By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Steve Brennan
By Joseph Hess
By Allsion Babka
By Kelsey McClure
By RFT Music
By Christian Schaeffer
By Gabriel San Roman
Don't be fooled by the seemingly plural name: The indie-emo outfit Umbrellas is ostensibly the vehicle of just one person, 25-year-old St. Louis native Scott Windsor. But with the July 25 release of Umbrellas' buzz-worthy second album, Illuminare, Windsor currently has more in common with Chris Carrabba of Dashboard Confessional, himself a one-time solo artist who now helms a genuine musical collective.
Windsor, who was raised in west county, left the area after high school to attend Nashville's Belmont University, a school known for its outstanding music programs. But his college stint was a short one: In the middle of his freshman year, Windsor signed a record deal with national indie label the Militia Group and recorded material for a solo acoustic project called the Lyndsay Diaries during his sophomore spring break. By the end of the school year, touring in support of Diaries had become Windsor's primary focus, and he dropped out.
After two albums, however, Windsor began to feel that the Lyndsay Diaries had run its creative course. He subsequently formed a band called Umbrellas, which released its self-titled debut in 2005.
"Those first few records were just me writing on acoustic guitar, and I started Umbrellas to see what I could really do with a band," Windsor explains. "Now I'm better at writing for a full band, I'm more comfortable, and it's easier to try new things."
Windsor, who still considers St. Louis home even though he no longer lives here, first performed in public in junior high, where he played trombone in the school band. Although his parents never listened to music, Windsor says it was the only thing that ever held his interest.
"I went to shows all the time at the Galaxy, Mississippi Nights, the Hi-Pointe," he recalls. "There was a place called the Firehouse, where I remember seeing Sunny Day Real Estate when I was younger. I remember seeing MxPx, the Promise Ring and Blink-182. I saw the Get Up Kids when I was in high school, and that's when I got into indie music."
Windsor was attending Parkway West High School and had begun playing drums when the Creepy Crawl opened at its original Tucker Boulevard location. He soon began frequenting the Creepy's stage alongside local junkyard folkie Casey Reid [for more on Reid, see "Casey on the Beat" in the July 6 RFT] in the metal band Ruin. Windsor and Reid had been best friends since preschool; the boys grew up in the same neighborhood and spent their days hanging around nearby train tracks and covering Nirvana songs at weekend house parties. Windsor also remembers frequent treks to a nearby cave, where the pair constructed bonfires and painted their band's name on the walls.
"He used to be the best drummer back in the day," Reid recalls. "[He] played like Thor: a Thunder God on the skins, relentless, which was odd for a skinny kid. [Ruin] played fast, thrashy metal stuff and wished we were Nirvana and Sepultura's love child. We used to play this cover of a cover, a Sepultura/Black Sabbath cover, 'Symptom of the Universe.' You couldn't tell if it was him or [Sepultura drummer] Igor [Cavalera] playing it. He was right on."
Once Reid taught him how to play a few chords, Windsor says, he dropped the drums and gravitated toward the guitar. ("I will deny that," counters Reid. "Unless he was secretly stalking me while I played, I never taught him anything. Maybe some power chords but as we all know, that's like teaching a kid 'two plus two equals four'; you just say it and repeat it.")
Windsor no longer simply repeats finger positions on a fretboard, though: His own original music harnesses a whole symphony of resonating strings, vocal shadings and computerized blips. And he's become increasingly serious about his compositions: Last November, after a stint in LA, Windsor moved to Norman, Oklahoma, the stomping grounds of his Umbrellas bandmates. While its first album had been recorded in a mortuary-cum-decrepit hotel, the group set up shop in a defunct Tulsa comedy club called Black Watch Studios to hone its experimental instincts for Illuminare.
"The last record we recorded with a producer, and I was going over and over lines [of lyrics]," Windsor says. "I wanted this record to be more real, and I wanted the vocals to fit that, too. There were a few songs where I'd just try it one or two times, and if I couldn't do it, I wasn't going to force it. There's still some mistakes on there, but it's more real."
Windsor ultimately co-produced the dreamy, reverb-soaked sophomore album with James McAlister, who has also worked with Sufjan Stevens. At times mellow and introverted (the swaying, still-of-the-night rumination "Idle and Waiting"; the ode to aural and physical beauty, "Boston White"), but electronic and danceable elsewhere (the electro-pop "Again and Again"), Illuminare lands somewhere between the Postal Service and the Rocket Summer.
But the album embraces ambiance over monster hooks, and evokes decidedly different moods ("Crooked" stutters with an inconsistent pulse of emotional frustration, while the solemn "Tests on My Heart" echoes the Lyndsay Diaries) suggesting that Windsor's mindset shifted through the writing and recording processes. "That's kind of reflective of my personality," he agrees. "I'm not by any means bipolar, but I can be completely down one day when I write songs and then write sugary pop songs the next day. I don't really know where it comes from. But for the most part I'm a pretty serious person, and I think that comes out in my music."