Umphrey’s McGee at Fraze Pavilion
By Alan Sculley
Photo: Umphrey’s McGee will perform on June 28 at Fraze Pavilion; photo: Chris Monaghan
Umphrey’s McGee is known for playing a diverse range of rock music. Their live sets, which sometimes run upwards of three hours, can run the gamut from expansive prog-ish rock – “Day Nurse” – to more concise and hooky pop-rock – “Nemo” – to funk-tinged tunes – like “Jajunk” – to songs that verge on metal, like the rocking portions of “The Floor.” All this with complex instrumental parts, creative shifts in tempos and a host of other musical influences slipping in and out of songs.
Some of the band’s albums – including 2011’s Death By Stereo – have sought to showcase the band’s considerable musical range. But that’s not what Umphrey’s McGee’s newly released album, Similar Skin, is about, according to keyboardist/singer Joel Cummins.
“With this one we were trying to go back to kind of creating a more cohesive album and a bunch of songs that really fit together well,” Cummins said. “So I’d say there’s a lot of rock ‘n’ roll on this one. It’s pretty heavy. There are a lot of kind of riff oriented songs. They’re all vocal tunes … [Singer/guitarist] Brendan [Bayliss] sings lead on nine of them and [guitarist/singer] Jake [Cinninger] sings lead on two of them, so we’ve got kind of a nice mix of what’s happening as far as that goes. But yeah, this album for us was more about trying to find a group of songs that worked well together, as opposed to really exploring or too much diversity.”
Work on Similar Skin, the eighth studio album from the band since it formed in 1997 in South Bend, Ind., stretches back to October 2012, when an initial songwriting session produced about a half-dozen songs. Writing continued during the first half of last year, until the group had 16 songs to take into the studio to record. Out of that group, 11 songs made it onto Similar Skin.
“I think the process was we were trying to find things that were both melodic, but at the same time had a lot of power and energy to them,” Cummins said. “In this day and age, there’s a lot of new music being put out every day, and there’s a lot of, kind of, the electronic sound is definitely kind of the hip thing now and what a lot of people are doing. So, I think we kind of intentionally zigged the opposite way and wanted to put down something that was a little more riff heavy and a little more of a rock album just because there aren’t that many rock bands out there putting out new music and we want to keep that alive.”
Some songs on Similar Skin will be familiar to fans that have frequented Umphrey’s McGee concerts over the past four years or so.
In particular, “Bridgeless,” “The Linear,” “Puppet String,” “Loose Ends” and “No Diablo” have made regular appearances in the band’s set lists over that span. “Bridgeless,” in particular, has become a featured song in many Umphrey’s McGee live sets and is often split into two segments, separated by several other songs. On Similar Skin, though, “Bridgeless” is presented as a single piece.
The treatment of “Bridgeless” is an example of the overall goal Umphrey’s McGee has for the studio versions of its songs. Concerts are a chance to open up songs and explore their possibilities, but the album versions are about something altogether different.
“I think it’s really about trying to capture the essence of what a song is,” Cummins said. “There always should be something to where this is like the go-to performance of something. So, that’s what we’re trying to capture in the studio, trying to nail the vocal, trying to create ancillary parts that maybe you can’t do live. [For example, with] a lot of these things, there are three or four keyboard parts happening, to where I can get in depth with things and create some more sonic beds and kind of melodies and harmonies that maybe aren’t there when we do it live. So, I think that’s really what you’re going after is getting that definitive version of a song that you’ve had every opportunity to experiment with and to use the studio as a creative tool.”
With Similar Skin out, Umphrey’s McGee, which also includes bassist Ryan Stasik, drummer Kris Myers and percussionist Andy Farag, is back out on the road this summer. The group, which doesn’t use a set list, will continue to play songs from the new album that have already been performed in concerts. But the group waited until the album was released, on June 10, to be exact, before starting to add songs that had yet to make their live debut into the set.
“It’s always a hard thing for us [to hold back new songs] because we love playing new material, obviously,” Cummins said. “But it’s also nice to have a new album drop for the fans and have them really discover four or five new things as well.”
Umphrey’s McGee will perform at 6 p.m. Saturday, June 28 at Fraze Pavilion, 695 Linoln Park Blvd. in Kettering. For more information, please visit umphreys.com.
Reach DCP freelance writer Alan Sculley at AlanSculley@DaytonCityPaper.com.