UMPHREY'S MCGEE REACHES THE SHORE

 
As far as our sound... we've been trying to get into this structured improv. We're trying to create our own niche, trying to almost compose on the spot. The problem is I can't describe the sound because it's based on improv, and improv by nature you don't know what's gonna come from it."
--Brendan Bayliss : Photo by Jon Leidel
 

One of the nicest new wrinkles on Anchor Drops are the folksy breaks on songs like "Plunger," or the full-blown acoustic balladry on "Bullhead City." After starting an unplugged set at this year's Bonnaroo festival (which got rained out), the band went on to perform a similar concert at the Skyline Stage in their hometown this past August.


Stasik & Bayliss :: Skyline Stage
By Adam George
"I personally love it. It adds to the diversity and mixes up the album so it's not all the same instruments," states Bayliss. "It's a lot easier on the ears, fresher. I learned how to play the guitar on the acoustic and tried to learn all the Beatles and Zeppelin acoustic stuff and Neil Young, too. It strips everything down and you can't hide behind anything."

This is also the band's first recorded work with drummer Kris Myers, in place of founding member Mike Mirro, who left to pursue medical studies 18 months ago. What Myers brings to the table is a disciplined edge that's spilled over into the entire band.

"Mike was the only drummer I'd ever really played with before he quit and then Kris came along. Mike and I, obviously, didn't go to school for music. Kris has his masters in jazz. Playing with Kris was just whoa," states Stasik. "It brought the band to a whole new level. I'm not trying to dis Mike's playing at all but Kris is just a Houdini behind the drum kit. He made everybody listen. He made everybody play tighter. We're just more into the music now."


Umphrey's McGee by Adam George
Bayliss continues, "First and foremost, we're lucky as hell to still be doing this and that's all because of him. Now, in my mind, we sound so much better. I don't know what other people think and I really don't care. In my mind, it sounds so much more professional. He's as good a drummer as we could have hoped for. I love Mike but he's just not as good. So, we lucked out."

"In the studio you really get to isolate everybody for their good and bad qualities and Kris just rocks. His style is much more aggressive, and that was kind of the direction we were heading anyway, more in your face, not physical music, but it's definitely not as passive."


Joel Cummins by Susan Weiand
Much of the attention the band has garnered tends to focus on the guitar virtuosity of Bayliss and fellow singer/six-stringer Jake Cinninger. In many ways this misses the huge contribution to their sound from the disciplined rhythm section and keyboardist Joel Cummins, who like SCI's Kyle Hollingsworth, may be the single most talented, inventive member of the band.

"Part of the problem with that guitar-driven analysis of the music is we're a live band primarily and a lot of the improv stuff starts with guitar themes and basically everything's based on that," says Bayliss. "When we do a lot of improvisations, it's really easy for me and Jake to hook up because we can see the other guy's frets and see what he's doing."

"As far as our sound, right now live we've been trying to get into this structured improv. We're trying to create our own niche, trying to almost compose on the spot." Bayliss elaborates, "The problem is I can't describe the sound because it's based on improv, and improv by nature you don't know what's gonna come from it."


Cinninger & Stasik by S. Weiand
Bayliss laments, "It's unfortunate that we have to write with the live shows in mind. If I'm working on something and realize we're not going to play it live, I almost stop working on it. We have to write out of that context because we still have to play just to survive. With the new album, if it picks up, I'm not expecting anything monetarily from it but would like to just be able to open up the possibility to write for music's sake and not just because something will sound great live."

And what of the days ahead?

"We want to increase the production (values) of our live shows," Stasik tells us. "We want people to come and say 'Holy shit! That was the greatest set I've ever seen, I gotta come back again.' We're not ready to play arenas or Red Rocks but pyrotechnics, we're all about it. Now leather and make-up, I don't know if we're ready for that. We're definitely ready for flames and fire."

Bayliss takes a more pragmatic view. "My concept of success is getting everyone in the band medical insurance," he says laughing. "The goal has always been to keep doing it. Success would be getting to that comfort zone where we don't have to worry, everything will be fine and we can keep doing what we wanted to do from the beginning."

"Every single person is different in this band, personality wise, but we're such a democracy everyone gets along," says Stasik, breaking down what keeps them running. "A lot of bands let people stop hanging out together and you can see that up on the stage when they're making music together. If you really hate somebody you're not going to listen to what they're doing and it will ruin the music. We get beyond that. If someone is being a little bitch one day we call him out and we make sure that shit ends so when we end up on stage it's professional and we're all getting along and the music is pure. There's no room for egos in music. We try to keep it diplomatic in all things."

Dennis Cook
JamBase | Oakland
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http://umphreys.com/

[Published on: 9/29/04]

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