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Published: 2009/03/26
by Randy Ray

The Mantis Monologues Joel Cummins continues with part three of a four-part series centered upon Umphrey’s McGee, and their impressive new studio album, Mantis. Part I focused on the thoughts of guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Jake Cinninger, who wrote much of the original material that found its way into the two-year process of recording the album. Part II gathered the musings of his bandmate, guitarist/lead vocalist/songwriter Brendan Bayliss, who discussed the production of the record, his lyrical content, and life on the road. We move onwards with the contributions of keyboardist Joel Cummins, as he digs into the details behind the record, the second decade of Umphrey’s, live work, and his numerous side projects in a wide open, pointed look at the modern improv landscape.

RR: It’s great to get a chance to speak with you again.

JC: Absolutely, yeah. I remember we last spoke a few years back and I’m happy to be doing it with you again. I’m glad to not answer questions about how we got the name of the band.

RR: (laughs) In the last few years, as the band has gained a bit of mainstream popularity, there’s a lot of good and bad that goes with this.

JC: Actually, I have to be honest; most of them have been pretty good. Folks at Madison House do a good job of prepping people so they know how to approach things. (laughs)

RR: Speaking of_my_ approach: I want to investigate details about your compositional input on Mantis, but first, I’d like to discuss your current form of touring. There has been a slightly subtle change to the way Umphrey’s tours over the yearsmore multiple-night stands in a city, and tour legs of around two weeks. I would think this is the ultimate setting for the band, and you won’t get burned out.

JC: First of all, the reason that we can do these multiple-night stands now is that we have fans that are willing to come out for a couple of nights to a city, and it certainly, yeah, does make it a lot easier for us. But, it took us a while because we needed to build up our fan base so that we could play multiple nights in the venues we wanted to play.

I think that’s the secretfinding a place where the production is going to work for what we’re trying to do, and where the fans also feel like they can be at home. Last weekend was our first four-night run we’ve ever done [Barrymore Theatre, Madison, Wisconsin, February 13-16]. It’s a venue we’ve playing now for about 8 years, and that’s one of the places where the ownership and the people running the place are super fan-friendly. They keep things inexpensive for our fans, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard of anybody coming out of the Barrymore, and complaining about having a bad experience. It’s one of those more homegrown venues, and a really special place for us. I don’t know how many shows we’ve played there, but my guess is probably close to 20.

So, yeah, that’s one thing that we’ve been trying to dofind regional places where we can set up shop and do a couple nights, and I think everybody appreciates not having to travel the next day. One of the funny things that we have is something that our crew has invented called Crew Year’s Eve. That’s on days when they don’t have to load in or load out, so that’s on the middle night of a three-night stand, or, in this case [at the four-night Barrymore run], they had two in a row on Friday and Saturday. It’s nice to give those guys a break, too, because they definitely bust their butts for us, and (laughs) they get to relax a little bit after shows.

RR: What has been unique about the early ’09 gigs is that this is the first time Umphrey’s has had so much new material to present. What’s been the fan response, thus far, and have you been challenged in a different way as a musician with all of these new songs from Mantis?

JC: Oh, man, there are so many different feelings and so many different things going on with the stuff that I could probably give you a ten-minute answer for this.

RR: Not a problem. I’m not on the clock.

JC: I can’t tell you the level of excitement for us to be able to perform this stuff liveit’s funny because it is definitely more nerve-racking than in most cases. Like you said, we’ve never had this amount of new material to throw out at our fans. The first month of playing the stuff has been awesome because our fan base has responded really well to it. I can tell that the years (laughs) of really hard work of fine-tuning and getting the arrangements the way they are have paid off. Being able to play the stuff live is just awesome, and, of course, in our typical way, find places where we can expand things and use sections as jumping-off points for improvisationthose have started to happen, too. It’s always nice to see these songs take on a life of their own now that we’ve put them out there in their studio form.

I couldn’t be any happier about how people have responded to the stuff. And I feel like people have learned the songs faster, as well, as maybe they have in the past, so the way that we’ve ramped up the excitement of it has paid off a little bit there, too. Definitely a lot of people knowing the words and knowing the tunesthat’s pretty unique to happen on a tour these days for a band that has put out an entirely new album.

As far as performing the stuff, I actually wrote a blog about this, talking about the biggest challengessinging parts while playing instrumental lines and how they may be a little contrapuntal, or going against each other rhythmically. That’s one of those things where I know that we’ve all spent the time to do it on different sections, sitting around and going over these again and again and again, trying to get the feel for things where I’m singing something, and maybe playing something different with my left hand and my right hand and trying to get all three of those things to sync up together. That was probably the most challenging process.

A couple of the other things that we did that are different from the studio album are different people taking other people’s parts. The song “Made to Measure” that we recorded, Jake and I are both playing piano on that. Brendan’s the only guitar on that tune. Live, we talked about possibly getting Jake a keyboard rig, but decided in the end that, for the sake of keeping the flow of sets going, he would play my piano part on guitar, and I would play his piano part. (laughs) I ended up where there are a couple parts in the chorus where I was able to combine the parts and get the gist of both sections of what we were playing, so that was definitely a new challengeplaying Jake’s right hand part with my left hand, and playing my right hand part with my right hand. It’s just one of those things as we flushed it out. We divided things up, sometimes took different parts that we played in the studio, but tried to arrange the songs, keep the important parts, and leave some things on the table that weren’t quite as re-creatable in a live setting.

RR: On the road last year, Umphrey’s appeared to be in a comfort zone of old material before the release of Mantis. With the subsequent release of the new album, and the recent work on new material for your next studio album, are you looking forward to moving further away from that comfort zone?

