Windy Weber and Carl Hultgren's music feels disquietingly right in the current climate. Not only is the spaciousness of their drifting layers of processed guitar well suited to listening in isolation, but on their new album Allegiance And Conviction perhaps more than ever, there's an eeriness and paradoxical mix of relaxation and unease that very much suit the images of empty streets that are part of the 2020 experiences.
It's actually quite a departure for the married Dearborn, Michigan duo, who've been making music together since the early nineties, in that it mainly consists of songs... of a sort. Previously their work has been almost entirely textural, but here Weber's voice adds a fascinating chanted-sung narration, hinting at a film noir story taking place in the shadows cast by Hultgren's rippling guitars. It's deeply mysterious, but like all their music is beautiful in a very immediate way, perhaps reflecting the easy mix of domesticity, mystical thoughts and deadpan humour that you can see in their track titles through the years.
Following a number of smaller releases, this album sees them back on Chicago's Kranky imprint, which has released several of their albums over the years, as well as like-minded explorers of inner space like Pan American, Stars Of The Lid and God Speed You Black Emperor! The two have also been busy keeping their record store Stormy Records running and well stocked with “ambient music, noise records and avant jazz”. We caught up with them to find out what led to the new sound on this album, and to ask for their own favourite music for lockdown listening.
Caption: Windy & Carl's new album 'Allegiance And Conviction' offers upa mix of beautiful tunes.
Hi guys, you're back on Kranky after an eight year gap – what brought you back to the label?
WINDY: Well, between the last two Kranky releases, we put out a number of different things – a couple of 7” singles, some tapes, a four-song 12", and Carl had a solo LP. We have been recording music on a regular basis but had not tried to organise any of it into a cohesive album – and when we finally did, we offered it to Kranky first. We've had such a long term relationship with Joel at the label, and he has always been good to work with, so it was easy - like going home.
CARL: Kranky is really the only Label we want to be on. Well, either that, or release an album ourselves – which is something we'd rather not attempt! So we've never really thought about going anywhere else with it. Eight years is a long time between albums. We're extremely thankful that Kranky has once again released something by us, even though the timing couldn't be much worse because of the crazy state of things right now. But hopefully things will change for the better much sooner than later.
You've been making music together for around a quarter of a century, how has your working process evolved over that time? Do you make music all the time, or just when there's a new project on the go?
C: We tend to record very sporadically, especially since the last Kranky album. We're still operating our record store all on our own and that has been a real time consumer in our lives, which is partially why it's taken so long for the new album. We have a lot of material recorded – some of it is really different in a strange, fun kind of way. We ended up working slowly at three different projects at once, and then finally put our focus into very specific songs which all fit together as a cohesive album. It's probably the shortest album we've ever done, but also the most we have put into one in ages.
W: We are sporadically fired up to create. it happens in fits and spurts, and when the impulse hits, we work on music. We try to record each time we are playing, so that if a good idea or sound happens we have captured it to work on further. That does not always happen, though and I'll find myself listening to Carl play some amazing guitar piece only to find out later he was just "messing around", and did not record it. Ugh! But there is no set way to how we create together, or separately, or anything. it's all different. But the reason why it works, I think, is because we are comfortable with each other, confident in each other's additions and offerings, and we seem to hear the same things when it comes to making music.
Often immersive or meditative music can be a reaction against a chaotic world and we're certainly in turbulent times now. How much is your music a response to the wider world?
W: Sometimes it is a direct response. There is incredible gratification in having a very bad day, week or month and sitting down with a guitar and a distortion pedal and making very dark, scary, horror movie soundtrack type music. That is an album we have not released yet (soon though – next year or two!) Other times, when we are peaceful, and the world is calmer, we find the music is dreamier and softer edged and maybe even tender in spots. The world is always scary, just more so at times, and being able to make music that soothes the soul is a big deal, for us, and we know for our listeners. It brings us great joy to know that people use our music to get them through tough spots, to help them sleep, to ease their surroundings. the world needs more calm - we are very happy to help in that.
