Umphrey’s McGee, a band that’s known for playing a diverse range of rock music, is set to perform at The Major Rager, a new Masters Week event set for 7 p.m. Monday, April 7, at the Augusta Convention Center, 901 Reynolds St.
The concert, presented by Friends With Benefits, also will feature Nashville rock band Moon Taxi. Tickets are $40 from themajorrager.com, and proceeds will benefit Ronald McDonald House Charities of Augusta.
Umphrey’s McGee’s 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 (The Floor) – all 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 their considerable musical range. But that’s not what Umphrey’s McGee’s next 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 and roll on this one. It’s pretty heavy. There are a lot of kind of riff-oriented songs. They’re all vocal tunes, so every song has vocals, and that’s something that we’re a little bit known for the instrumental side of us, and that’s something that will keep happening live.
“But one of the things we wanted to do was just continue to put out tunes that really have that lead vocal thing going on.
“So (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 record. Out of that group, 11 songs made it onto Similar Skin, which will be released in June.
“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 who have frequented Umphrey’s McGee concerts over the past four years.
In particular, Bridgeless, The Linear, Puppet String, Loose Ends and No Diablo have made regular appearances in the band’s performances over that span. Bridgeless, in particular, has become a featured song in many Umphrey’s McGee live sets and the band made it a priority to get a studio version on Similar Skin.
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 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.”
With Similar Skin finished, Umphrey’s McGee (which also includes bassist Ryan Stasik, drummer Kris Myers and percussionist Andy Farag) is back out on the road. The group will continue to play songs from the new album that have been performed in concerts, but Cummins said the songs that have yet to make their live debut will stay under wraps for a bit longer.
“We’re kind of making a conscious choice to hold them back, at least until the album (release) gets a little bit closer,” he said. “It’s always a hard thing for us because we love playing new material, obviously. 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.”