On her third album, Wasted Time, the much-travelled Canadian singer/songwriter Winona Wilde continues to redefine the image of the troubadour, documenting her life and observing the world with both biting wit and heartbreaking honesty. It is an approach that echoes some of country music’s greatest composers, such as Townes Van Zandt and Billy Joe Shaver, so it’s no surprise that she was named a winner of the 2017 Kerrville (Texas) Folk Festival’s New Folk competition.
However, what is revealed in the music tells only part of Winona Wilde’s story. A child of Iraqi parents, she was born Noosa Al-Sarraj and became infatuated with playing classical music on the piano at a young age. At the same time, her country music-loving nanny planted the seeds for her future devotion to artists like John Prine, Hank Williams, and Loretta Lynn, and by her teens, she discovered a natural ability to write songs in a similar style.
Al-Sarraj produced Wasted Time herself, working at engineer John Dinsmore’s Toronto studio, Lincoln County Social Club. She played most of the instruments as well, with contributions by, among others, Alan Mackie on upright bass, Sean Conway on electric guitar, Elise Boeur on fiddle, and Sarah Jane Scouten on harmonies and fiddle. In fact, Al-Sarraj cut the basic tracks live, accompanied only by Mackie, in a single 10-hour session, a clear indication of the confidence she had in the material, after spending four months in pre-production.
As a fiercely independent artist, Al-Sarraj continues to make many new friends and allies as she travels around North America, committed to the cause of making country music that sounds both old and new. You can find out more at winonawilde.com.
What do you recall about your first time performing in public?
I was this weird child that started performing and competing early on, not because of any pressure from anywhere, just because I was a freakazoid and I loved it. For my first singing competition, I was young—like 7 or 8—and had gotten a friend of my mom’s to record the accompaniment for me to rehearse to. It certainly did nothing for my social life, but it was just heavenly for me to repeat that song obsessively. I don’t even really remember the performance at all, only that I won and was surprised.
What’s been the most significant change in your life in the past year?
On the advice of my doctor, I’ve stopped living alone in vehicles at truck stops or the side of the road.
What are the differences between touring in the U.S. versus touring in Canada?
Americans are better tippers and gas is about half the price.
So what is your best touring story?
That would have to be the time I had left the Yukon to join a circus band that had passed through Dawson City, where I was living at the time. One night after a show in a resort town in the Rockies, the rest of the band had gone to sleep, and I ended up being harassed by these insane tourists who had nailed their friend’s ear to the bar and were pouring shots down his throat as some kind of hazing ritual.
Along comes this short, stocky, terrifying looking man with his name, Theo, tattooed on his knuckles. He grabbed their shot glasses, crunched them with his teeth and spat the glass back out at them. The dudes scattered and Theo and I spent the remainder of the evening singing Miley Cyrus songs at the top of our lungs.
If you could change anything about the music business, what would it be?
I’d like to see better business practices across the board. It’s a lot like the Wild West in that there is absolutely no code of conduct and I am just appalled sometimes at what some people think is appropriate. I wish there was a Better Business Bureau for the music industry, because, as artists, we are the ones paying these people to support and represent us. It’s sad to see what some people do with that trust.