The Many Hats of Windy & Carl
"We find a sound we like, we press record and we play. The words always are written after the music. Mostly – our songs are spontaneous creations that we relearn how to play so we can perform then in front of an audience." says Windy Weber, reflecting on how Windy & Carl's songwriting process changed over the last 20 years. Michigan-based husband and wife duo Carl Hultgren and Windy Weber are primarily known for their deep, post-shoegaze, hypnotic ambient guitar drones and have been making music off and on for twenty four years. Windy & Carl also run a record store in Dearborn, Michigan, called Stormy Records. I had the pleasure of interviewing them about their path to becoming musicians, record shop owners and husband and wife. This is their story.
1. Windy & Carl are an ambient drone group, but you are also record shop owners and husband and wife. Tell me about your path to becoming musicians, record shop owners and husband and wife.
Windy: This answer could be a book. Simply – we loved music our whole lives, and felt the need in Detroit for a record store that would offer what we felt was missing – a good mix of underground ambient and soundscape type music, and avant jazz and soul. So after having worked for other people, we drew up a plan and opened our own shop.
Carl: Way back in 1989 I met Windy while visiting a local record store where she was working. We crossed paths a couple of more times in different situations soon after our first meeting and we began dating. Around 1990 / 1991 I began recording compositions on guitar and keyboard while I had some time off of work. Windy liked what I was doing and we started working together to record & release our first 7" single in 1993. We began playing live in 1993, both locally and some out of town dates eventually as we kept releasing singles, a few tapes and our first couple of albums. In 1999 we decided to open up our own record shop (Stormy Records) in Dearborn, Michigan. We have had the store ever since. We were eventually married and all has remained intact ever since.
2. What started your interest in music?
Windy: My first memory in life is of hearing Bob Dylan while in my crib. My parents and older siblings listened to music constantly, and played records in the house and 8 tracks in the van and went to lots of concerts. Neil young, Emerson Lake and Palmer, Blue Oyster Cult, Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, Belly Dance Music, Jimi Hendrix. It was always around and on the radio and on the reel to reel player and was this great type of magic. By the time I was a teenager – I wanted to be in a band and make music and tour and stuff.
Carl: I also have been into music all of my life. I grew up with most of my family listening to all kinds of music as I was growing up. When I was about 8 years old I was given a cheap plastic guitar as a gift, though I really had no idea what I was doing with it until I was 15 when I was given my first electric guitar. I did the whole routine of learning Black Sabbath & AC/DC songs as a teenager with my friends in our private garage band. I did not begin writing and composing until getting together with Windy.
3. What kind of music did you hear as a kid? Did your parents collect records? Do you remember your first record?
Windy: My siblings collected records. And when they would move out – they sometimes left records behind. I remember especially loving Roxy Music's Flesh and Blood, which my sister did not take to college with her.
Carl: My sister (and my friends older brothers and sisters) had Monkees and Beatles records which they would let us listen to. My mom played 8-tracks by Neil Diamond, The Carpenters, The Beach Boys & The Association in her car all of the time. I had an uncle who listened to classic rock and rhythm and blues music. We didn't watch too much TV growing up, most time was spent listening to music.
4. When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Windy: When I was young, I watched a lot of nature shows. I really loved Jacques Cousteau and wanted to be a marine biologist, but then I ended up with asthma and also could not swim, so being in water at all was not going to be for me. It seemed normal to want to be in a band, and then my first job was in a record store – so the music business seemed like the place to be.
Carl: My friends and I all wanted to be in a band or be a baseball player. Very typical boy kid stuff in the 1970's.
5. Windy & Carl have been making music off and on for twenty four years. Has your songwriting process changed much over the years?
Windy: In the beginning Carl wrote the music and I wrote all the words. By the time we wrote depths, we were each writing music on our own, and not always wanting to "share" a piece and let the other play on it. But – it mostly happens the way it always has – we pick up our instruments and just see what happens, and much like how Antarctica was created – we find a sound we like, we press record and we play. The words always are written after the music. Mostly – our songs are spontaneous creations that we relearn how to play so we can perform then in front of an audience.
Carl: In the early days of W&C, we really did focus more on proper songs and not really too much of the ambient drone style which we have been doing for the past almost 20 years. Our first single was labeled as 'Space Folk' by a local record store which is fairly accurate. Sometimes the process has been 'let's record a bunch of stuff and pick out the best parts to work on.' Somethings happen accidentally still, but we do still work with structure even if it doesn't always come across that way.
6. What makes you get out of bed in the morning? What’s inspiring you to make music these days after all these years?
Windy: Sometimes nothing. All artists hit dry spells, and for a creative person – a dry spell can feel like dying. When you make nothing and have no output you feel as if you have dried up and are worthless. When the spark comes back – it is like welcoming an old friend into your arms and you respond with this amazing joy. Not to say that the spark comes back and everything you create is wonderful – but just having that feeling return is so joyous .and then you write again – you pick up your instrument and find new sounds in it and find new tones in your voice and things that are moving – and you make new music. I cannot pin point one single thing – I can only say that when the inspiration comes – I run with it. Because I know it is not always there. I know my own spark is like well water, and it is not always pumping out. Sometimes the well is dry.
Carl: Mornings are great because it's a new day with fresh ideas. Anything could be possible. I wish it were as easy to come up with new ideas all of the time. Sometimes they happen in a flurry, sometimes they don't happen at all for periods of time.
7. You also run Stormy Records in Dearborn, Michigan. Do your customers have any clue you guys are Windy & Carl? Any funny or interesting stories?
Windy: Most of them have no idea. It's not really something we talk about to promote in the shop. We do get an occasional shopper who specifically comes in to see "US", but mostly we sell records to people who have no idea that we make music at all. And – a number of them have no idea that we own the shop, especially that I, a woman, owns the shop, I'm often referred to as "the secretary". It's kind of a drag.
Carl: Since having the store, I think we have slowed down a bit on our output of music which means that not having releases on a regular schedule means that younger people might not know too much about us. There have been a couple of times where we have played in Detroit opening for someone - a band who our younger customers like & while we would be setting up to play, they would be like "you guys have the record shop. What are you doing on stage" as if we were setting up for the band they came to see.
8. If you could curate a movie soundtrack with Windy & Carl tracks, which movie would you pick and which tracks would you select?
Windy: I have never thought of this before. We do have a number of songs in the movie August Evening, by Chris Eska, but otherwise – gosh I don't know. Something really beautiful and cinematic.
Carl: I think a good deal of our music would work really well in nature documentaries and things like that. The longer songs especially.
9. If you could wake up anywhere tomorrow, where would it be? And what would be the perfect soundtrack?
Carl: I would love to wake up in the quiet Country. No cars, no sounds, no city chaos. Listening to Alice Coltrane or Terry Reilly wouldn't hurt.
10. Is there a new Windy & Carl album coming up soon?
Carl: For the past handful of years I have been sporadically recording. After my solo album (Tomorrow), I had to take a bit of a break. I worked on that album non-stop for months. The past few years I have been recording a little bit more. here's easily enough for another W&C album but the tricky part is deciding what pieces work best together. I have finally been getting back to completing unfinished pieces and feeling more productive also since relocating our home studio to a different part of our house.