They asked Alex Winston to write an alternative radio hit. They, meaning the record label—the powers that be, the people standing between Winston and her audience. Alternative radio hit, meaning, well, your guess would be as good as hers. Maybe they wanted something in the vein of her critically loved/commercially overlooked 2012 debut album King Con? Or maybe something poppier than the intimate music she had just turned in to them? Perhaps something completely different? It was figuring out their request that delayed and eventually cancelled Winston’s completed second album, and had her praying that she’d be dropped.
Now free from the three-year label purgatory, Winston is finally releasing music—whether it be an alternative radio hit or not. As Post Precious, she and friend Max Hershenow of dream-pop duo MS MR, released the breakup jam “Timebomb” in October, and recently released a video for it. But for a long time, fans hungry for more Alex Winston were left confused on her whereabouts.
“There’s something when someone tells you what kind of music you should be making in such a vague way that really screwed me,” Winston tells me on the phone, recounting the “weird creative block” that followed her signing with 300 Entertainment in 2014 and parting ways with the label earlier this year.
Winston broke into the scene with King Con, her dark debut released on Island Records that contained the twisted, catchy-as-hell tracks “Sister Wife,” “Choice Notes,” and “Velvet Elvis.” But the album suffered from mismanaged promotion, poor timing, and no “gimmick” to market her on—not to mention that her team couldn’t even get her on a tour. A year after its release, Noisey wrote that King Con “should have been the biggest album of 2012.”
“A lot of people reached out to me after that article because they just thought I’d disappeared,” she says. “A lot of people didn’t know I was making music still.” Aside from releasing “101 Vultures” on her own Rat Rizzo Records after splitting with Island, her anticlimactic era with 300 wasn’t very fruitful either. It was around the same time when Winston was diagnosed with Lyme disease, which she’s been learning how to live with since. Unbeknownst to fans, who were following and donating to her slow PledgeMusic campaign, her King Con follow-up was stewing, unheard, in a New York studio.
In Los Angeles, Hershenow was fumbling over similar label drama with MS MR. In early 2016, Hershenow and MS MR bandmate Lizzy Plapinger were fortunate enough to pry themselves out of a five-album deal with Columbia.
“I would have an idea and it would take so long to get approved by so many different people,” Hershenow says. “By the time you got the approval to do it, your budget was half what it was meant to be, and it was six months later and you didn’t even care about the idea anymore. It’s not a fun way to work.”
As Plapinger prepped her solo project, Hershenow began his quest to find a new groove—one that included experimenting with new sounds in the studio and writing for other artists. That quest looked particularly tasty to Winston.
So Winston did what many a songwriter before had done: she followed the buzz to the hive. Leaving 300 for good, she took the electricity and newfound independence that comes after a record-label breakup to LA. That’s where Post Precious was born. Coincidentally, Winston and Hershenow gave birth to the idea while they were in a session, writing for a different artist.
“We wrote a really good song for [that artist],” Hershenow explained. “But it was clear that we didn’t care that she was in the room. We had so much fun that day. We were like, ‘Oh, we should be doing this all the time.’”
Their first collab, “Timebomb,” is pulsing power pop that alludes to discotheque dancing, but the lyrics are more fit for wallowing in bed, reckoning with an unfulfilling relationship. “Love, you’re fucked,” Winston opens the track, emphasizing every syllable with a squeaky croon. “Timebomb” comes from the collaged breakup stories of both Winston and Hershenow—“It culminated into one super dick of a guy,” Winston says about the track, which will live on an EP that Post Precious hopes to release at the beginning of 2018. Its upbeat-yet-moody vibe is something they’re going to carry through with the rest of their stuff.
“Soaring melodies, dark lyrics,” Hershenow says. “I think the best music combines big aspiration with a dark underbelly. It evokes something almost nostalgic, like there’s this feeling of heartsickness but also warmth.”
With similar styles to begin with, jibing with each other was easy. But it’s clear that tossing themselves into a brand-new project is giving the duo a new perspective on songwriting.
“[Max] takes you to a place that you’d never thought you’d go,” Winston says about her partner, adding that she’d never finish a song if it weren’t for him. And the admiration is reciprocal.
“I think Alex is a genius at devious melody,” Hershenow says. “Alex is really emphatic at making sure the melodies are perfect and similarly comes up with these little nuances to the phrasing melodically that just make the song. It’s really fun to be around that.”
Untethered to labels and completely at ease around each other, their music is now flowing freer than ever. And without dozens of middle men in the way, they can make their ideas come to life without anyone’s approval, so when it reaches their fans, it’s more authentic. It’s not just music either—from their photo shoots to their music video to their art design, it’s all coming from Winston and Hershenow, as well as the friends they choose to help out.
Not having a label also takes the money away from the process, along with the connections that people at labels usually have. But that doesn’t seem to bother Post Precious; instead, it makes it more gratifying to do all the work themselves.
“I’d way rather spend my energy trying to figure out how to make the small budget work than spend my energy trying to play some political game and subject the process and the product to the pain when it doesn’t matter,” Hershenow says.
“Everything is directly coming from us,” Winston says. “Every Spotify playlist that we get on feels like, we did this. We do every bit. Maybe the scope of it is smaller, but it’s so much more satisfying.”
Emilee Lindner is on Twitter.