Rock Talk - Bill Locey

Q&A with Nicola Winokur performing at Underground Exchange March 15

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Nicola Winokur with other musicians to perform March 15. 
BE THERE OR BE SQUARE: Nicola Winokur, Mikayla Sullivan, Ian Rush at Ojai Underground Exchange, 1016 W. Ojai Ave., Friday, March 15, 7:30 p.m. COST: $20, CALL: 340-7893.

Bill Locey, Ojai Valley News Rock Talk columnist
When Nicola Winokur plays some garage rock 93023-style at the Ojai Underground Exchange tonight (March 15), it could well be one of those I-saw-her-when moments. How much she rocks remains to be seen (and heard) but the venue is a garage pretty much — but one with exceptional sound, unlike most everywhere else.
Just starting out on her next step, crazy musical adventure, Nicola appears to have tested positively for musicality down to the molecular level. Nicola is the daughter of Todd Winokur — he’s the one who invented Café Voltaire — the place to be for music fans in Ventura in the ’90s and one of those places that those same fans whine about missing the most along with Nicholby’s, Charlie’s and Zoey’s, sort of the successor to Café Voltaire.
Still a teenager, Nicola is going to Moorpark College to study music. This scenario could someday become a song while not quite channeling Rhett Miller’s take on school: ‘There’s a schoolyard out the back door. I used to love it but I don’t believe in school no more. You don’t learn anything, you’re just waiting around.’ 
For references, Jonathan McEuen thinks she’s cool, and that’s always a good thing. Nicola has been singing since she was 2 — doubtlessly, she’s better now. She had this to say about all that during a recent phoner:
BL: So, how’s the music biz treating you? Are you a rich rock star yet?
NW: (laughs) Definitely not.
BL: There’s still time, but in the meantime, you’re going to Moorpark College learning how to be poor, but also taking music classes. What have you learned? 
NW: A lot of classical stuff — mostly opera. I’m learning opera technique. This is the first year I’ve ever taken any vocal lessons at all. It’s really fun and I apply what I learn from opera to soul and whatever else I choose to sing.
BL: You anticipated my next question: What does opera have to do with playing in front of a bunch of drunks?
NW: Yeah, obviously, I don’t sing operatically at regular gigs, but I definitely apply what I know from my lessons to whatever it is I’m doing. The classical sound really has had a big impact because I’ve been in choir since first grade.
BL: First-grade choir? Now you’re scaring me…
NW: (laughs) Yeah, well, it’s not like we were good or anything.
BL: OK, thanks for clearing that up. So singing — is it a gift or a skill that can be taught or some combination of the two?
NW: Well, I believe that anyone can sing…unless you’re tone deaf then you’re kinda…screwed…but I really think that if you enjoy it and spend enough time doing it, you can get really good at it. To me, good singing is all about enjoying yourself and enjoy putting out your voice. 
BL: I know that no one — especially me — wants to hear me sing, but one of my cats has a voice like Adele, and that’s a good thing.
NW: That is a good thing.
BL: So why are you taking music instead of calculus, marketing, history or something else?
NW: Because…because I don’t like school, period, and music is a lot better than anything else. I can’t really think about studying anything else, although at one point, I wanted to do a therapist type deal, but now I’ve kinda meshed the two and want to be a musical therapist, so I just want to help people through music and that’s why I’m going to school. I wish I didn’t have to go to school because I don’t like studying and whatnot, but it’s what I’ve got to do if I want to enter the career I want to.
BL: Your dad was something of a musical therapist — unlicensed, of course — but is also to blame for opening one of the iconic music venues ever in the 805 — Café Voltaire. I’m assuming all that was before your time.
NW: Yeah, I wasn’t even born.
BL: So what have you heard? What’s your secondhand take on Café Voltaire?
NW: It sounds like a musical sanctuary from what I’ve heard.
BL: That’s exactly what it was, totally.
NW: Yeah, I’m sad I missed out on that and from what I hear, it was just a nice, safe place for anyone to go and enjoy music like, seven days a week, and there’s not a lot of places like that anywhere. There’s a place in T.O. — The Five07 — they have an open mic, but it’s not super music-oriented.
BL: So how many times have you played live?
NW: I don’t know. I’ve done a lot of choir stuff and vocal showcases for school, but aside from that and open mics, I’ve done like, five or six.
BL: What’s the strangest gig yet? Have you been up there wondering ‘Who the hell booked this gig and when does it end?’ Has that happened yet?
NW: Um…I haven’t actually had that happen yet. It’s been pretty good. Jonathan McEuen has been steering me the right way. He has told me, ‘I don’t want it to be as hard to perform for you as it was for me. It should be enjoyable and smooth.’ So he been really helpful, making sure I don’t agree to perform at a place that is super inconvenient or not beneficial to my musical career, so I’ve had really good luck so far, honestly. Even if it’s a small crowd or a crappy venue, I always have fun because I love performing and singing for people.
BL: Therefore, thus far, you managed to avoid the ‘Free Bird’ moment?
NW: ‘Free Bird’? Oh yeah, for sure.
BL: Was there a certain moment when you had an epiphany and decided that music was going to be your thing?
NW: Again, it was like choir and getting the opportunity to do a solo when I was super little. I remember watching my mom sing, but I don’t remember a particular moment when I said, Ì love this.’ I don’t remember any turning point, but I’ve just always loved singing for people. When I was little, I was kind of annoying — I’d literally ask anybody I was with, ‘Do you want me to sing for you?’ Then I turned into a teenager and decided that I didn’t need to sing, but now I’m back on it. That’s what I am.
BL: When you sing, whose songs — yours or theirs?
NW: Mostly theirs. A lot of the songs I enjoy are from my childhood. There’s so many great jazz standards to choose from and they’re just so much fun to do, but it’s mostly just songs that I love — and not necessarily songs that I know I can sing well, but songs I know the audience will enjoy or make them feel nostalgic.
BL: So everything from Supertramp to Ella Fitzgerald to John Lennon?
NW: Yeah, all the old guys.
BL: So could you play longer than the Grateful Dead? How many songs do you know?
NW: Oh, I know a boat load of songs — I know so many. Maybe my guitarist might not know a certain song but I can sing a cappella for days.
BL: So who’s the band for this gig?
NW: Tansen Malle and Jonathan McEuen.
BL: So as a new musician, what do you expect to be happening a year, a month, a week or an hour?
NW: I’m just gonna kinda chill and enjoy what I’m doing. I’m not trying to go on tour or do anything crazy — I just want to do good in school and finish what I’m doing right now. Since I struggled so much in the past, I just want to make sure I do it right before I do anything crazy or someone offers me some crazy thing.
BL: Even though school sucks?
NW: Yes, school sucks.
BL: That should be more than I need to know. Thanks for talking to me…
NW: Thank you.

