By: Forrest Reda
Leave it to Umphrey's McGee to release The Bottom Half (available April 3 on SCI Fidelity Records), a double-disc album with alternative versions, a cappella recordings and other gems from the band's 2005 studio sessions that didn't make it onto the band-imposed 45-50 minute collection of songs that became Safety In Numbers.
The Bottom Half isn't just for die-hard fans of Umphrey's McGee though. It showcases a precocious band that's pushing the stylistic envelope and incorporating new technology and studio techniques in their search for new sounds. Whether naming the band's first album Greatest Hits Vol. III or "putting out the box-set goodies ten years before the box set happens," Umphrey's McGee always seem like they're just a little bit ahead of the curve.
Guitarist Jake Cinninger tells us how the album got a warning label, why the band is staging a two-day festival with the Disco Biscuits this summer, and what makes the songs on The Bottom Half "the mirror [or] the nemesis of Safety."
JamBase: So, The Bottom Half, you've lived with these songs for awhile, right?
Cinninger: This project has been a labor of love for the past three years now. We've been compiling this stuff for a while and it's really nice to let it go and have it be birthed. It's a little child now.
JamBase: It's a toddler.
Cinninger: Yeah, exactly.
JamBase: We talked last year and you said that Safety In Numbers was originally going to be a double-album, but in the end the band picked the best 50-minutes of music. What changed? What made the band decide to release The Bottom Half now?
When we were assembling Safety In Numbers we realized we had a theme going with a particular batch of songs. We didn't want to get too crazy and too pompous and go, "Let's put out a big double disc with way too much information on it." We'd rather have a nice concise record of 50-minutes, consistent music that flows really nicely together instead of trying to cram in too much info. So, that's kinda the reason for The Bottom Half getting put out because we've sat on these files for a while. We went back and remixed and added things - added horn sections, added Bela Fleck to a tune, just kinda went back and spruced things up, get these songs in a fashion that we'd like to release 'em NOW. Every year we take on technology and our ideology changes with the way that we record. We have these old tunes, so it kinda gives us a chance to get them up to snuff.
There's definitely a different mood to The Bottom Half. Compared to Safety In Numbers, there's a lot of humor on this album.
Yeah, exactly. Safety even [had a] darker [album] cover and there was a somber mood towards that record. The stuff on The Bottom Half is the mirror, the nemesis of Safety.
Umphrey's McGee by Dave Vann
Exactly, it's a party. "Bright Lights, Big City" is the best example of Umphrey's stepping out of the box.
We really tried to go with a super poppy [sound], something we've never tried in the studio. Let's try and make this pop song really sound like a pop song because it really is a pop song. You could turn it into a funky tune and make it sort of loose and a funky Meters-ey type thing. That's kind of the way we do it live because we can't really pull off that huge electronica thing with all the organic instruments, but we can do it in the studio. It's sort of our playground. We were able to play with a song like that and turn it into a radio-sounding tune, not for radio's sake but just to see if we could do it.
It's fun. It even has a little of the Huey Lewis, Back To The Future thing going on.
Yeah, totally, like the stereophonic keyboards are swirling around your head when you listen to it, which sets up the whole tune. What's cool is that the A and the B section are so different and they work together so nicely. You've got this really happy verse section that has this spacey keyboard and then it's sort of like anger management rock in the B section. It's like a happy Peter Gabriel into a happy Nine Inch Nails.
Has Umphrey's McGee ever played that song with The Disco Biscuits in a shared or swapped set scenario?
No, but that would be a good one to sort of swap in and out. Or everyone could play that song. It's an easy number.
It might be DUMB enough to work, right?
Yeah, exactly. Good idea. We might have to use that.