Umphrey’s McGee to play Centennial Terrace on July 7Written by Alan Sculley | | ASculley@toledofreepress.com
Like many of today’s bands, Umphrey’s McGee has found itself debating the question of how to best release new music into the market.
The band, which will play at Sylvania’s Centennial Terrace at 8 p.m. July 7, is rethinking how it will release a new batch of songs that will arrive this year. At the start of the year, the band had announced its intention to release its new songs in a series of three EPs over the course of 2011. According to keyboardist/singer Joel Cummins, that thinking has since changed.
“This is something that has yet to be finalized, but we’ve really been searching for the right format to put out some new music,” he said in a recent phone interview. “As the music business and the way people digest music change, it’s something that we want to adapt to as well and really make it easy and fun for our fans.”
Now, Cummins said, the band is leaning toward releasing an EP followed by a full-length CD, perhaps this summer. Releasing three EPs initially made sense, Cummins said, in that the new songs seemed to fall into three groups in terms of its style. But as the band continued to consider what the EP release plan involved, other factors seemed to suggest that grouping some songs onto an EP and then putting the others on a full-length CD made more sense.
One issue that will influence how Umphrey’s McGee will ultimately release its new material will be whether the group signs a record deal.
“We’re kind of shopping this stuff around right now to a few different indy labels that are interested in putting this stuff out,” Cummins said. “So once that gets determined, I think we’ll have a little more kind of vision with the direction.”
This is not the first time Umphrey’s McGee — which includes Cummins guitarist/singer Jake Cinninger, singer/guitarist Brendan Bayliss, percussionist Andy Farag, drummer Kris Myers and bassist Ryan Stasik — has gotten creative in how it gets new music into the hands of its fans.
The group’s 2009 CD, “Mantis,” represented an experiment on two fronts. In general, in the years since the band formed in Chicago in 1997, it had road tested new songs on tour before they were released for any of the group’s first eight albums (two of which were live recordings). But for “Mantis,” the group decided not to play any of the new songs before the CD was released.
“That was kind of a conscious effort for the first time for the band ever really to just drop an entire new batch of material on our fans and give them that experience, and let us try that out and see how that feels,” Cummins said.
In addition to the CD itself, the group also put together a bonus program for fans who pre-ordered “Mantis,” in which over the next year, they received access to a wide range of bonus material that included unreleased songs, live recordings, photos and video clips showing how band members developed certain “Mantis” songs.
“I think we were all really happy with how that went,” Cummins said.
However the band chooses to release its new music, one thing that appears certain is that the songs will be varied and reflect the fact that Umphrey’s McGee has not been sitting still musically since finishing the “Mantis” project.
Cummins hinted that a good chunk of the new material takes the band back toward the funkier, more groove-oriented sound that characterized the group’s early albums, as opposed to the heavier, more progressive rock sound the group explored on “Mantis.”
“There are a couple of tunes that we’ve recorded that are in that heavier vein,” Cummins said. “That was going to be one of the EPs, some tracks that I think would probably fit in with the ‘Mantis’ material well. Then some of the other stuff is a little more dance-friendly, a little more women-friendly, one of those things that never hurts. We like to make music for dudes, but we like to keep the ladies happy, too.”
Cummins said the new material, compared to the songs on “Mantis,” sounds a bit more spontaneous, free-wheeling and more like a live band performances.
“The arrangements in general are a lot more open-ended with some of the newer stuff that we have,” he said. “The ‘Mantis’ stuff, there was a lot of lyrical focus as well. But there were a lot of little things that were going on and there was a lot of texture and a lot of depth to every track.”
Fans can expect to get a sampling of the band’s yet-to-be-released new material on this summer’s tour, as Umphrey’s McGee began changing up its set lists at the start of the year.
“We’re very fortunate to be in the situation of having a really nice large chunk of original music from which to choose whatever we want to play that night,” Cummins said. “So we always kind of take the end of the year and the beginning of the year as well to work in some new original music and some new covers, too.”
The band continues to evolve its visual production, working closely with its lighting director.
“It’s evolved in a way that the band is really excited about,” Cummins said. “Jefferson Waful has been our LD now since late 2008. So 2009 was really a year of him learning a lot of the material and getting comfortable with it.
“With all of the improvisation we do live on a nightly basis, we really need to have somebody who gets those subtleties of communication and what’s going on onstage, and can be right on top of it in the moment,” he said. “It’s not the kind of thing where the show is programmed and that’s how it’s played. So it really is a huge opportunity for creativity with the visual end, and Jefferson has stepped up and has been everything we hoped he would be. I know it’s a huge aspect of our show for the fans. They really dig the visual element of it, too.”