By Melissa Fossum
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Matt Strangewayes, lead singer of Windigo, also happens to hail from Poughkeepsie. He's no stranger to the heavy and the weird, for those appellations succinctly describe his band's new sledgehammerin', stonedhengin' CD, simply titled Windigo. Track six is named "Poughkeepsie," but since it's an instrumental, Windigo fans will only glean Strangewayes' fleeting connection to this remarkably rotund lady by reading it here.
You see, when Strangewayes was still a brooding youth, the bus he rode to high school would whiz past Carnemolla every day as she sold her earthen crockery and candles by the side of the road.
"She was just massive," Strangewayes gasps between gulps of Guinness stout. "They used to lower her down from this van on a wheelchair jack. One day she wasn't around anymore. Then a few years later, I'm watching the old Howard Stern Show, and Richard Simmons had her on the Deal-a-Meal program. And that's when I found out she'd actually made the Guinness Book. But then she slimmed down to 350 pounds and was stripped of her title."
Strangewayes is no stranger to the Guinness Book, either, having tasted a piece of the world's largest lasagna while visiting Cornell University, around 1993. "It was pretty big, I would say roughly a hundred feet by 20 feet. Peas the size of boulders."
As Windigo's lyricist, Strangewayes specializes in spinning a good yarn. He's full of 'em, or full of it, depending on your inclination to believe that when the band was on its first national tour as Windigo Psychosis in 1996, the guys partied with a man claiming to be Reichen Overgraaben, a disgraced Olympic speed skater who emigrated to the United States after spilling in the nationals.
Already, I smell the blood of some nonbelievers out there. For shame!
Well, believe this: When Strangewayes emigrated here from Poughkeepsie in 1994, he left in disgrace not dissimilar to what befell our Nordic friend. Driving home with some friends after a Lollapalooza show at Jones Beach, some disgruntled driver whom they probably cut off on the throughway called five different police stations and told them Strangewayes and his baked pals were menacing commuters with a gun.
"When we pulled into our exit, state troopers were waiting for us with guns pulled and escorted us to headquarters. We're just these dudes sitting there all high listening to Iron Maiden," laughs Strangewayes. "I took the tinfoil pipe we were smoking weed through and smushed it up behind my nuts so it would hold itself. They strip-searched me full-on; I had to do the bend, and it didn't fall out! Boy, there's a moment I wasn't proud of, bending over naked and stoned in front of a bunch of cops with tinfoil wrapped around my nuts."
Angry at the world and especially Poughkeepsie, Strangewayes moved here to attend Arizona State University and brood some more. With negligible prior musical experience, he found himself forming a New York-style, hard-core-turned-metal band within a month. His accomplice in that first incarnation of Windigo and every lineup since is guitarist Jason "Eat 'em Up" Wilhite, so named because of a teenage episode where he unwittingly ate a hash brownie that was so good he proceeded to eat all the Halloween candy his mom bought for the neighborhood children.
Windigo Psychosis went through several personnel switches until finally stabilizing with the addition of bassist Dave "Davezilla" Curwin and drummer "Junior" Newlin. Before that happened, the band laid down two short CDs, the aforementioned Who Do You Trust and the three-song Strangewayes Prison.
With hostile diatribes like "C and M (Confident and Militant)" and "Introspection," Windigo Psychosis was a decidedly angrier beast than its predecessor, although "S.P." and "Bad Things" appear on the new CD in rerecorded form. "My future writing will be more towards making shit up rather than introspection," notes Strangewayes. "I think I got most of that shit out of my head on the first two. When you drink a lot, you feel all your emotions. When you smoke more pot, it's a smoother vibe."
Although voted Best Metal Band in 1995 by New Times, Windigo has morphed into a band that its producer and former Guns N' Roses ax man Gilby Clarke describes as "very heavy but with a groovy '60s influence to it. Those guys were great. I like the way they want to experiment with sounds which a lot of bands won't do."
As for its recording m.o., Clarke confirms the band did indeed do a lot of weed. "They seemed pretty content," Clarke laughs. "Because that's the way they play their music, and that's how they write and listen to their music. That's important. I don't smoke pot at all. What was cool was I was creating these sounds with them, and I made sure that they were stoned when they listened back to them, and I could see them smiling, and I'd say, 'All right, we got it.'"