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Kip Winger has a contemporary classical album? The rock guitarist discusses his Grammy nod

Nestled near the end of the list of 84 Grammy nominations amid the hundreds of musicians is one particular artist whose appearance likely will surprise many who lived through the 1980s metal scene. A certain “C.F. Kip Winger” is nominated in the contemporary classical recording category for “Winger: Conversations with Nijinsky.”

That can’t be the same Kip Winger, can it?

It is indeed the same Kip Winger, whose work as founder, singer and guitarist of 1980s metal band Winger earned him a couple of platinum albums, tours with Kiss, ZZ Top and the Scorpions, as well as such hits as “Seventeen,” “Headed for a Heartbreak” and “Can’t Get Enuff.” But not any Grammys.

Winger’s band had a hard time surviving the 1990s grunge explosion, and it split in 1994. The group reunited in the early 2000s and continues to perform and release the occasional album.

Behind the scenes, though, Charles Frederick “Kip” Winger channeled his creative energy toward learning composition and writing a ballet. He studied with teachers at the University of New Mexico and Vanderbilt before being introduced to composer Richard Danielpour, who teaches at the Manhattan School.

“Over a period of about 12 years, I learned what you would if you went to conservatory, and just really stuck with it,” Winger said. 

 “Winger: Conversations with Nijinsky” compiles his orchestral work.

He spoke with The Times on Tuesday morning after learning he’d earned a nomination. What follows has been edited for length and clarity.

Congratulations on your first Grammy nomination. That’s super cool. How did you learn the news?

It’s astounding. I woke up this morning getting an email from a friend of mine who actually works at the Grammys. I had no idea. That was fantastic.  

I confess that I did a double-take when I saw that “C.F. Kip Winger” had been nominated. I had no idea that you’d been composing contemporary classical music.

No, it’s fine. When you have the kind of success we had as Winger, it’s human nature to be, for lack of a better word, pigeonholed into a certain genre. And it’s tough for people to recalibrate their thinking.

But, you know, when I was at the height of Winger, I was hearing classical music, and I was basically illiterate to composing. I mean, I read piano music. I heard the music, but I wasn’t able to manifest the music. So I set out when I was about 35. 

This was after Winger’s commercial success had peaked?

Yeah. I don’t know if you know the band’s history with all the stuff that happened when the ’80s and the grunge thing came in — what I refer to as the Dark Ages. There was a point when ’80s bands were so out of fashion that we couldn’t even get a gig. So I was like, “Perfect time for me to go back in and learn and try to create the kind of music that I’ve been hearing all this time.”

You’re listed on the album under the name C.F. Kip Winger. Can you talk about the initials?

I added the name because my name is Charles Frederick Winger, and when I started writing classical music, I thought, “Should I be Kip Winger? Or should I be Charles Winger?” I actually tried Charles Winger, and got told, “But you’re Kip Winger.”

OK, I’m Kip Winger, but it’s a different brand. It’s a different thing. And so looking back in history and I saw some guys with initials and stuff. “You know what? I’m just going to put my initials on the front of my name for my solo work, just as a notice that, hey, this is different.”

What drew you to Russian ballet dancer and choreographerVaslav Nijinsky, and how did you turn that curiosity into a composition?

At the time, I was reading a lot of books about Nijinksy. There was a point in one of the movements where I was composing this one section, and all of a sudden — and this sounds weird, but — I was struck with the spirit of Nijinsky, where the material that I was reading all came together.

I was only halfway done with the piece, and then all of a sudden it was like ... whatever that creative muse is just comes in like a bolt of lightning and you’re having a dialogue with Nijinsky. That’s what happened, so it became a dedication to Nijinsky. I was writing what I saw as the unseen dances of Nijinsky — had he not gone insane. 

Did Winger ever get nominated for a Grammy?

No, never. We got nominated for an American Music Award back in the day. But, you know, we were never that huge — not on the level of many of the other bands that end up winning Grammys.

Does this feel like artistic vindication?

Yes, it does, to be quite frank. We took a lot of heat. I personally took a lot of heat in the music business with MTV and all that stuff. The irony of my life was that my whole thing is like, there’s two things I want to do in life: study music and write music. So being kind of a musicologist geek that I am, it was ironic to become known as a poseur-y ’80s figure. 

For me, I just feel really, I do feel proud of myself that I really stuck to my guns and just kept going. This is what I am. And this is what’s important to me.

There’s a lot of terrible music out there. For tips on the stuff that’s not, follow Randall Roberts on Twitter: @liledit

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