Concert preview: After time alone, Winston HYTWR releasing second cassette in a year

Joel Oliphint

When Winston Hightower was a sophomore in high school, he found a cassette tape by bluesy garage-punk duo Bassholes at the Whetstone branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library.

"I was like, 'Whoa, this is a black dude and white dude duo in Columbus. I gotta check this out," said Hightower, referring to the Columbus expats in Bassholes, Lamont "Bim" Thomas (Obnox) and Don Howland (Gibson Bros.). "And that was it. That was my intro to everything."

Previously a fan of punk-rock in the vein of Bad Brains and Black Flag, the Bassholes tape sent Hightower down a musical rabbit hole that continues to this day as the musician, now 23, is set to release his second cassette of lo-fi bedroom pop on Superdreamer Records at Café Bourbon Street on Friday, Dec. 16. The solo albums come after Hightower, who records and performs as "Winston HYTWR" by himself and "HYTWR" as a full band, played in several of his friends' bands and fronted trio Tastes Kinda Like Sad.

"At one time I was in 12 bands at once. That was before my dad died. Then I quit all of them," Hightower said recently at a Downtown coffee shop. "My dad passed away about two years ago. After my dad passed, I stopped going to shows and kind of stopped doing anything for a really long time."

While still reeling from his father's death, Hightower spent about a month on the road with one of his former bands, Slugbugs. At a tour stop in Boston, he found himself at an old diner. "I was texting my mom about this diner, because I'd heard the name before," said Hightower, who discovered his dad used to eat there in his days as a traveling salesman. "And it ended up beingFather's Day. We had to wait two hours at this diner to get a seat, and there's all these people having fun with their dads. … It really sucked."

After quitting his bands and sequestering himself, Hightower discovered some of his dad's photos that he'd previously never seen. The happy pictures of himself as a child and his parents inspired Hightower to process his loss through music, so he recorded a batch of songs while wrestling with his grief.

After sitting on the songs for a while, he decided to release them as a cassette,Too Close to Home, which came out in February on Superdreamer. "The cover is me and my mom and my dad," he said. "I have a picture of my mom in the insert and a picture of my dad in the insert and then one of me."

The release show, held the day after his dad's birthday, was a turning point for Hightower. "There were so many people there. I had a raffle, a helium tank. I had all these random prizes. I tried to make it like a kid's party," he said. "People had fun. I sold out of all my tapes. I hadn't done the solo thing before, but it was crazy. It felt awesome, and it made me feel a lot different. After that, it was completely different."

Since emerging from his season of reclusion, Hightower has continued to pursue his solo project while also playing in hardcore act Minority Threat.Exploration Date, the new Winston HYTWR cassette (also available online at Bandcamp) has a similar homemade, Deerhunter-meets-Alex G sensibility asToo Close to Home, though this time the childhood photos in the jacket feature only Hightower and his mother, whom he calls his "legit best friend."

Throughout the album, Hightower purposefully obfuscates his vocals, coating them in effects and fuzz to turn his voice into another instrument in the mix next to guitars and a Casio keyboard.

"[The lyrics] always mean something. When I'm playing, I'm singing it full-heartedly, [but] when I record it I have to listen back to the song so many times. It just makes me wanna mumble it out because I feel shy about it," said Hightower, smiling as he often does when he speaks.

To interpret the two-minute tunes, Hightower includes lyrics in the cassette liner notes, which read like direct, minimalist poems. Despite claiming to not have a way with words, Hightower's expressions of angst ("There's a hybrid hate in the motherland") and despair ("I guess I could lay here for a while, all alone until I fully expire") add layers of meaning to his peculiar and affecting brand of mumblecore.

Hightower, who performs live with Bryant Strayer on bass and housemate Jeff Kleinman on drums, hopes to release a full-band, full-length HYTWR record on vinyl sometime in the next year. "I'm trying to figure out how to put as many songs as possible on it," he said.

Café Bourbon Street

9 p.m. Friday, Dec. 16

2216 Summit St., North Campus

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