all lowercase) is the new moniker of Los Angeles-based musician Sarah Winters, who possesses the vocal inflections of Imogen Heap with the quiet forcefulness of Lorde–minus the pseudo pop-goth vibe. Winters caught the internet's ear with her melodic covers of Kendrick Lamar's "Swimming Pools" and Usher's "DJ Got Us Fallin' in Love."
"I've always felt like my music speaks for itself," Winters told us. "Either that, or it's the curse of a musician and you never really know how to sell yourself."
Winters must have been doing something right because her talent caught the ear of Yoni Wolf, the lead singer of Why?, which led to a year-long international tour with the band as their keyboardist and opening act.
Here's what the 23-year-old musician divulged about her forthcoming debut EP, Put The Poison In Me, and her mesmerizing NSFW music video for the EP's lead track, "Better".
OC Weekly (Jena Ardell): What happened between your work as 'Sarah Winters' and vōx to transition you into your new sound and persona?
vōx: Well, the reasons I decided to take on a stage name are many, but the most important thing for me was being able to create a character and persona because I feel like there are limitations to keeping your name. [As 'Sarah Winters'], people think you're going to be a singer/songwriter; they think it's going to be pop music; they don't think you're going to have a band, so I felt like I could do a lot more with a stage name. Also, it was good to have a clean break. I had been releasing things onto the internet as 'Sarah Winters' since high school and though you can't ever escape that–not that I am trying to hide anything because the super-fans will always go back and laugh about it and it will be great–but to the general public, it could be a clean slate.
Also, I think my music is so different now that it didn't make sense [to keep 'Sarah Winters']. I felt like my fans would be confused. And also it made me a little bit more bold knowing it wasn't directly attached to my name, especially with the new music video. It was made me feel like I could do that kind of stuff–it's interesting.
Let's talk about your video. Was it all shot in one take?
It was all one take and it kind of happened by accident. I got together with Jillian Martin, who is the director, and she is amazing. We had done photo shoots before, but had never shot video together. I brought her on to create visualettes for each of the songs. We were keeping them really simple and cutting them into little gifs, so we only shot two takes of this [particular] video because we thought it was only going to be a visualette.
We were sitting around watching the second take and she was able to play it in reverse on her camera and I had my phone out, pressing play on the track to see what it would be like, and we all were just like, 'whoa, this is way bigger than what we thought it was', and she hadn't even begun to manipulate it. It was pretty amazing.
Are you afraid you're going to have to try to top that with future music videos?
I am little bit. (laughs). It was an accidental, magic video that happened and I think that's why it turned out so well. We might have to lie to ourselves in the future while we are trying to create a video and tell ourselves 'this is not a real video' every time. I'm actually still pretty mystified by it; I'm not usually a big music video fan and I think a lot of my friends have heard me say 'I don't really want to make a music video until I have a big budget', and I made a music video that I really love on the first try–without really trying.
What is the rest of your EP going to sound like–are you leaning more toward electronic music now?
It's about half and half at this point. It's not quite done, but it's very close. Two of the songs are more acoustic. One of them is an a ccapella intro song that we recorded in a tunnel in L.A.–just raw–it's got a crazy sound. The other one is a song we recorded in my apartment on this miniature piano I have; it's just piano and vocals and that one is also very raw. And then the other side of the EP is more pop and electronic. I think it's me still figuring out how to merge those two worlds together.
Who or what kind of music are you influenced by?
I've always really been influenced by hip-hop. I am a big lover of lyrics, and growing up I did listen to singer/songwriter folk stuff, but hip-hop was always the 'other' genre. There would be 'something else' and hip-hop, throughout my life. I feel like that's where my new stuff is rooted, especially in the rhythmic sense with the really interesting drum sounds my producers was able to put on the tracks. It's me plus hip-hop instrumentation–as close as I can get. I just like the flow of music. Right now I've been listening to a lot of Kendrick Lamar, Rome Fortune and this guy from Chicago called Lucky X.
How did you develop your vocal style?
It came to me late in the game. I went through college, earning a vocal minor, and almost never found the right vocal style for me. My vocal teachers encouraged me to go toward more of a jazz sound–which I had never really listened to and had never really sung before–and I feel like that was what [taught] me to be intense in the quietness. I never felt like I had the volume behind my singing voice and so being able to still deliver intensity while singing quietly was a difficult thing to discover.
How did your covers EP come to fruition?
When I was performing as 'Sarah Winters' I would do at least one cover per performance and I was doing some of those covers for quite awhile before I released that EP. I would never tell the audience what was coming; I was just like, 'if you know this song, you should sing along' and then I would start my dirge-like Kanye West cover and they would all be like, 'what?!' It was really fun because they never saw it coming. I really liked putting that element of surprise into my set because otherwise I was just doing acoustic piano vocal songs and they were very sorrowful and it was always uplifting to put in a pop cover. I think that that was my first introduction to how impactful pop songs could be and how I really wanted to have my own take on that [moving forward].
Can we expect more covers?
I might release more. I'm keeping vōx to original songs for now, but I really do like doing covers and I definitely see myself doing that in the future.
Before your work as vōx, you were touring with another band, right?
Yes, I was [playing keyboards] in a band called Why? and they're great. They're from Cincinnati and they're hip-hop influenced, but in a really unique way. They had a huge band behind them: two drummers, guitar, bass, and there were three-part vocal harmonies. It was wild and while we were touring in Europe, I would take the opening slots. They would pull out the keyboard to the front of the stage and I would do an acoustic set and then they would pull it back and I would play in the band as well. That was really fun because I was playing for people who had no idea who I was was, had no expectations, didn't speak a lot of English, and it was just fun to try out different techniques to try to woo the crowd into listening to me.
What was your favorite part about being on tour?
My favorite part was that I had never been a full-time musician before and it was the first time I got to experience what that was like and getting paid to do something that I really, really enjoyed–which was traveling around and playing for different people every night.
Were you a little worried about losing your fan base between transitioning?
I did think about it, but I felt like making a clean break from 'Sarah Winters' was something I really wanted to do. People have followed me over, which is really wonderful to have people reach out and say, 'wait, what's happening, what's this?' The ones who cared definitely came over to vōx.
Do you have any tour dates planned?
I don't have any yet. I'm going to wait until the second single comes out and then do some live dates in L.A.
OK, two-part final question: are you a natural red-head?
Do you often feel you are compared to Tori Amos and Regina Spektor because of your hair color?
Yes. It's really interesting just being a female in music. A lot of the industry is dominated by men and the media does like to say all female musicians are the same. I'll read these articles about someone and I'll think 'why are they comparing this woman to this other woman?' because the only similarity is they're both female. Redheads are rare, so I will definitely get compared to other ones.