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To the Rescue

Though still somber, Windsor for the Derby moves toward pop and away from convention.

So what kind of musical environment would foster such pensive sensitivity?

"I grew up in Tampa, which is the death-metal capital of the world," Matz says, referencing the city that spawned such satanic heavy-hitters as Deicide, Death and Morbid Angel. "I played in various death-metal bands when I was a kid. That scene got a little weird, though, and I quit hanging out with the Deicide/Death crew. People just started going a bit too far with their ideas."

Apparently stopping just short of ritualistic human sacrifice, Matz instead fell in with the only slightly tamer indie-rock crowd. After moving to Austin, he hooked up with Windsor's other core member, McNeely. "Jason was playing music with a friend of mine from Tampa in Austin. I went and listened to them one night and just started playing along. It immediately worked. We stayed up for three nights straight and just wrote songs," Matz says.

The newly christened Windsor for the Derby began playing live in 1994. "Our first few shows are some of the most memorable, at least to me," Matz says. "We initially refused to play in club venues, and we'd play in the strangest places. I don't think anyone in Austin had been doing what we were doing. It was a real rock-and-roll time in Austin. I think the other musicians in town thought we were pretentious twits, but they eventually came around."

One such Austin musician who came around was King Coffey of psyche-punk legends the Butthole Surfers. He released Windsor's first two albums, Calm Hades Float and Minnie Greutzfeldt, as well as a recent singles collection called Earnest Powers, on his Trance Syndicate imprint. The high-profile patronage continued when the Swans' Michael Gira not only put out Windsor's third album, Difference and Repetition, on his Young God label, but took them on the road as the opening act for the Swans' final tour in 1998.

Besides being close friends and contemporaries of Sonic Youth, the Swans are known for their dour, almost ghoulish demeanor. "We did end up playing to a lot of goth folks during that Swans tour, but we definitely made a connection," says Matz. "We ourselves have some roots in that kind of music, so I think it worked."

(Does that mean Matz was one of those goth kids back in high school? "Goth? I'm not sure," he replies. "There was definitely some eyeliner involved.")

After the Swans tour, Matz relocated first to Brooklyn, then to a small town called Boston in upstate New York. With McNeely still in Austin, Windsor for the Derby became a long-distance collaboration. "I think it works for us. Jason and I have known one another for a long time, so when we get together, we're pretty prolific. We know how to play with each other and can adjust to one another pretty easily," Matz says. "It's kind of redefined what Windsor does, but I like what the distance does to the music."

With such a remote-control arrangement, the band has resorted to a kind of revolving-door lineup. "There have been too many players in Windsor to list," Matz says. (Perhaps he recalls employing such indie-rock luminaries as Adam Wiltzie of Stars of the Lid, Wayne Magruder of Bowery Electric and John Weiss of Rodan?) "We're constantly changing, because we want to treat the project as a collective. We like to get our friends involved."

Now signed to the up-and-coming label Aesthetics, home to equally somber outfits such as L'Altra and Hood, Windsor for the Derby is once again on the road and, once again, playing some decidedly out-of-the-way places. Avoiding the new major-in-miniature workings of the independent music scene, the band is booking its own tour without the leverage of agents or contracts.

"We just feel like we're at a level where we can do this on our own without paying someone to book our shows, Matz says. "We have a hard time dealing with the business side of being in a band. It's amazing how so many small indies now are operating on a major-label level. It's bad for the bands in most cases. All of the money is spent within the industry, on agents and promoters, with nothing going to the bands.

"In this country," he adds, "the only people who can afford to make music, or any art, are the wealthy."

Surrounded on all sides by indie-rock royalty, death-metal cannibals and wannabe industry high-rollers, Windsor for the Derby prefers to keep the rock prosaic.

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