C: It's very interesting on how the new album seems to fit the theme for what's going on in today's world. We could have never planned for it this way. Instead of doing another album of the usual more familiar Windy & Carl style, this one came to happen the way it did because of Windy's ideas for the storyline and her singing on most of it. I'm really glad it turned into what it is instead of another long, instrumental, self indulgent album... even though I know that's what a lot of listeners expect and tend to want from us!
How much do you think about how people listen – on headphones, in the background, sitting down with loudspeakers? And how do you listen at home?
W: If people listen, that is great. It is nice to know we are being included in situations. However, if they listen closely and intently, they will get more out of our music than if it is just used as background noise. This new album especially - it is a story that you can only understand if you listen to the lyrics. Plus, Carl's guitar work on this record is – in my opinion – great, and it is also different than in the past: way more texture, more intention. I love these tracks, and while the record took us years to finish, it is one of my favourites. We worked harder on it than anything else we have done. Carl made all the music, I sang, and we tied it together. It took me two years just to write the words and sing them the way I wanted. Focus... we put a lot of focus into this record, and I'd love for listeners to have the time to share that focus with us and really do some deep listening!
C: I have not listened to our new album on headphones at all. Some people have told us it sounds really good that way, though. We usually mix everything at home through our everyday living room stereo system. We'll stand in different parts of the house to hear how it holds up from a distance and not just right in front of the speakers. I've also listened to it in the car to make sure it sounds good there as well. Usually once we are finished with it, I rarely go back and listen to it. I've heard every song close to a hundred times during the process of mixing & having to approve mastering, so it's very relieving to not have to listen to it again once it was manufactured. I suppose at some point I'll give it a really good listening one day in the future.
What are your thoughts about melancholy in music? Can music be blissful, transcendent and sad at the same time?
C: Most of our music is pretty melancholy, isn't it? We don't set out to have it sound melancholy, blissful and transcendent intentionally. Fortunately it usually comes out that way. I play what I feel: not much I do is ever really planned all that much. I am certainly not able to sit down and have all kinds of ideas ready to go, I find them by trial and error. Being able to have a clear head really helps but that's not easy to do these days.
W: Absolutely music can be all those things! Neil Young is who comes to mind first. Sad... his music is sad, and gorgeous. Music can represent so many things there may not be words for, or the music bed hosts lyrics of sadness, and there can be so much power in that conference of thoughts and emotions. Life is not all fluffy and happy - music that reflects the low points can be so powerful and helpful at helping someone else get through their low points. You know, we wrote those songs in the early 2000s for our dearly departed dog Flea [2004's two 20-minute tracks Dedications To Flea], and it was a way for us to mourn his passing and honour his life with us. After those songs came out, we received so many letters and emails from people who said those songs helped them process the loss of their beloved dog or cat, and how important that was for them. Sadness and grief and soothing can be all at once - as humans we process these things simultaneously - so having them all occur in music at one time is very natural.
What do you most hope people will get from this album?
C: That they won't be too bored with it. That people will listen to it more than once or twice because there is a lot going on within the music and sounds. Being a much shorter album than we normally do will hopefully allow for more repeated listening. To me it seems really short, which is what I also like about other people's music.
W: A little bit of escape. A story to ponder, and music to delight their senses.
Can you share a few of your favourite pieces of "music for isolation", or deep / immersive listens, with YouTube and/or Bandcamp links please?
WINDY AND CARL'S MUSIC FOR ISOLATION:
W:One of our very favourites is Alice Coltraine.
And Steve Reich's Music for 18 Musicians is beautiful.
C: On most Sunday afternoons we've been listening to a radio program called PIPE DREAMS which is really heavy, dark almost avant garde pipe organ music.
I love listening to spiritual jazz - like John Coltrane:
Freddie Hubbard's “Red Clay” is a favourite:
And Terry Riley too:
Cover Image: Antal Zambo
Writer | Joe Muggs
Joe Muggs is a writer, DJ and curator of many years standing, covering both mainstream and underground. His book 'Bass, Mids, Tops', covering decades of UK bass music, is out now via Strange Attractor / MIT Press, and you can subscribe to his newsletter at tinyletter.com/joemuggs