Hailing form Austin, Texas, Ume are one of those bands who are great for a multitude of reasons. They defy genre classification, which a rare trait these days, choosing to use their combination of guitar/bass/drums to create great music that is pure energy on record. Live, vocalist/guitarist Lauren Langner Larson is the tasmanian devil of alt. rock with talent and passion blowing away audiences. With support from the likes of ex-Gang of Four bassist Dave Allen and a plethora of music mags and websites, it would certainly appear that this will be Ume’s year. Lauren took a few moments with us to talk about the past and the future.
TDOA: Much has been made of your live shows (which are tremendous), but you’re a great studio band as well. After performing live and receiving such accolades, do you ever find returning to rehearsals and the recording studio to be a bit of a letdown?
LL: Thanks! I love both aspects of being in a band – performing and writing/recording – but we approach both in very different ways. Our live performance is pretty raw and unhinged, but in the studio I sit in a chair with my “cutting paper face” on (tongue slightly out, hair pulled back, and intensely focused). Going into the studio has never been a letdown, but it has been a challenge, especially since we’ve always had a very limited budget and little time. It wasn’t until moving to Austin that we had the chance to get a bit more comfortable in the studio (the first time I ever stepped into a studio, I got in trouble for screaming into a mic that belonged to Beyonce). It’s also been tough to try and capture the same energy of a live show, though I’ve been helped recently by getting to record with some amazing and loud vintage amps courtesy of Trail of Dead and Echo Mountain.
TDOA: Please tell us about the songwriting process for Ume. How much of the recent EP was written while touring?
LL: During the band’s first years we lived in different states while I was in grad school. The recent EP was our first chance to write an album in a place we all could call home. We hadn’t started touring extensively yet. As far as songwriting, I’m actually working with an awesome 14 year old guitarist and am supposed to be giving her lessons on the “songwriting process.” But I’m finding that songwriting, for me at least, isn’t something I can outline. We all play by ear and the best parts usually seem to come about through an emotional response, not a method. So even when I’m coaching bands at Girls Rock Camp about songwriting, I try to encourage freedom – and fun – over technical form.
TDOA: Do you find that your songs tend to start with one instrument (be it guitar, bass, drum rhythm or vocal melody) or do you tend to write as a group in rehearsals.
LL: We do both, though the best moments usually happen intuitively as a group. As far as me, I start with guitar and then add vocals last, though I’m experimenting a bit more with treating vocals as an instrument on some newer material.
TDOA: Former Gang of Four bassist Dave Allen has championed you as one of his favorite bands. Can you talk about how he found out about you and your experiences with him while you were in Seattle?
LL: Dave has been an awesome supporter and friend to us. Our super kind pals Dead Confederate mentioned our band to him when they were touring through Portland. I then received an email out of the blue from Dave with the subject, “Pampelmoose heart Ume.” He saw our first performance at SXSW and then stayed the entire week to hang out. We visited with him again on our recent tour with the Meat Puppets and he set up a really rad free after-party for us at a local venue in Portland.
TDOA: Spin and some of the blogs have really talked you up in the past year. Do you feel a sense of momentum that might lead to signing with a major and is that something that you aspire to? What’s next for Ume (recording, touring, etc.)?
LL: After self-releasing our EP and doing everything DIY-style – from booking over 300 shows to hand-making stickers – we’ve been lucky to have a few offers from labels. I don’t see a major label in the near future, but we are working like crazy on the full-length and plan to record in the next month or two, followed by more touring.
TDOA: You’ve made a few videos for your songs. Have you enjoyed the process of making videos and are there concepts that you’d still like to explore visually?
LL: A couple talented friends offered to shoot footage of us playing in our practice space and these became our videos. I’m not a visual artist, but I have for a long time fantasized about emerging from the ocean with a guitar like Slash in the “Estranged” video!
TDOA: Who are the bands that you feel influenced your music the most?
LL: As a kid I was terrified and enthralled by the Deep Purple song “Child in Time,” in love with Ric Ocasek’s “Emotion in Motion,” and an avid fan of The Muppet Album. I then saw myself on video crooning “Tomorrow” by Annie and was convinced I’d never sing again. A few years later, I began staying up all night with my brother’s guitar and home-made tapes of Nirvana and the Cure, and mix-tapes combining bands like Neurosis with Neutral Milk Hotel and Minor Threat with Siouxsie and the Banshees. Then I became a 14 year old guitarist of a thrashy punk rock band called Twelve Blades. Maybe some of these memories are somewhere in the music
TDOA: Austin’s reputation as an incredible city for music has had yet another revival of late. We’re based in Dallas, where country music still rules and alternative struggles to find an audience. Care to theorize on why a Texas city that’s only 4 hours away is such a hotbed for all musical styles including alternative?
LL: I’m from a small Texas town of 4,000 where the only music blaring was from a country bar called the Armadillo. As teenagers, we had to create our own DIY music communities. I see the same thing happening in Austin, but on a much larger scale… here is a really supportive and positive community of people who make things happen and like to listen to music. There are even non-profits like HAAM and SIMS here that provide health insurance and counseling services for musicians and help make a diverse music community possible.
TDOA: You’ll be playing SXSW again in 2010. For those that have never been, can you explain to people why this is one of the great festivals in the world?
LL: 120 hours of non-stop music, Lone-Star, packed shows, free parties, and warm weather… all within walking distance.
TDOA: Last week, we published an artists top 10 album of 2009. Care to give us your top ten fave albums?
LL: Here are 5 faves from 2009
Bat For Lashes, “Two Suns”
Yeah Yeah Yeahs, “It’s Blitz”
Dead Weather, “Horehound”
White Denim, “Fits”
Ringo Deathstarr, S/T
and 5 classic faves for this week
Fugazi, “13 Songs”
Fleetwood Mac, “Rumours”
Radiohead, “In Rainbows”
Prince, “Purple Rain”
To learn more about Ume, visit their website at http://umemusic.com