with Great Deceivers, Bananafish
8 p.m. Saturday, March 6
Just because the history of Asheville, N.C., groove merchants Open Windows is marked by uncertainty doesn't mean they aren't capable of being resolute. Once the self-described "runts" of the Orlando music scene, dogged by accusations of musical indecision and "personal demons," the band made the collective decision in the summer of last year to change their scenery.
"It was a fit of passion," says Open Windows guitarist Michael Wheaton of their move to Asheville. "We didn't want to be a band stuck in Florida that could only afford to play in Florida and only work with the South. We were just kind of tired of Orlando, and we didn't really feel like we fit in there. We found out a little bit `later` that we don't really fit in anywhere."
Although the quartet, whose beginnings can be traced back to open-mic nights at UCF bar Underground Bluz, drew sizable crowds of enthusiastic followers, Open Windows' musical diversity often worked against them. Their debut album, last year's Lanterns, plays like a warm-up tuning; it's more a tribute to their varying influences than a cohesive symphony, channeling Rick Derringer here ("Sandcastles of the Hermit Crab Kings"), Belle and Sebastian there ("Mere Existence"), along with Radiohead ("Everybody Scream"), Elbow ("Walkdown") and general psych-rock ("Memory Is a Convex Mirror"). In a two-year span, the band had four different drummers, and even lead vocal duties on Lanterns alternated between Zaq Suarez's Southern power and Steve Brett's quivering falsetto. In short: They were tough to get a lock on.
"There's three songwriters in the band, so naturally it's gonna be a bit all over the place," says Wheaton. "We work hard for everyone to have input on it, so the final product is the amalgamation of each person in this band. It works for us, definitely, 'cause we can always surprise you. I think, critically, it works against us."
Broken-down and bruised, the guys packed their things after a local show and, hungover, headed for Asheville — where, as luck would have it, an unusually snow-filled winter awaited them.
"We were starting over, so we'd go out and try to meet as many people as possible and `sell` our CDs for a dollar. In the meantime, we were writing," says Wheaton.
They began listening to their original source of inspiration: post-rock instrumentalists like Do Make Say Think and Explosions in the Sky. But a palate-cleansing fit of jazz did them the most good.
"Lester Young, and the Oscar Peterson Trio … we've been listening to a lot of music that doesn't influence us directly," says Wheaton. "I think a lot of it has to do with how we came over here. We made the decision to move and, a month later, we moved. And we were still in the middle of what we were going through `in Orlando`, and it just kind of floored us. I think because of that, we've kind of been wiping ourselves clean and starting over — with ourselves, and each other — in certain ways. We're not making jazz, but it does pour into ourselves."
Wheaton says the new material, which they will debut on the road before recording, reflects a shift in their structure. They've worked on harmonizing as a group rather than taking turns at the mic, and, inspired by Asheville, have taken a turn toward the dreamier aspects of melody.
"On `Lanterns`, you can still see us finding who we are and kind of trying new things," says Wheaton. "Writing songs now, I don't think you can point to the influences as well. I've never heard anything like some of these `new songs`. It still sounds like us, but the songs are a little more organic. They're taking themselves places, whereas before we were directing them; maybe more than we should've `been`."
Ironically, Wheaton says the band has earned more respect from Orlando venues now that they're returning as an out-of-town band rather than as locals. He admits, however, that they might have taken the talent pool in Orlando for granted.
"There's a lot more bands in Asheville," says Wheaton. "The thing about Orlando that I didn't know when I was there is `that` there are a lot of great bands. Or how different they are. `In Asheville`, it's pretty saturated and a lot of `bands` can be pretty generic. There's a lot of bluegrass," he laughs.
Sometimes, however, the grass can actually be greener on the other side.
"People come out `in Asheville`," says Wheaton. "There's always people out to hear music, which is great. In Orlando, you really have to fight to get people out `to live shows`. And the people you fight to get out are not even that enthusiastic about it. I didn't know what we had `with Open Windows' devoted crowds`. But despite what we had, we had to get out of there."
That's not to say the guys aren't giving back to the city that birthed their band. After their stop here, they're taking a couple of Orlando's finest — Great Deceivers and Bananafish — out on the road with them. Consider it karmic repayment, since their initial survival in Asheville is owed to an Orlando act that's remained firmly local.
"We came here in July and actually got a couple of shows immediately because the Strangers Family Band was touring here," says Wheaton. "So we were able to play right away because of a contact we had in Orlando."firstname.lastname@example.org