Swedish singer-songwriter Winona Oak has worked on her music throughout her whole life. The 25-year-old is now on the brink of her first tour as a solo artist, after releasing her EP, Closure, in January.
The artist, whose real name is Johanna Ekmark, grew up in rural Sweden and spent most of her youth in the heart of nature and wildlife—as a trained horse acrobat. Brought up in a musical family who encouraged her to always pursue what made her happiest, she began playing violin at 5 and piano at 9, before diving into poetry and songwriting. Ekmark figured out that music and performing were in her blood early on.
“I was standing in a crowd and I would watch a band, and I would have this feeling that I belonged on stage,” Winona Oak said. “I can’t really describe it, but I felt that at a pretty young age.”
Even so, she didn’t sing in public or talk about her dreams throughout the majority her life. After she moved to the country’s capital of Stockholm, she focussed herself on making music as her life’s calling.
In 2017 she went on a Nicaraguan songwriting retreat organized by Neon Gold Records, where she allowed herself to further branch out. It was a similar retreat that had inspired Neon Gold cofounder Lizzy Plapinger (of MS MR) to start her own solo music project, LPX.
“I met all these creative people who just loved my music,” Winona Oak said. “It’s all about just meeting people who are letting you be whoever you want to in your heart.”
With the birth of Closure, her first EP, Winona Oak said she could more honestly lay her heart out on her sleeve. By combining dynamics of traditional ballads and upbeat electronic dance anthems to tell stories of vulnerability, Closure paints the common feelings of love-struck grief and the search for redemption after leaving behind a broken relationship.
“It’s kind of scary to share songs that you wrote that are very personal,” she said. “Every song has its own little journey, and each song is very important to me.”
While Closure took about five years to write and record, Ekmark had also spent the past couple of years shaping and refining her sound and musicality through collaborations with a number of well-known artists. That includes her collaboration as writer and vocalist on the Chainsmokers’ “Hope,” which hit about 350 million streams worldwide.
Through playing shows and building up experience, Winona Oak said she feels she has become braver, more intelligent and that she shows it in her music’s evolution, evidenced on newer singles “Break My Broken Heart” and “Lonely Hearts Club.”
Even more so, her fan base has skyrocketed as her songs climb various sales and streaming charts.
“When I was playing in New York there was this one guy standing in the middle of the crowd, and he just knew every lyric to all of my songs,” she said. “That was just an incredible moment; just so beautiful. He just knew every single word to every song, and that just meant everything to me.”
In fact, one of the top reasons Winona Oak can’t wait to travel the world and share her music is the hope that she can inspire and bring a positive impact in others’ lives.
“Maybe there’s someone out there who’s going through the same things in the very moment,” she said. “And maybe when they hear a song, they can just value themselves and realize that they deserve the best.”
Follow writer Amelia Parreira at Twitter.com/AmeliaParreira.