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A New York Minute with Musician: Jonathan Winstead

Jonathan Winstead has a love of people and of life that is infectious. 

His music is a celebration of this love, flowing freely from his unabashedly positive personality. The music is all about his struggle to be the best man he can be and to thrive with honesty, passion, and, above all, with soul. 

While he doesn’t fit the commercial mold, he has earned a vast fan base of people who love music more than all the glitz and glamour of stardom. His live shows are akin to soul-filling tent revivals, with Winstead urging the audience to join together and love one another. 

A Jonathan Winstead concert is an unmistakably uplifting experience. He eats, sleeps, and breathes music, and his success is a combination of passion and discipline.

NYMM: How did you end up in soul music?

JW: I was born and raised in Nashville, and my parents are musicians. My mother’s a singer and my dad’s a piano player. My mom wanted to be an opera singer growing up, but she settled down and got married. I grew up in church and was always surrounded by music there. Outside of that, my dad would listen to Al Green, Bobby Womack and that sort of thing. I got my soul music influence from that. The high school I went to was known for its music department and I was always involved in that. Later, I went to college on a golf scholarship but I couldn’t stick to that because I was so involved in music. During that time, I was able to tour some with some famous gospel artists back in 2000-2001, which took me out of college a bit. I remember seeing Earth, Wind and Fire when I was 19 and thinking, “I want to do that.”

NYMM: So have you ever considered doing anything else?

JW: I opened up my own studio and started getting enough clients that it took away from the hours I would work at a normal job. I had to give up a steady paycheck and do the music thing 100%. That’s worked out to my favor so far, because I’ve been busy ever since. If I’m not doing my own music, I’m producing for someone else or writing with someone. It’s like 24/7 just music. I’m glad I made that decision. 
NYMM: Do you have a philosophy you stick to when you enter the recording studio?
JW: When I’m in the studio, I like to just let things happen. For example, recently, I was riding in my car, singing along with the radio, and I heard myself sound a little hoarse and raspy. I realized that my voice wasn’t 100% ready to go to the studio and be in front of a microphone. But something told me to just go in and sit at the microphone and start singing. I didn’t have any words finished, but I sat down and pulled up a track. I have a lot of tracks compiled where musicians have come in and played the background, but don’t have the vocals set. So I just went in and sang to it and the song just came out. I don’t need a fully-ready voice for it to sound perfect. I want it to be a part of what’s going on in my life or what’s in my heart at the time. I may be confused about something, but it comes through in the words I’m singing.

D’Angelo is one of my biggest influences. I love that kind of real soulful music. I don’t like music that’s too polished. It’s okay to have a beat too fast here or a beat too slow there. I don’t like to have vocals that are auto-tuned. I like that natural, original sound that I grew up on. Music is a universal language, when you do it from the heart. You can’t do it through a computer.

NYMM: Does honesty play a big role in that?

JW: People need to hear honesty and reality these days. There are a lot of songs about fantasy or materialism, and not enough honesty. I need to hear songs that are real, which is one of the reasons I do what I do. There’s a song on the Lovestry CD called “Selfish.” It talks about me and a woman that I’m not together with anymore. There’s something about her that I don’t want anybody else to have. I’m being selfish. She’s not good for me, I’m not good for her, but there was something about her that I didn’t want anybody else to have. That really happened, but it was a while back. There’s another one, “Wake Up,” that talks about wanting a woman who belongs to someone else. I compare it to being in a dream, so the right thing for me to do is wake up from that.  We’re doing a video for that one right now, which is pretty popular overseas.

NYMM: I understand you have a large UK following. Why do you think that is?

Jonathan Winstead body

JW: My music is not necessarily US commercial-friendly. When I first released Lovestry, my publicist Sonja sent some songs over to DJs in the UK. Turns out, they liked it so much they were even passing them around to their competitor radio stations. Then stores picked it up, and were asking for copies. Then magazines and publications over there were wanting interviews. Now, we have promoters calling, wanting us to do shows in England and France and Germany. It’s been a snowball effect from those songs. It’s not just one song that hit as a single, there are five or six songs in rotation over there. We just found out that on New Year’s Eve that I had the UK Soul Chart #1 record of the year.

NYMM: A lot of your music has a positive message. Is that important to you?

JW: We need more positive influences in our society, and music plays a role in that. We live in a world where there are school shootings, and violence everywhere. Just imagine a world that had more love in it. If you heard more love on the radio, or music about love being played right around the corner from where you live, and if kids were more exposed to it, how would that make them feel, to have that surrounding them? If you’re surrounded with so much negativity, what are you going to do? What’s the outcome going to be? Negative breeds negative. So my main thing is to try and be positive, and help people love more. I think if we can get this world to love each other a little bit better, then this world would be a better place. 

I teamed up with another artist in town and we did a compilation album as a relief effort to raise money for Haitian Environmental Support Program. A lot of people in town gave their time and talents. You’ve got to give back. I mean, I’m blessed. I’m not just blessed for my own benefit – I’m here to share my blessings with others. It’s part of my duty as a human being. So if I can do it through music, and draw more people to what our ultimate purpose in the first place, which is to love, then I’m going to try and do that. 

You can find more Jonathan Winstead:

twitter: @jon_winstead

Body Image by Jon Karr
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