Guitars and Pedals

Windy and Carl bring their abstract and dreamlike ambient-industrial music to Solar Culture

The experimental duo Windy and Carl have been playing ambient-industrial music for nigh on 15 years, but they can't seem to escape the appellation "space rock."

But the exploration of inner space is far more important to this husband-and-wife team from the Detroit area than journeys into outer space.

"I don't feel that there's anything really 'rock' about what we do. It's definitely atmospheric, but I don't know that I feel outer space is an atmosphere we are familiar with," said bassist and vocalist Windy Weber.

"We make music to help people get out of their bodies. If we can somehow relieve some of the stress that happens to people in day-to-day life for a little while, if people can somehow lay down their emotional loads from work or what have you, if only for a little while, then we've accomplished a wonderful thing."

Weber spoke via phone from the home she shares with her husband, Carl Hultgren. He was not available for the interview because, as Weber noted, the Detroit Red Wings game was on TV.

Windy and Carl will perform for the first time in Tucson on May 31 at Solar Culture Gallery, with local act Vortex 4.

Weber said she and Hultgren were paired as a couple well before they started collaborating on music.

"We started dating in the fall of 1989, so it's been almost 20 years that we've been together. In the very early '90s, we started kind of having a joke band with friends, doing Mudhoney and Sonic Youth covers, My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive and that sort thing."

Neither had much musical experience, said Weber, who had played in a percussion ensemble in junior high school. "Carl had played for a little while in a thrash-metal band, but it was nothing professional, you know?"

After fooling around in their joke band, they decided they could take things more seriously.

"I said, 'You know, Carl, these people in bands all over are the same age as us, and they are making music and going on the road, so why not us?' So we started writing some songs."

Early albums were on small, independent labels and are now hard to find. But in 1998, Windy and Carl hooked up with the larger (but still indie) Kranky Records, which has released most of their material since.

Because they were both into experimental guitar music and ambient noise, they soon embraced the guitar sounds they were hearing in their favorite bands—especially My Bloody Valentine and 4AD bands such as Cocteau Twins and This Mortal Coil—but they limited the instruments to guitar and bass.

Early on, the sound was simpler, she said. "It was maybe a little more folk-oriented and easier to tell what the instrumentation was. As time went on, we got more comfortable with making unusual sounds with our instruments, and it got more abstract and dreamlike, and we added more layers to the sound, more colors."

Windy and Carl build environments of sound, allowing tectonic plates of electronic sound to shift through the music. Hearing the music is visceral and emotional: It's a deep, rich and rewarding experience. And there's not a sequencer, synthesizer or sampler to be found.

"We don't do anything fancy (later in the mix) or anything, which I think surprises people. Generally, the sound that we get before it gets recorded is exactly what is recorded. We generally don't do anything to process the sound later. That's part of what allows us to play live so easily. It's guitars and pedals, and that's it."

And Windy's voice. Now and then, she'll sing a song, but until the duo's lush and inviting 2008 album, Songs for the Broken Hearted, rarely were her lyrics intelligible. They were buried under the covers of the mix, simply another atmospheric element.

On Broken Hearted, though, she sings quite clearly, and a little more loudly, on tunes such as "My Love," "Forever" and "Champion."

"In the past, I was not really interested in people knowing what I was singing," Weber said. "It was safer for me, as I've always had a hard time singing in front of people. I never really had a lot of confidence in my vocals.

"But the new record had a lot of different meanings for me. ... It affirms who I am, and that's what the songs are about, affirming that it's OK to be yourself."

When not playing music, Windy and Carl are selling it. For 10 years, they've owned and operated Stormy Records, an independent music shop at which they are the only employees.

The store's focus "has always been to fill a void in the Detroit area and help people find experimental music, the sort of thing they can't track down anywhere else. We primarily stock two-thirds used vinyl and about a third CDs or reissued vinyl."

Although Windy and Carl are hardly household names, they've been around long enough to earn some props in independent music circles. Nevertheless, not all people can get the band's name spelled right, Weber said.

"We're always finding some new misspelling on fliers and show posters. Most of the time, they want to spell Windy with an 'e' and Carl with a 'k.' The worst, though, was when someone thought that (transgender synthesizer composer) Wendy Carlos was playing."