Ask Inaiah Lujan to pick a music genre to describe the Haunted Windchimes and his response is, “We try not to.” Google the band and you’ll find them characterized across a wide range of genres, including Americana, folk, country, blues, gospel, ragtime and Sun Records rock. Select the Haunted Windchimes’ Pandora station and their music will be rolled out alongside bands such as The Devil Makes Three, Old Crow Medicine Show and Trampled by Turtles – a clear indication of just how difficult it is to pigeonhole the Chimes into one genre.
Lujan (on guitar and vocals) and I chatted by phone recently on the day after what was supposed to be the band’s first Red Rocks performance. Slated alongside Rogue One for Film on the Rocks, the event was cancelled due to a spring rainstorm in Denver. We discussed the cancelled performance, among other things.
“We were bummed but we understood the brutal weather situation. We’re working on a tentative reschedule date in June, but it’s unofficial. We’re all huge Star Wars fans, too, so (June) will be a double win – one of our favorite venues along with our favorite movie series.” Other venues on their wish list include Carnegie Hall in New York City and Ryman Auditorium, the former Grand Ole Opry, in Nashville.
As far as the band’s genre, Lujan explained that when they have to settle on a label, they go with Americana or folk. “We are all huge fans of songwriters who tell stories and we love how music embodies generations. Pete Seeger illustrated music as ‘putting your own link in the chain.’ That’s what folk music is – adding your own piece to the chain – so it’s fitting for our genre.”
Lujan and his sister Chela Lujan (banjo and vocals) grew up on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona. Their father, who honored the native traditions and encouraged his children to create a sacred space, has been a tremendous influence on their lives. Chela has continued on the Red Path, sitting in teepees and participating in ceremonies; the traditions don’t show up much in their music lyrics, but metaphorically, they’re always at hand. “It’s been a big part of our lives and spirituality; we still respect nature and ancestry in that way. It’s our way of life,” Lujan shared.
Surprisingly, the vocal harmonies ever-present in Haunted Windchimes’ songs have roots in punk rock. Lujan said that in his younger years he went through a “huge punk rock phase” that he claims he’s never really left. He remembers Bay-area California band NOFX introducing this mellifluousness to him. “That was the first time harmony popped out at me. I would recruit my sister and my mom to create scenarios where we would sing in harmony; it was my first venture into understanding how three voices singing differently can be so powerful. I hear it everywhere now.”
He detailed the coaxing that’s required for a vocalist to figure out his or her own part in harmony and to stick with it, pointing out how much music and relationships parallel each other when it comes to harmony. “In the process, you kind of learn a lot about yourself, too.”
More than a decade ago, Lujan and his wife, Desirae Garcia (ukulele, vocals and more recently bass), gave roots to the Haunted Windchimes. They met on the social network Myspace and spent hours on the phone in the early stages of their relationship due to the distance that separated them. It was then that they shared stories of their own personal connections to spooky chimes from their past and spoke of what a great band name “Haunted Windchimes” would be someday; the rest, as they say, is history.
Mike Clark (guitar, mandolin, fiddle, harmonica and vocals) and Chela joined the band in 2007, a year after Lujan and Garcia formed it. All four Haunted Windchimes instrumentalists are also songwriters. Although the band is already widely known and incredibly successful, Lujan said they’ve only recently begun to tap into their hometown music scene in Pueblo.
“Most of our ties to the Pueblo scene were early on, growing up playing in punk rock bands. For the Chimes, we exported to get momentum; and Colorado Springs was our first home away from home that really embraced us. Coming back to Pueblo after blowing up elsewhere, we were able to conjure up some of that energy. There are a lot more venues accommodating the type of music we play these days. Pueblo has always felt like home and has been a huge supporter of us; the town is a blank canvas and it is what you need it to be. You just have to put in the work.”
At one time, the Haunted Windchimes was a five-piece band, but in 2016 bassist Sean Fanning exited the group due to creative differences. Afterward, Garcia began learning bass and has been holding up the band’s rhythm section ever since. This change to the lineup will be apparent when the Chimes return to the Salida SteamPlant on Saturday, June 3. “It’s been going great. Baritone uke (Garcia’s main instrument) is four-stringed like the bass; Desirae has great rhythm and drive to perfect her craft. It’s cool to witness her get to a point she is really comfortable playing the bass,” Lujan noted.
While being on the road continues to create challenges for putting out another recorded album, Chimes band members are always writing new music. Beyond that, Lujan and Garcia continue to work on a separate project, inPlanes, available on bandcamp. Lujan said this duo vintage-pop project is their attempt to return to the foundation of where the Haunted Windchimes began years ago. “We are working on going deeper into our relationship and our collaboration with each other; it’s more collaborative in-house.”
Speaking of “in-house,” Lujan spoke extensively about how much he prizes the chance to work in music alongside both his wife and his sister. Of his relationship with Garcia he said, “The majority of the time it is wonderful to work and play with your significant other. We have created a wonderful life for ourselves, sharing intimacy and letting other people into our deep, dark world; it all has to be done with grace… It’s been challenging but we always figure out a way to work it out and tap into the magic we’ve always had.” Lujan observed that he and his sister, Chela, may tend to bicker a bit more, but noted that it’s all in love. “We challenge each other a lot, but at the end of the day we have a lot of respect for each other. It’s easy to get behind ideas and songs; it’s hard to express how wonderful it is to be able to do that with family.”
A Haunted Windchimes song that never fails to move Lujan is “American Dream,” one of the band’s oldest pieces of music. He wrote the lyrics when he was 22 years old and hitchhiking. The emotion in his voice is evident as he speaks about the song. “I wrote it the first time I traveled on my own. The song is a culmination of towns I visited and became the basis of the sound we were familiarizing ourselves with. For me it’s an indication of how far we’ve come. We do it as an encore, and to this day I am still choked up and rattled by the words, even though we’ve performed it thousands of times.”
Lujan summed up the band’s musical past and present like this: “For me, the Haunted Windchimes has always been this moving train. It’s like we are headed in this direction where we see cities passing by, maybe new, maybe old. We are kind of seeing our future – past and present – moving by, but at the same time realizing it’s all one thing. We continue to appreciate the opportunity to be on this train with people that we love.”
To purchase tickets for the Haunted Windchimes’ upcoming show at the Salida SteamPlant at 8 p.m. on June 3, visit salidasteamplant.com or stop by Free the Monkey in Salida, Sacred Ground Café or the Salida Chamber of Commerce. Tickets are $17 in advance and $20 at the door. For more information about the Haunted Windchimes, visit hauntedwindchimes.com.