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Exitwound guitarist Underwood flexes eclectic muscle in new project
Members of the music group Inyan, from left, Timber Venard, Paul Underwood and Steve Zediker, talk about their project at Zediker's MVP Studio.

The cerebral groove of the new Billings band Inyan's "D Major Jam" pulses out of the speakers at Steve Zediker's MVP Studio.

The percussion is elongated, like an American Indian drum beat, and it's layered in guitar licks set down by the multifaceted Paul Underwood. This is a new genre of music that defies categories. It blends world music, including Native American flute, with rock guitar, jazz and blues.

Underwood has been honored by the Native American Music Association for the eight CDs he has recorded in his solo project Exitwound. Now, he's branching out to produce a CD with two other Billings musicians, Timber Venard and Zediker, and Michigan drummer Lewy Stix. The new project is Inyan, a Lakota word that means spirit of stone.

It isn't enough to the group that their music is innovative and polished. They believe they've got a sound worth recording and the talent and skill necessary to turn Inyan into a touring band. But even that isn't enough. They want to make music that can make a difference.

"This is music we hope will change the world," Venard said.

Venard, who plays keyboard, flute, oboe and other reed instruments, has served as music director for several local theater productions, including Billings Studio Theatre's "Jekyll and Hyde." That's where he met Zediker, who played the title role in the show last spring. Zediker is well known in the area for his vocal skills. Noted American Indian flute player Joe Firecrow also plans to perform with the group.

Inyan will play all original music that is composed in the studio, incorporating the experimentation and ideas of all four members of the group. Since their drummer lives in Michigan, his ideas come via the Internet or the phone. Underwood is a MySpace and Facebook junkie who plies the Internet every morning, looking for musicians and producers to work with.

Underwood, who grew up on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation in Lame Deer, said getting recognized in the music business has been an uphill struggle for him because of the color of his skin. And even though he's been honored with nominations as best instrumental album, best debut album, and best male artist by the Native American Music Association, he believes mainstream radio airplay has eluded him because he is Indian.

"Why aren't there any Native American artists on the radio? Underwood asked. "I'm all over the place in Europe."

As he watched the ending of President Obama's speech on TV during Tuesday's inauguration ceremony, Underwood said he believes that's about to change. The group plans to release its new CD in early summer and launch a tour in support of it.