From a lineup change to a band hiatus to an album years in the making, three-piece rock act Ume (pronounced ooo-may) epitomises their namesake, “perseverance”. That strong will has led to the band’s signing to Modern Outsider Records, the release of their debut album Phantoms and an opening slot on Toadies’ latest tour. Not too shabby, eh?
I was able to chat with front-woman Lauren Larson in advance of Ume’s July 28th Atlanta show at the Masquerade with Toadies and Helmet.
You grew up outside of Houston, but have more recently been in the Austin music scene. Austin is such a great music city, with so many great local acts and national acts coming to town is it tough for a new band to break out from that scene?
Austin is a really supportive musical environment. A lot of people think “oh there are so many bands, is it competitive?”, but Austin is such a laid back eclectic town that we don’t have any issues like that. There are a lot of people here that are making things happen, but it’s still laid back. I actually grew up and got into music in a really small town south of Houston, but Austin is wonderful.
Much of your debut album Phantoms carries an intense edge with aggressive guitar riffs and loud percussion, but also has soaring hooks. What is the secret to making songs accessible, but still as loud as possible?
When we are writing music, we like to bring in an aggression and incorporate more brutal elements that I think surprises people. I also want to bring in something beautiful and melodic at the same time. I think that the dichotomy of these two divergent elements that kind of typify the band in a lot of ways and our songs. Even when we take the stage, people don’t expect what is going to follow after that. We might have a more demure or shy or regular person look and then really try to put on an intent, aggressive visceral live show. I think those two elements the visceral-ness and delicacy typify the songs.
“Run Wild” and “Pretend Again” both seem to have a similar theme in escaping something. What do those songs mean to you?
Yeah, I think the theme of “escape” and “on a run” is a recurring theme throughout the whole album that I don’t think a lot of people have picked up on. Ultimately, I would leave it to the listener to find his or her own meaning. Overall, this was a very difficult record for us to make. In the process we ended up losing a member and finding a new drummer, it was difficult financially. We were the kind of band that had worked really hard but had all of these band problems constantly. Like we were cursed or haunted, but we persevered through it. Thats actually one of the meanings of the word “Ume”, it means perseverance or hope in Japanese. I think this feeling of wanting to run or trying to escape were some personal things I was going through in the process, but in the song “Captive”, there is this joyous element of not giving up and sticking with it and making it through. Thats what I think we did with this record.
I read the band met Anthony Bourdain at SXSW and might be in an upcoming episode of “No Reservations”, how did that happen?
Yes. “No Reservations” tapped Sleigh Bells, The Sword and Ume to cover at SXSW. They came out to film one of our shows, we played the Brooklyn Vegan party at this place called Hotel Vegas. They filmed it and then we went to dinner with Anthony Bourdain. All of the madness and embarrassing moments will air on “No Reservations” in September. We were so excited. That was a real honor. He said we were one of the first bands they hung out with that were “true foodies”.
Toadies and Helmet both have a lot of history as great ‘90s alternative bands, what has it been like touring with them?
The Toadies have been such great supporters of Texas and local acts for so long. They are giving us a couple chances to play with them here locally at huge shows. We’re just so excited to play some of the biggest rooms we’ve ever played. We’ve done some big festival stages, but this will be great shows every night. I’m also excited to play with two other bands who have loud guitars. This won’t be one of those shows where we set up and they tell us to turn it down just by looking at our amps.
Phantoms came out almost a year ago, are there plans to record a follow-up?
Yes, we’re demoing new material now. This will be the first music with our new drummer Rachel that we ever released. She is adding a new rhythmic intensity to the sound and there is a little more technical elements added, at least rhythmically, which we’re excited about. We’re going to record this fall.
Where are your recording? in Austin?
No, right now we’re sending demos to a producer that we’re in talks with. It’s nothing official yet, so I can’t say. If it comes together, I’ll just say he’s worked with one of our favorite bands on the Queens of the Stone Age record. If it works out I’ll be pumped.
What can fans expect from the new album?
Emotionally, we’re in a better, much more positive place with this records. Some people say we haven’t quite captured that loudness and live energy quite yet. We really hope to get that one this records. Its still unfolding now so we’ll see which direction it goes. Some of the newer stuff is definitely some of the heaviest stuff we’ve ever written but at the same time we’re still trying to bring in some of those melodic elements as well.
Lastly, you work with a camp called Girls Rock Camp Austin. What is the camp about and how did you get involved?
Girls Rock Camp Austin is a nonprofit that seeks to empower young girls through music. Girls get together for a week, some have never touched a guitar or instrument and they form a band, name their band with awesome band names like “Velvet Pretzels”. That was one of the bands I worked with. They write material and perform it for several hundred people at a showcase. Its really inspiring to see these girls overcome insecurities and issues that some people deal with their whole life, they overcome in one week. I see them, like me at first, turning the guitar down and having their head down and scared to play, and then by the end they’re up there thrashing and screaming their hearts out. Unfortunately, this summer I’m touring so I wasn’t able to help, so that sucks. There’s gonna be this whole new generation of female guitarists, drummers and singers that are gonna take over the music world.