In a certain sense, Umbrellas is as much about Josh Wright as it is band leader Scott Windsor.
The two were college roommates. Wright was there as a recording engineer; Windsor was studying entertainment business. Seeking material to record for class, Wright turned to the person closest to him, literally, and launched a career.
Windsor, whose Umbrellas songs “The City Lights” and “Ships” were featured in “Grey’s Anatomy,” played piano and violin as a kid, learned trombone in elementary school, and by junior high, had mastered the rudiments of many instruments, including drums.
“I wanted to play the drums because I had to get all my anger and angsty-ness out,” said the Norman-based Windsor.
Thrown together at random by the roommate lottery, Wright recruited Windsor to record a song for him. Windsor performed the first song he wrote, “Whispers of a Long Goodnight,” about a car accident that paralyzed his childhood friend. The music soon took on a momentum of its own.
“Another friend of mine heard it, ended up starting a record label and signed me. It was downhill from there,” Windsor said. After two years of college, he quit to pursue music. “It all happened by accident. I was going to school for music business at the time, and I felt like I could learn a lot better diving into it.”
His band Lyndsay Dairies wrapped in 2005 after four years and two albums. Windsor was the acoustic guy on bills with bands, and he was suffering from guitar envy. He wanted to plug in, and feel that rock band energy, “even though I’m not that rock ‘n’ roll,” he said.
He moved to California and started over with Umbrellas’ shimmering, atmospheric indie pop.
Umbrellas retains the breathy vocal drama of Lyndsay Diaries, but the arrangements are richer and fuller, with watercolor sweeps of melody, rainy day synth fills and an aesthetic closer to Death Cab for Cutie/Postal Service’s Ben Gibbard than Conor Oberst, and Windsor is fine to be clear of them.
“Honestly, I am embarrassed by all those songs and hope to never hear them again,” he said. “I was 18 or 19 when I wrote (them). You’re kind of at a different place 10 years later. A girl not going out with you isn’t as big a deal.”
But the distinction is a false one in the sense: In the beginning, Umbrellas was no more a “band” than Lyndsay Diaries. According to Windsor, “All the songs I write are still very dumbed-down kind of acoustic versions.” The difference was the musicians he brought into the studio to flesh out the music ” an indispensable cast from Oklahoma he borrowed from Wright.
“He had this group of friends that were these amazing musicians. Over the years as I’ve been doing it, they’ve become like these phenomenal musicians,” Windsor said. “They ended up playing on all the records and eventually became my band.”
CLOSE TO BAND
After a few years in California, Windsor moved to Norman, where he could be close to his band, and maybe save a little money.
“Playing with musicians out there is so different ” everyone’s out for themselves. ‘How much does the gig pay?’ It wasn’t like a community like it is in the Midwest, and I couldn’t really afford it. That was the main thing. But the weather was phenomenal,” he said with a laugh.
Wright helped him find a job, and several months ago, Windsor got married. Now working as a store manager, supervising teenagers, he’s frequently pained by disconsolate music geeks who’ve yet to awaken to the realities of life.
“Several times a week, kids come in and say, ‘Aren’t you the guy from Umbrellas?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah,’ and they just look so disappointed that I’m working at this store, and don’t live in the Hollywood Hills,” he said.
WALKING THE STREETS
Windsor seems so lighthearted, it’s easy to wonder about all the downbeat, brooding music. This is, according to his songs, a fellow you might see at midnight, sleepless and walking the streets.
“I used to be super like that. I never really show it. I think that’s just a side of me and that’s how it comes out. It’s just in the music. I have those times, and that’s usually when I write my music,” he said. “Sometimes I have to take criticism for it, but it’s who I am and I just have to kind of put it out there. If I take crap for it, then I do. Whatever.”
It’s been two years since Umbrellas’ “Beach Front Property” EP, and Windsor confessed a little embarrassment, but he’s been enjoying a more settled life.
“I’m kind of domesticated currently. I’m using this year to pay out bills and live a normal life: Be home every night, and that sort of thing,” he said. “We’re still doing the band; it’s just more on a slower speed these days, and I’m kind of hoping to pick it up again next year. I’m not opposed to a tour here and there, but I don’t want to make it my life again.”
Windsor knows who he is, and while there’s urgency to his tone when he sings, he knows life requires a more measured response.
“I try not to take myself too seriously,” he said. “I put everything I have into my music, but I still know at the end of the day, I’m not going to be that cool.”
Umbrellas with Gentle Ghost perform at 9 p.m. Friday at Opolis, 113 N. Crawford in Norman. “Chris Parker