Interview by Morgan Holzer
A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending the Air Guitar National Championships at Irving Plaza in New York City. I had previously attended smaller regional qualifiers, but this was definitely something else. Judged on technical merit, stage presence, and “airness,” this is a fierce competition wherein the winner goes to Finland to represent the U.S. on the international stage. Following is a conversation with Rob Weychert, better known as Windhammer, who placed 9th in this year’s finals.
MH: Have you always wanted to be an air guitarist?
RW: There is no wanting to be an air guitarist. You either are or you aren’t (and really, you probably are). Competitive air guitar is a different story, of course, since it takes the activity out of the bedroom and puts it on a stage. And I seem to relish almost any opportunity to get onstage. So I guess answer to your question is “yes.”
MH: Do you play any actual (physical) instruments?
RW: I’ve been playing guitar (“there guitar,” as it’s known in air guitar circles) for a little over a year now. I’ve got a long way to go before I’m any good at it, though.
MH: How did you come up with your name? Are there any other guitarists you come across and think “dang I wish that was my name?”
RW: Windhammer originated as an idea for a D&D power metal band that I almost certainly would never have gotten around to forming. When I started doing air guitar competitions, Windhammer was the only stage name I even considered. As good as many other stage names are, I’ve never remotely regretted my decision.
MH: What inspired you to choose this costume? I mean, you seem like a nice approachable guy and your outfit is a bit not that.
RW: For the first competition I did, I only found out about it a few days in advance, so my costume pretty much needed to be assembled from stuff I already owned. For reasons that aren’t clear even to me, I’ve had this pair of black leather chaps for like fifteen years, and since it’s probably the most outlandish garment I own, it immediately became the foundation of the costume. The Windhammer persona emerged almost fully formed, and it was immediately clear that he wouldn’t wear a shirt. Add some tough-guy combat boots and eye-directing wristbands, and that’s that.
MH: Describe your warm-up process. How do you get psyched to go on stage?
RW: Air guitar is by its nature a very spontaneous act, so I don’t do a lot of prep, and I don’t have a particular ritual. Before the show starts, I’ll usually do a few loose run-throughs of my routine backstage while standing in place with headphones. After the show starts, I’m cheering on my competitors until it’s my turn.
MH: What has been your craziest fan interaction?
RW: That there are fans to interact with is the craziest thing of all! At the national finals in DC last year, I took a photo with a guy who had not only traveled from Atlanta to be there, but had seen me win the Philadelphia regional the previous year.
MH: What has been the most trying experience you’ve had as an air guitarist?
RW: When two people are tied for first place after the second (compulsory) round, the winner is decided in an air-off, which is essentially another compulsory round with just two competitors. I’ve been involved in a total of three air-offs, which might be a record. As much as I don’t really care about winning, competing in a field that narrow is truly nerve-wracking.
MH: What is your dream air song? Your most feared?
RW: The perfect air guitar song is surprisingly elusive. There are so many great guitar-centric rock songs that I know backwards and forwards, but a surprising few of them are appropriate for the kind of performance I have in my head. And even if a song seems perfect, the wrong edit can deflate it. So I spend hours with my music collection at the beginning of each season, waiting for the right song to reveal itself, which it eventually does. For me, the key ingredients are dynamics, flamboyance, and aggression, and the final edit is essentially a carefully-tuned three-act play. The stuff that usually works best is thrash and power metal, which, not coincidentally, is what I grew up on.
The most feared air guitar song is probably “Hocus Pocus” by Focus. No matter how well you know the song, it is really hard to follow. At the national finals this year, Dallas’s Ted Theodore Powers used it, and someone backstage exclaimed, “Wait, he’s doing that song on purpose?”
MH: Who are your role models? (both in air guitar and in life)
RW: If I had to pick an air guitar role model, it would be the 2008 US and World Champion, Hot Lixx Hulahan. He has a great attitude and is a great performer and all around class act. More general role models in life would probably be Benjamin Franklin and Les Paul, whose accomplishments speak for themselves.
MH: What is currently in heavy rotation on your iPod?
RW: I don’t like making decisions, so most of my listening lately has been on shuffle, and lately the shuffle really loves Joy Division, The Jam, and Def Leppard. When I do decide to take the reins, I can’t seem to get enough of Neko Case’s Middle Cyclone, and I’ve also been revisiting a lot of mid-nineties post-hardcore, especially Quicksand.