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Interview: Umphrey's McGee - Group Therapy

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Interview: Umphrey's McGee - Group Therapy


Photo: Jake Plimack
When you write new material, does each member bring in songs or do you create more as a group?

Brendan Bayliss: Jake has a kick-ass studio and I have a very primitive studio in Chicago. He and I will both be writing during breaks and bring in skeletons of tunes. Jake will put in the bass, drums, keys, and everything—bringing in an almost finished product. The other way we write is just improvisation. A lot of times we will try and create A and B sections as a group. If they get really developed, we will start to improvise lyrics over them. Sometimes people will just bring in riffs and we will build a song around that riff.

Jake Cinninger: “Search 4” was pretty much all one of my compositions. “Wellwishers” was something that Bayliss had pretty much worked out fully. A song like “The Floor” would be a good example of all six of us throwing in some ingredients into one particular song.

Outside of Jake’s studio, where else did you record?

Jake Cinninger: A lot of the demos were done at my studio and then we went to I.V. Labs in Chicago, Manny Sanchez’s studio. We do most of our stuff there because he has been involved with us since day one. He is our go-to-producer guy and it’s close to home?

What did you do to prepare for those sessions?

Jake Cinninger: There is a lot of pre-planning before we record. We don’t want to waste a lot of time, so we really know the material inside and out before we walk into the studio. Generally, we want to track everyone live and then go back and sweeten things up and add vocals. The idea is to get that live-drum feel, with all of us playing in the room together, and then go from there.

How do you approach writing guitar parts for each other?

Brendan Bayliss: We have been writing together for 11 years. When I come up with a tune, I always think that there’s going to be two guitar parts. It comes naturally, because it’s always Jake and me. Typically, Jake will have something and it will have two parts already. He’ll be like, “Which part do you want? I’ll take this one, you take that one.” When you’re writing for the group, you are writing for the players in it and what they are going to do. It would be weird to just write three chords and hand it off.

Jake Cinninger: Exactly. For example, I will have a really nice chord progression that is kind of unusual and Bayliss will put a melody over top that completes the idea. Or vice versa.

“Booth Love” has a cool ’80s-feel with a great bass line.

Jake Cinninger: That wasn’t even supposed to make the record but it just flowered into a great groove with a really memorable vocal line. It just keeps repeating, almost like an A section with a little breakdown, much like an old James Brown funk tune. It's probably the easiest tune we have ever written.


Photo: Jake Plimack

“Hajimemashite” has been in your setlists for years. What prompted you to finally put it on an album?

Brendan Bayliss: “Haji” was one of the first songs we wrote as a band. We figured “let’s just record it,” just to have it. When we put the pile together, it fit even though it was never the plan to put it on the album. It’s a really old song and it offset some of the newer stuff.

How did “Dim Sun” come about?

Jake Cinninger: That was an accidental thing. Just the right place at the right time and hit the record button. I was waiting for the guys at the studio when we were doing the demos. It was a nice morning and there really wasn't any wind outside, so we dragged these old Telefunken microphones outside. You can hear the birds in the background. I came up with this strummy, Pink Floyd-vibe thing on an old Sears Silvertone acoustic from the ’50s that I swear even had the original strings. It was recorded in just one take and I did the overdubs with my Taylor. It was a little cooling of the jets in the middle of the record.

Do you ever bring in a tune and think it sounds too much like an influence?

Jake Cinninger: Yeah, I think we are all really cognizant of staying away from our influences and just letting them rub up against our pen. Once something is finished, you’re stuck with it forever. If something sounds really similar to something else, I think we really try to make an effort to flat or sharp a note just to force the difference.

Is there an example of that on this album?

Jake Cinninger: “Conduit,” for instance, has a little bit of a Led Zeppelin/Stone Temple Pilots feel with that big, half-time drum section and a descending riff where it just chromatically falls down. You throw in Bayliss’ vocal and it just instantly makes it Umphrey’s McGee. The little connections will make it sound like us by the time the finished product comes around.

On “Search 4” it sounds like Kris [Myers] is trying to audition for Metallica.

Jake Cinninger: That comes off as a more progressive Alice in Chains. We don't do too many “drop-D-rock-riff” sorts of things. That one really pops out as the prog-rock tune on the record and has the little Eddie Van Halen-style outro solo.
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