The Crux - Interviews - Soundblab

The Crux

by Rich Morris Rating: Release Date:

Josh Windmiller is a singer-songwriter living in Santa Rosa, California. With his band The Crux he has released three albums of folk-punk, mixing the weird old Americana of travelling preachers, barn dances and bluesmen with punk attitude and anti-folk DIY style, and putting on excitingly physical and interactive live performances. He’s also a vital presence on the varied and self-sufficient Santa Rosa music and art scene. Soundblab caught up with him to talk about his local scene, his favourite kind of pie and how to compete with online cat videos.

Tell us about the music scene in Santa Rosa. What kind of bands are there? What are the music venues like?

Santa Rosa is part of a general territory of California called the North Bay. It is about an hour outside of San Francisco. Culturally, there are a lot of folks who wanted some distance from the city for some reason or another, but still live close enough to be a part of the action. There is also a huge Spanish-speaking population. Lots of young families up here too. There is a lot of natural beauty: coastline, open spaces, redwood forests…

In my experience, most of the music people make out here falls into the broad Americana genre. Lots of American roots stuff, based out of blues, country, and the whole 60s folk-rock sound. Singer-songwriters that you can stomp a boot with. I run a promotions project up here called the North Bay Hootenanny, where I book a lot of local Americana acts and host my own events. If you want to find out more about the artists in the North Bay, I recommend you check it out.

There has been some good punk bands up here too. And I hear there is a healthy hardcore scene, but I know less about that.

As for venues… I see a few different categories of venues for live music in the North Bay. You’ve got your bars and your cafes, which I guess you have everywhere. Another kind of venue is all the local wineries up here. A few of these are really starting to open their doors to local music and are investing in the scene. I have just started to introduce myself to this part of our scene, and I am interested to see where that goes.

I have been part of a few ‘do it yourself’ venues, which are always a hoot. We had a property out of the city limits where we hosted music in a barn and a chicken coop. We had a three-day festival out there, with camping! Recently, I have been hosting events at an old brick building in downtown Santa Rosa called the Arlene Francis Center. This place is huge and has been many things in the past: school, brewery, winery, and mill. It is fun because I get to completely repurpose each room for whatever kind of show we want to do there. It is a lot of work, but we get to do some pretty fun stuff there.

One more thing – I have also worked with a few ‘mini festivals’ in the area, which are really cool. Different groups put them on, although I usually like to work on them in some capacity. They are either free to the public or very cheap, and we have had a considerable number of them over the past few years: The Handcar Regatta, the Rivertown Revival, Roots Americana, This Train… These are really great venues for local performers to play for some pretty big audiences.

How did The Crux form?

I was 24 and had never been in a band. Most of my artistic experience was with acting and poetry. I met a friend who helped me learn how to write songs and we started The Crux. Basically, we wanted to have really wild live shows and write songs that were original, but based out of the music of the 1930s and such. Kind of an alternate-reality-old-timey-new-timey-cabaret-medicine-show-band.

How would describe your music?

Lately I have been going with “folk-punk theatre”. Atmosphere and personality are very important in my music. Story as well. There are usually lots of characters, either directly referenced, or embodied in the voice.

As for instrumentation, we use a lot of acoustic instruments from the previous centuries: guitar, accordion, clarinet, fiddle, etc. These instruments help us get the mood of many of the genres that we are inspired by: jazz, gospel, sea shanties, klezmer music…

Tell us about your new album

It is called The Ratcatcher. The songs on this album come directly from a play that I co-wrote with The Imaginists Theatre Collective in my hometown of Santa Rosa, California. The play was a re-imagining of the Pied Piper story, where a piper is not paid for ridding the city of rats and consequently he steals all the children of the city away to… somewhere. Another world? The bottom of a lake? Who knows.

We used the story to make a lot of comments on living in a small town; the constant fishing that city councils are engaged in for tourists, how we treat children and artists in our communities, and stuff like that. I will have a DVD of the play edited sometime soon for people to watch online.

The album that we just released lacks much of the story, but it lets the songs speak on their own to a greater extent, since your mind isn’t trying to insert each one into a narrative. There are a few themes: leaving home, staying home, strangers arriving in town, tourism…

Who are your musical inspirations? What are your non-musical inspirations? What are your general irritations?

Musical inspirations: Bertolt Brecht. Tom Waits. Glen David Andrews. Gogol Bordello. The Velvet Underground. Jason Webley. Mississippi John Hurt. El Radio Fantastique.

Non-musical inspirations: The Imaginists Theatre Collective. Bread and Puppet. Fairy tales. Marshall McLuhan. Radiolab. Comic books. Time spent walking in the hills.

General irritations: Losing my keys. Forgetting people’s names.

If you had a superpower what would it be and what would your superhero name be?

Hmm… I would be The Claw Hammer, with all of the powers of a full carpentry workshop. Anything you can do in a carpentry shop, I can do with just my body. I build all sorts of crazy wood inventions to catch villains and, of course, make cabinets and stuff.

You're vocal style is very full-on and lusty. What should a Crux gig virgin expect from seeing you live?

Lusty... nice! Yeah, there is kind of an earthy going-on with my voice on the album, I guess. Earth and fire stuff. Lusty is good.

I always get my whole body into my singing. Some sounds can only be made by contorting or jumping in the air while you belt it out.

In terms of live shows, I am always thinking of new ways to engage with the folks in the room. They chose to come out to see live music, rather than tune into cat videos online, so I feel like I should give them something more - beyond the songs. We try to shift it up, sometimes we use strange percussion instruments, we preach to the crowd, we give out food, we have puppet shows…

You've got some 'reserve' band members. What do they do?

The makeup of The Crux is this: I write some songs and I get some ideas about how I want to present it in a show, video, or whatever. Then I go to musicians in the community. The ‘reserve’ members are just folks who have performed in the past and who may in the future. We have a pretty solid four-piece band right now, and we reach out to other musicians as needed.

What's your favourite kind of pie?

Bring on the berry pie. Multiple berries. Hold no berry back.

Where, in your opinion, is the best music coming from in the US right now?

Here comes the cheerleader in me… I really think that the West Coast is a fun scene. The folks that I play with from the Bay Area make some of the best music I have heard. And you can go all up and down the coast here, finding people doing really innovative stuff.

That being said, I saw some pretty incredible stuff happening in New Orleans while I was there. Some cool train-hopping kind of folks like Hurray for the Riff Raff and Lonesome Leash, in addition to all the R&B and brass that continues to flow from the city. New Orleans seems like one of the few places that is pretty safe from the overproduced stuff. They just send it right back and say, “No thanks, we are good with what we have.”

Which bands would you love to support? Use this space to pimp yourself out to them!

Years ago, The Crux opened up for The Devil Makes Three, and I would love to do that again. Hurray for the Riff Raff would be really cool as well.

What next for The Crux?

We are performing a lot through the winter – out to the snowy Sierra mountains, up to Oregon, and down to the Santa Cruz coast. I don’t really feel like I am doing my job if I am not putting the songs in front of new people all the time – often that means traveling.

I am getting ready to write new songs. I am kind of interested in the idea of one or two-chord songs – we will see where that gets me. Also, I am brainstorming how to share my music online. I have thought so much about how to make a good live show, and I think that it has helped me express the music very well in that format… I want to fool around more with the internet. I want to see what kind of stage it can be for the music I make. I haven’t done much of that in the past.

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