Windigo's Strange Ways
Poughkeepsie, New York, your time is gonna come.
It almost came in 1988 when Poughkeepsie resident Rosy Carnemolla amassed 850 pounds of too solid flesh and snagged herself "the world's heaviest woman" slot in the Guinness Book of Records.
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.'"
Just to be sure I got it, I've decided to take up Strangewayes' invitation to hear the CD for the first time wacked out on mushrooms. An informal listening party for the band's new album is taking place at his home, and while everyone's waiting for Wilhite to show up before firing up the CD, we sit around the pool getting progressively toastier around the edges. There's an alarmingly fuzzy tree in the yard that even Strangewayes claims not to have noticed before in all its fuzzy splendor. I alternate between being transfixed to that and watching the pool pump dance around.
After about an hour and a half of listening to Pink Floyd's Animals, several people, myself included, jump into the pool fully clothed to escape the Blue Cheer album that follows. Later, someone puts on some John Lee Hooker album. I comment on how the bluesman's hand-clapping time seems off, and Newlin points out "that isn't John Lee Hooker, it's your noisy pants clanking in the dryer." For your information, Strangewayes' dryer has a button on it that says LOUD. We turn the knob in the opposite direction of LOUD, but the pants are still clanging out of time. When we turn the knob all the way to the right toward LOUD, however, it makes a pleasant buzzer sound. Everyone is relieved.
We decide not to wait for Wilhite to finish off the last of the mushrooms, and what NMG/Pavement's promotional department promises to be "the heaviest trip you've ever been on" finally gets under way. Here, in jumbled chronology, is a track-by-track analysis of this splendid Windigo CD, with prognosis reports on my condition so that you can gauge my journalistic objectivity.
"The Ballad of Reichen Overgraaben"
Our lethargic Norwegian friend is hitching a ride down south to a nice mix of funk and foggy mental breakdown at the end. "We hunted down some old Sports Almanacs and found out there really was a Reichen," swears Strangewayes. According to some legends, this teutonic, paisley-clad wunderkind skater (presumably the aged subject of this album's cover) went mad when he came to America.
Aiding Reichen's downfall, of course, were hallucinogenics and classic rock, which explains the "Riders on the Storm" reference midway through. One senses if Reichen really was that killer on the road, the sweet family fated to die would've gotten away scot free since the winded Nordic chronically complains, "I lost my energy." This affliction makes it necessary for him to take:
"This is a drug much like ginseng, used to keep your dick hard. I don't know why this song is called 'Yohimbe,'" confesses Strangewayes. This trudging anthem starts out with swirling bong-water sounds made exclusively on guitar and contains references to Reichen partying with rock stars and their "designer drugs."
"There's rumors that he knew the Doors, when he was at his peak in '70, '71, getting ready for the '72 Olympics. He used to hang out with all the swank swingers, the Bee Gees, Tower of Power, Sabbath, Foghat, they all knew him."
The album's cover art contains what are rumored to be the only known photos of Reichen, first in his prime, and then wobbling toward middle age with his trusty dog Maestro.
"Postcard From Chupacabra"
"Yohimbe" and this number both sport cameo appearances by the world's most notorious Spice Girls fan, one Charles Manson. According to Strangewayes, the fascination stems from having a friend who corresponded with sorry Charlie in prison. "My friend hands me this postcard he got from Charles Manson, 'cause he had written him in jail and sent him some Sepultura cassettes. The gist was 'thanks for the cool stuff' and some awesome gibberish."
The ensuing song used to be titled "Postcard From Charles Manson" but was changed on the advice of producer Gilby Clarke.
"I didn't insist on it, I just suggested it," Clarke replies. "When you put that name on a record, it draws attention to it, and I don't think it's the attention you want to draw. And it's not a major part of what the song's about, anyway. I was, unfortunately, in a band that recorded a pretty fun record (The Spaghetti Incident?), and they stuck a Charles Manson song on the end of it. I didn't even play on it, and they never asked my opinion, either. Axl played it to me over the phone and told me it was going on the record. My family members wouldn't even buy the record as a protest. I don't blame them."
