Winona Oak Is in Free Fall

Winona Oak Is in Free Fall

By Erica CampbellFeb 08, 2024

“Falling in love is scary,” Swedish singer-songwriter Winona Oak says. The video for her new track “If I Were To Die,” premiering today on PAPER, leans into that free-fall feeling, one Oak describes as “intense vulnerability” and the “certainty that by falling in love, you will at some point, be hurt.”

“'If I Were To Die' is about the catastrophic thinking I do as a coping mechanism to protect myself against that vulnerability,” she tells PAPER. "It's when I feel that everything is almost too good to be true... that's when my brain starts creating nightmare scenarios. I'm protecting myself by preparing my mind for the worst, for the pain. [“If I Were To Die”] is a love song but with a dark twist.”

Oak is also announcing her upcoming EP Void today, which is set for release on May 3. The collection of tracks shines a light on what she calls “the worst year of [her] life,” following the death of her mom and the chaos that came from living with grief.

Below, Oak talks to PAPER about writing about love and loss at the same time, bringing a romantic drama to life with her visuals and how “pain is the price you pay for real love.”

What was the initial emotion or experience you wanted to convey in “If I Were To Die?”

Self-preservation was what I wanted to convey. Allowing myself to feel everything in a relationship has been difficult for me because of my past experiences and traumas. I tend to put my guard up a lot with people and I don't want to let myself lose control. So, in order to stay in control, I create worst-case scenarios to protect myself. Love, relationships and life in general are so fragile, such a fragile mess. Because I know it's so fragile and fleeting, I prepare myself for the end to protect myself now.

The track discusses dark thoughts around the death of a loved one but also this deep level of affection. Was it hard to convey those juxtaposing emotions in one song?

I don't think that the emotions or thoughts are too far apart, because pain is the price you pay for real love. Whenever you take a risk in loving and caring for someone, there is always a risk of losing them. If you really love someone then you know you can get hurt, so it's dealing with that emotion as you allow yourself to love. I think most of us would rather take that risk than not feel anything at all.

I love the lyrical symbolism in the track, particularly the idea of dying in a car together — it reminded me of The Smiths’ “There Is a Light That Never Goes Out.” What was the feeling you wanted the metaphoric car crash to represent?

The Smiths absolutely were an inspiration to me in writing this song. That song helped me to understand some of the things that I was feeling and the emotions I wanted to convey. I just love the symbolism of small, everyday scenarios like cruising in a car together with someone. Those scenarios tend to be when my catastrophic thinking sets in. I turn very small, everyday situations into opportunities for disaster in my head.

What was the story you wanted the video to tell, and how did you bring it to life?

I wanted to have a Thelma and Louise vibe. In the video, we wanted to portray a fine line between having a deep friendship and being romantically in love with someone. Because that fear of losing someone comes in all relationships. I would just want to leave the audience wondering if I'm in love with her or if I’m jealous that my friend is leaving me for a romantic love. It's up to them to decide.

I worked with director Julian Gillstrom to make that vision come to life, and to end with that car crash was important because it ties it back to the lyrics. The other scenarios are the everyday scenarios I felt were important to portray: being in a hotel, bar, the tube, the places where my fears thrive.

Can you tell us about collaborating with Acne and Chanel for the looks in the video?

I've been fortunate enough to have a good relationship with both brands for a number of years now and could not be more grateful to them both. They are dream collaborations and I am honored that they provided a few pieces to help bring my vision to life.

What do you hope viewers will walk away with after seeing the video?

I hope they like the visuals and that we created a world that they would want to revisit. I hope that it brings the concept and lyrics to life, reinforcing the song overall. Watching a video makes me feel more for a song, I hope it makes the audience feel more.

What are you most excited to share with fans next?

I'm just excited to keep sharing music. Excited to release my EP Void in May and to share all the new music I have been working on.

What’s the overall vibe and energy we can expect from Void?

It's a bit dark, but I've been going through very dark emotions and situations lately. It's what I'm feeling in real time, created in the middle of chaos with a large void inside my chest. I feel so lucky to have such great collaborators, producers, songwriters and friends who made me feel so comfortable being vulnerable, and it's been truly an honor to create with them. Every song has been a therapy session for me. No overthinking, just letting it pour out for the first time and writing it for myself with the hope that other people going through similar things will connect to it.

Photography: Julian Gillstrom