 

— Bill Locey has been surveying the area music scene for more than 30 years for the LA Times, Star and now his hometown Ojai Valley News.

 

What To Know About Where To Go?
If I had a faster car, a richer girlfriend or even one with a job, here’s where I’ll be lurking in the back this week:
Teresa Russell at Crown & Anchor in T.O. (March 15 + 21)
40 Oz. to Freedom at Discovery Ventura (March 15)
Milton Kelly Band at Deer Lodge in Meiners Oaks (March 15)
Road Brothers at Rock City in Camarillo (March 16)
Phil Salazar & the Kinfolk at Camarillo Café (March 16)
Braids & Dreads at Winchesters in Ventura (March 16)
Gene Evaro Jr. at SOhO in Santa Barbara (March 16)
Shawn Jones at Grapes & Hops in Ventura (March 17)
Spencer & the Worried Lads at SOhO (March 17)
Ball & Sultan at Cold Spring Tavern in Santa Barbara (March 17)
Arlo Guthrie at Lobero Theatre in Santa Barbara (March 19)
Headless Household at SOhO (March 20)
Head & the Heart at the Belasco in Los Angeles (March 21)
Ryan William Key at Roxy in Hollywood (March 21)
Sin Chones at Discovery Ventura (March 21)
Rose Valley Thorns at the Vine in Ojai (March 21)