Winona Fighter: Punk for the People

Chloe Kinnon of Winona Fighter (photo by Steve Horowitz)

Winona Fighter is a power punk trio from Nashville that features frontwoman Chloe Kinnon on vocals, Dan Fuson on guitar, and Austin Luther on bass. The band enjoys a reputation for high-energy shows. Whether the group performs for 20,000 people, as at their recent opening gig for the Offspring, or at a small rock club for a few stray audience members, Winona Fighter puts it all out there, according to Kinnon.

Speaking over the telephone from Nashville, Kinnon explained that the band will approach its two upcoming shows (at 80/35 Musical Festival in Des Moines on July 12 and at the Raccoon Motel in Davenport on July 14) in the same way. “We take the same mindset and expend the same amount of energy and love no matter what the crowd size,” she said. That’s part of what being punk is all about.

Winona Fighter has played many festivals, including some of the biggest ones in America, such as Bonnaroo, South by Southwest, and Shaky Knees, as well as two previous fests in the Hawkeye State: Council Bluffs’ Is For Lovers and Davenport’s Alternating Currents. “We love Iowa,” Kinnon said. “We always run into pleasant surprises, whether it’s being somewhere and thinking we are in the middle of nowhere and finding a cool spot with rowdy fans, or just discovering good food.” Kinnon said the two boys in the band will eat anything, but she maintains a gluten- and dairy-free diet.

Kinnon said bassist Austin Luther came up with the band’s name. “The group had been performing as Coco or Coco K in the Nashville area [Coco was Chloe’s nickname], but it didn’t fit in with the other acts on a punk bill lineup. The three of us sat around one night trying to come up with what to call ourselves. We initially didn’t like it, but the next morning it just seemed right. It’s a sick name,” she gushed. They have been calling themselves Winona Fighter for the past two years.

Kinnon admits to being a fan of Winona Ryder, but the singer was born 1997, after Ryder’s movie heyday. The actress starred in such films as Beetlejuice (1988), Heathers (1988), Mermaids (1990), and Edward Scissorhands (1990). “I do love Ryder’s work, but I also love the fact that the band’s name is feminine with a punk-rock edge to it,” she explained.

Although the band hails from Nashville, Kinnon is originally from the Boston area and moved to Tennessee to attend college. She didn’t stay in school long as she realized how much she missed the punk venues from her native Beantown. “Despite Nashville’s reputation for music, there really wasn’t a punk scene. I decided to energize what was happening,” she said, “I brought what was missing, what I knew and loved, to the area.” While Nashville is known for alternative rock with performers such as Margo Price and Jack White, it all has country roots.

Kinnon considers the rock band Foo Fighters to be her biggest influence, along with such punk acts as the Dead Kennedys and NOFX. She also has a soft spot for pop, naming Brittany Spears, NSYNC, and Amy Winehouse as important to her love of music. Her aim is to make mainstream audiences who may be afraid of punk or have never been exposed to it feel welcome at Winona Fighter shows. The band incorporates some pop into its music.

“I would say that our goal has been to make the punk scene accessible to all music lovers. Punk music can be off-putting to some. What I want is to take an approach that honors punk rock and that someone who loves pop music can also come onboard,” Kinnon said. She described the importance of building a community between all music spectators.

“That’s what I like about festivals,” Kinnon said. “At a concert, people come to hear a particular band. That’s cool, but it is limiting. At a festival, people are just music lovers. They might be drawn by a specific act, but they also share a general love for music. Festivals are a more communal thing.” The singer enjoys chatting with crowd members after her performances to hear their emotional responses to new music as well as to meet the fans from the front row who have cheered from the beginning.

Winona Fighter sees its role as helping people forget about what stresses them out and feel like they can just scream and feel emotion. “We try not to force people to approach life in specific ways, but to see the world as part of a shared community where one can let loose,” Kinnon said. That’s at the root of both punk and pop. Whether performing at the large 80/35 fest outdoors in the state’s capital or at an intimate nightclub in a city by the Mississippi, Winona Fighter promises to make you feel welcome.