Here Strangewayes gives notice with Beastie Boy calm, "I'll smoke my green god 'til my lungs give out." The room is now completely engulfed with secondhand bong clouds. Like that poor choking schnook in "Mama Told Me Not to Come," I decide my lungs need some fresh air. They fare little better outside, since one of Strangewayes' indecisive neighbors has turned on his barbecue gas grill and is taking forever to remember what he was going to cook on it.
Loosely based on the old "Weebles wobble but they don't fall down" jingle, "wobblies are how you get when you're on psychedelic mushrooms," explains Strangewayes.
Short for "Prison." This song is the most physically demanding in Windigo's live show as it requires Strangewayes to say "never going back" in 37 different inflections, slowly building up a head of locomotive steam. It was during one show performing this song that broke his leg and had to finish the set sitting down with the waitress putting his leg in a bucket of ice. That's entertainment!
Finally my lungs get a break as I lock into Jason Wilhite's airy slide-guitar demonstration, which mellows out my agitated vibe somewhat, like a nice lost track off Floyd's Meddle or Obscured by Clouds. It's almost ruined by thoughts of Poughkeepsie not putting up a plaque for the fat lady just because weepy Richard Simmons had to butt in. Let it pass.
After a tasteful percussive intermission from Dave Jr. called "Ladmo," Windigo delivers us some evil with another holdover from the band's psychotic days. A pissed-off, one-sided dialogue between blasphemer Strangewayes and the Almighty, with Strangewayes defying Him to knock the battery off his shoulder. Sean Donovan from Pavement Music joins me outside, suddenly complaining about feeling very violent. Since "Bad Things" contains the only appearance of the dread word "love" anywhere on the recording, maybe it's touched a raw nerve.
"The Nutty Shenanigans"
Donovan calms down almost immediately, but now his paranoia is rubbing off on me during this meaty rocker. I go for a lie-down on the other end of the pool deck to look at shooting stars and start to bum out at the moment Strangewayes' dog Mocha starts sniffing me for tidbits. All of a sudden, I feel like Anne Baxter, star of stage, screen, and TV's Hotel for two memorable seasons. See, when ol' Anne croaked, she did it in style, dropping dead on the streets of Manhattan. New York, being what it is, not only didn't stop to help a dead woman off to the side, they relieved her of her wallet and jewelry. They couldn't have rolled her more efficiently if they'd left her stripped carcass on four cinderblocks. And for some reason only revealed to me later on, I'm calling Strangewayes' pooch Maestro.
Now I'm really pissed, but fortunately a "Poughkeepsie" reprise of sorts calms me down. Still, that eerie feeling of deja vu and a distortion of time have me thinking maybe Donovan's going to come outside again and BE violent this time.
"Funk and Petry"
As with "The Nutty Shenanigans," Strangewayes immortalizes yet another of his pals in song ("Petry's got a pound." No points if you guessed it was a pound of Yorkshire pudding). This Sabbathy rocker with quasi-rapping over the top features Davezilla at his Geezer Butler best and Clarke providing a hymnal church organ underneath extended guitar solo over the second half. Clarke, in fact, added keys and vocals on several songs.
"We have friends in other bands that have worked with name producers, and all they got out of it was a name," says Strangewayes. "Gilby's just a regular guy who just happens to be a killer musician. He totally listens to everything everyone has to say. He was cool with doing the abstract stuff; his motto was 'make the band happy.'"
And the band is happy. I'm happy. The pool pump is happy. And somewhere out there's a happy Norwegian speed skater named Reichen Overgraaben staring down at this album cover and saying, "Wait, that's not me!"
Windigo is scheduled to perform at its CD-release party on Friday, June 12, at Atomic Cafe in Scottsdale, with Beat Angels, Yoko Love, and Pharce. Showtime is 8 p.m.
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