Music News

Umphreys McGee Keeps Progressing

Before Umphrey's McGee ever played a gig here, the Chicago-based act sent out 600 live CDs to be distributed throughout Denver, Boulder and Breckenridge. So when the band came through Colorado for a five-date stint in the spring of 2001, it sold out Quixote's and the Trilogy Lounge in Boulder, and a lot of those in attendance already knew the words to the songs. The group has continued to build its following with grassroots efforts like these over the years — which eventually helped it secure a deal with SCI Fidelity — while its style has continued to progress. We recently spoke with Brendan Bayliss about the changes in Umphrey's sound.

Westword: You guys toss a myriad of styles into your songs — everything from Zappa to jazz fusion to progressive. How did that come about?

Brendan Bayliss: We've always had this musical ADD thing going for us where we never just liked to stay in the same spot. I think every one of us, after about five minutes, are like, "Let's just do something else." That comes across in our writing. If we've written a slow song, we make a conscious effort to make the next one faster. Or if we make one soft, we'll make the next one harder, just to mix it up for our own sanity, because we have to play them all the time.

It seems that with each album, your songs get more intricate. Would you agree with that?

I don't really know where we stand in the course of things, because we're constantly changing. If I listen to stuff from a few years ago, it's just different. I don't know if it's just a conscious effort or a phase or the path we're taking. Each song just kind of writes itself. We made a conscious effort for this next album that we're putting out next year to be more aggressive and progressive.

Have you already started working on the new album?

Yeah, we already have. We hope to be done next summer.

Can you tell me about the visual cues you use when playing live?

A smiley face means major, a frown means minor. We've developed a series of cues so we never get stale.

How did you come up with them?

Well, Zappa was doing it years ago. But basically it happened out of necessity of playing shows, and we'd be like, "Well, I wish there was a way to figure this out so this doesn't happen. So let's just make a cue for it." Over time, it just turned into a big pile of cues.

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Jon Solomon writes about music and nightlife for Westword, where he's been the Clubs Editor since 2006.
Contact: Jon Solomon