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Photo courtesy of Rachel Owen

Breakfast with Winkler

They waved at me from across the busy intersection, receiving back just a slow, shaky raise of my own hand. Tentatively climbing up its short two steps, we sat ourselves down next to the appropriately-curtained window of Cafe Mirror, Brighton’s apparent epicenter for up-and-coming musicians like themselves. They had already recognized a few patrons from stints at local venues, other bands they’d played in, and Halloween parties from the night before. 

Since our first correspondence, Winkler has grown from being fresh off their first East Coast tour and uploading demos to SoundCloud to opening for Faye Webster, recording an album, and receiving two nominations for the Boston Music Awards. They’re no longer the original trio of friends from Berklee or the jam session that relied on some of their members’ California nostalgia. Now, they’re the five-piece band that packs basements, draws crowds, and pushes the boundaries of at-home recording. With such developments, Winkler has become a facet of the Boston music scene, proving themselves to be a model for success in such a saturated sea of young talent.

Their current makeup was formed just one year ago with Justin on guitar and lead vocals, Christian on the drums, Maddy on percussion and vocals, Ava on bass, and Alex on guitar. Years before, however, Justin introduced his hometown friend, Ava, to his new Berklee friends, Christian and Maddy. And while Alex was just a friendly neighbor that the band waved to during the pandemic, they stepped up to fill Andrew's spot, the original guitarist that the band woefully lost. “We’re still lookin’ for him,” Justin interjected with a laugh.

Despite their relatively new conception, Justin and Christian’s original shared love for four-track recording brought them together in a Berklee practice room. “I thought that was very intriguing,” Justin said, “because I hadn’t done that, but I really liked the idea.” Christian quickly acquainted Justin with the now-antiquated system, as they recorded some of Justin’s original pieces. “From then, we started making up some other stuff with Maddy too… and those first hangouts produced some of the first songs we ever released.”

The four-track, while a tedious and outdated recording method, is now crucial to producing the iconic Winkler sound. The origin of the band’s name, however, was interrupted by steaming plates of fried muffins, egg sandwiches, and french fries. We all took a moment to appreciate the deliciously greasy, cooked-to-perfection spread provided by Brighton’s best breakfast spot. In between coffee refills and crunchy bites, I learned how Henry Winkler inspired the band’s name.

“The name of the band is…” Justin theatrically introduced with his jokingly-pretentious rockstar attitude, evoking laughs from the rest of the table. “We picked it hastily,” he now earnestly remarked, “from a line in our song ‘Winkler’ because we just needed a name right then.” Minutes before their first gig, Winkler was born. 

“Some people accuse us of being a Henry Winkler tribute band,” Ava chimed in, which isn’t helped by the fact that the song in question features an elongated sing-scream of “Winkler!” followed by a reference to his time as the Fonz on “Happy, happy days.”  

“What’s funny is that Christian absolutely despises the name,” Maddy said with a shrug, “he always asks, ‘can we please change it?’ And we’re all like dude, no, it’s way too late to change it now.” With nods of agreement from the others, it’s certain that “Winkler,” while unfortunate for some, is here to stay.

With music released and a name chosen, the band began to cement itself within the Boston music scene. Traversing this underground realm of talent literally entails entering the subterrane, as basement concerts are its pride and joy. 

“We started going to house shows as fans,” Maddy, who now doubles as the band’s booking manager, remarked, “then it started becoming the easiest way to get a gig.” Every weekend, young, or youthful, residents of Boston pack into damp, sweaty, dingy basements to hear music from every corner of the city’s scene. The space is tight, the music is loud, and the bands are auspiciously on the cusp of “making it big.” For Winkler, this is exactly where they want to be.

“We still really love playing house shows,” Maddy added, “because bar shows can kinda suck… and we would really wanna play house shows forever.” With the grime, sweat, and ear-piercing tinnitus, many would say that these shows are the least desirable sort of venue. These basements are what make Boston’s music scene special, however, and they provide a perfect reason as to why any band would want to remain a continual headliner. Ava put it perfectly, saying, “Nothing makes me feel more like a rockstar than playing at a packed house show.”

Winkler has moved above the basement despite its magnetic pull, as they have toured across the East Coast in the spring of 2022. Fans from New York City, Philadelphia, D.C., and Richmond have flocked to their shows, hoping to catch a glimpse of the growing band. Due to the warm reception, Winkler plans on revisiting some of these cities again this spring, but this time, they’ll promote their debut album For You, Now

Years in the making, For You, Now is long-awaited not only by diehard fans but by Winkler themselves. “It was originally going to come out about five different times,” Maddy chuckled, “but now we are really at the point where it will probably come out when we say it will.” With a February 17 release date, Winkler’s debut is bound to feature the band at its best.

“A lot of the songs on it are older songs,” Justin said with a tinge of nostalgia, “and at this point, we just felt we owed a release of them.” Having only released five singles in almost four years, the band has developed a conglomerate of creativity just bound to be released. “A lot of the songs are a lot slower, tempo-wise, and more acoustic,” he added, “and they don’t translate to the basement arena, so we haven’t even played them live yet.”

Featuring jazz-inspired instrumentals and piano-filled outros, For You, Now is ready to showcase the songwriting talents of one of Boston’s best new bands. All still recorded through the four-track that started it all, Winkler is just as ecstatic about its release as their fans are: “We’re really excited,” Justin concluded, “it’s been a long time comin’.”

As the check came and our stomachs filled, we made our slow exit from the restaurant. Waving goodbye to their friends, neighbors, and bandmates, Winkler exhibited the sense of community found not only within Cafe Mirror but within the Boston music scene as a whole. As each band embarks on its own journey, they all do it alongside their talented peers, and Winkler is no exception. Establishing themselves as a band beyond the reaches of Boston, they’re not afraid to return to their roots, continually filling the basements they’ve already filled hundreds of times before.

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Spends too much time on crossword puzzles. Can make a mean chocolate chip pancake. Proponent of eating the casing on brie.