Like a prayer to the ethos

The Haunted Windchimes’ vision quest

The Haunted Windchimes
 Courtesy of The Haunted Windchimes/ Malissa Ahlin

Inaiah Lujan, frontman of The Haunted Windchimes from Pueblo, Colorado, needs help finishing a song. He’s got the intro, the verse, the chorus and the coda, but he needs something to bring it all together, a bridge to lead the music to its point. He scrawls a sentence on a piece of paper, folds it into an airplane and sends it flying into the air like a prayer to the ethos. It lands softly on the far away desk of Windchime’s member Mike Clark who immediately offers the perfect solution from across the ether, a nod to the enigmatic ways of creative inspiration.

The finished song starts slowly and simply, a few rising notes picked by Lujan on the strings of a lone guitar. Soon enough the progression is overtaken by mimicking chords and decorated with an alluring and high harmony as Lujan’s sister and vocalist, Chela, along with his wife, Desirae Garcia, add in their siren like song.

In the band’s self-produced and self-directed music video for the song, “Sun Shining Bright,” Lujan appears seated in a lone chair in an otherwise vacant desert with only cacti for company, some towering and spindly, others squat and bulbous. Together the plants fill the desert with props, perfect fodder for anthropomorphic transformation. And, soon enough, they do come to life and Lujan is greeted by their spirits — one who paints a thick eye in the center of his forehead, another who smudges him with sage before he embarks on a journey, crows circling all around him, cacti growing legs and waving in his direction. He wanders among them with open and unfocused eyes. 

Lujan is on a vision quest, entertaining spirits by playing a poppy and upbeat song on the guitar, which eventually gives way to a wicked and rocking guitar solo. Neither Lujan nor the music seems to know the way forward, but they walk nonetheless, step-by-step.

For Lujan and the Windchimes, the desert is the setting of self-discovery, an important symbol of the artist’s lonely and inward quest. It’s a symbol he came to know early on as a boy growing up on a Navajo reservation in Southern Colorado he describes as a small, rural community that was a bubble from the rest of the world.

When he talks about his upbringing, it isn’t overtly spiritual. He doesn’t offer up grand soliloquies of a man’s connection to the land or of his relationship to the spirit world. Instead, he diverts the conversation to his earliest memories of music, watching MTV on his parent’s tiny box TV or talking to his older brother about the musical world beyond the reservation. Although undeniably influenced by his Navajo upbringing, Lujan’s spirituality isn’t tied to any one tradition, philosophy or religion (although he says he has studied them all).

“I keep coming back to the biblical idea of ‘know thyself,’ because it is only in self discovery that you find the infinite,” he continues. “The desert provides powerful imagery for such an initiation of the individual, of a single person committing to and experiencing self discovery, of letting go. You have to tell the universe you are ready to go on a journey to find out who you are, knowing that the universe will meet you half way, that it will provide the means to discover yourself and so the world.”

The Haunted Windchimes’ journey of self-discovery began in the late aughts when the band first came together, inspired by chimes that kept ringing out from the depth of still summer days, leading them to wonder about the music that lay latent inside of them, too. What they found and are finding still is ambiguously Americana — not quite folk, not quite bluegrass, not quite blues. When it’s at its best, it’s a little bit rock ‘n’ roll, a little bit punk. At first this uncertainty felt like a curse but, in their willingness to explore what they were made of over the years, The Haunted Windchimes have found their identity from the daunting depths of no man’s land. 

The band achieved some notable success in 2012 when they played on Prairie Home Companion and won a spot in the national spotlight, although today Lujan seems disinterested in such measurements of external success. After all, The Haunted Windchimes is a band on a spiritual quest and their rewards will come on those terms. They find success in adding a link to the immemorial chain of folk music — in bumbling around Colorado in their old 15-passenger van, playing music to people in small towns, telling their stories to intimate crowds.

Lujan believes in the intimate moments of artistry and that they have the power to change the world. The Haunted Windchimes’ greatest ambition is to be just as they are, which is just like the rest of us — wandering, sometimes immersed in a sort of major key joy and happiness; at other times lost in minor key excursions into the dark and melancholy. It’s all a part of the muddiness of humanity that can connect us.

“From an early age I found magic in music,” Lujan says. “Music is this beautiful unifying force, a universal language and, as cliché as it sounds, it has a power to bring people together. Music is my spirituality, my invocation of spirit — it is the great equalizer. It creates a place where people can put their differences aside and just be.” 

On the Bill: The Haunted Windchimes. 9 p.m. Friday, June 23, Gold Hill Inn, 401 Main St., Gold Hill, 303-443-6461.