JC: Oh, yeah. Any time that we try something new, or may be a little bit out of the box from what we’ve done before, we’re always wondering (laughs): is this going to work? Is this going to really capture what we’re trying to define as the Umphrey’s McGee sound? There’s one of the tunes that we left on the floor that has a really slow 12/8 time signature, and again, it was like, “Wow, I don’t know. Is this going to work? Is something at this slow of a tempo going to hold water during our set?” I don’t know. It might be something that we play. We have another really intense progressive tune called “Welcome Home,” that is one of Jake’s that he had written a while back, and we took a stab at rearranging it. I think that’s another one that might pop up at some point this year.

For the most part, I think, at this point, we’re still enjoying playing the new stuff from Mantis, and slowly working all of our past material back into the 2009 rotation. (laughs) That’s one of the challenges at the beginning of the yearto get through all the songs at least once so that we’re back up to form. There are some of these that we haven’t played since November, so when it’s been three months, they can get a little rusty. We’re definitely focusing on those two things right now. I’m sure, some time within the next couple of months, we’ll have some more new things that we’ll be throwing in there.

For right nowI finally feelwe were driving home the other night after playing four nights at the Barrymore, and it was so exciting that I felt like we didn’t even touch 30 or 40 of our originals that we would usually play on a run like this. To now have that kind of catalogue, I feel like we’re finally there where we can do a tour, and we’re not going to be sick of songs. (laughs) The second time you play something on a tour can sometimes

be a little more challenging to really make it happen in the moment. Now, I don’t know, it’s an exciting place to be, and it’s a place that, at least for me, we’ve been striving to get to for many years.

RR: On Mantis, you had a lot of little different fills that ran throughout the record that were also played in a different style or genre. I wanted to fade down the guitars, and just isolate your section. For example, there is a lone piano interlude at the beginning of the title track after Jake’s “Preamble” that I enjoyed, which came and went, and never reappeared. What was your role in the composition of the songs, and did you notice that you were adding textures that enhanced the themes?

JC: Yeah, you know, it really depended song to song. The pieces that I was most involved in the writing were the two “Cemetery Walks” and “Mantis.” That’s not to say that was mostly me by any stretch. Jake contributed a ton to “Mantis” and Brendan contributed a ton, and did a lot of the vocal stuff. (pauses)

I think that, yeah, there’s obviouslythe album kept developing, and there was a lot of things that happened where I realized that I was kind of adding things that were becoming more central. I think that’s great because everybody knows that we can have this really furious dual guitar attack thing that can go on, but to also be able to have things where, maybe, the keyboards are carrying a little more of the melody, that’s only going to make it more interesting.

When I go to a show and see a band, I love to hear the passing around of the leads, and I always feel like the more you can get everybody involved in the live element, the more coherent presentation you’re going to have. You see: here, this person is taking the lead, and these other people are supporting him in that waysomething like that.

Yeah, to speak specifically about some of the parts, starting with “Mantis” and that first piano part that you talked aboutthat was actually on one of the original Legos things that we had [Author’s Note: Legos are a collection of riffs and musical blocks often used by Umphrey’s McGee to build a song from the ground up, piece by piece]. We just used it as a quick break. Again, like you said, it doesn’t reappear. A lot of “Mantis,” the song itself, up until the final guitar solo, you don’t have any sections that are repeated. That was something where we really wanted to challenge ourselves, and see if we could do thatmake something that was linear, but still had things that connected the dots.

Jake recorded the little “Preamble” music box song. He played it on a keyboard, and we really weren’t sure what to do with it at first: “This would be really cool to have right in front of “Mantis,” where it invokes that theme, but you don’t know what it is until you actually get to the middle of the song and hear the vocal line that melody comes from.” That was a fun thing for us to put that out early. Everybody knew what the music box sounded like, and when they got to the point in “Mantis,” when Brendan started singing that line, I feel like, for me, the first time that happened, it was a really special moment. Hopefully, it was caught by our fans, too.

During the verses [of “Mantis”] were some of the more fun things to play, for me, on acoustic piano, where we went through each verse, and dissected it and I got to create the vibe a little bit, and Jake added some absolutely awesome stuff after that, responding to the parts that were in there. So, yeah, there’s some stuff that’s a little more evocative of a Lydian mode sort of thing where I’m going back and forth between a fifth and a flat 5, so that de-stablilizes it a little bit while Brendan’s singing over it with these major chords.

The second verse, I do this very classical, faster, arpeggio sort of thing that moves around, and that’s something that we really haven’t had in there before, something that I might do live, but didn’t make it in the studio. It was cool because there’s actually an underlying melody that goes along with that. It’s not just lots of notes.

The third verse, I go back to accented the fifth and the flat 5. The final verse, I make this diminishedit’s supposed to be a haunting, and maybe, a little bit of an unsettling thing, where there’s an arpeggio quarter note thing going on with the bass, and responding with this octave thing with the right hand. That’s one of those examples I was talking about that I had to practice a lot to try to get that because I had three different things happening at that point.

The next big important keyboard part, for me, was when there’s a break, then there’s some chimes, and then the next chord progression comes in. Those chords are at the core of making the front and back halves of the song work. They setup the change when we go to A minor, and it’s the section that you hear in the “Preamble” song [which precedes “Mantis”]the “I hate to say it, you’re no replacement” part that Brendan sings. Right there, you hear an organ for the first time, and it’s this pastoral, lush backdrop underneath what is happening with the vocals.

I felt like we were able to make a statement by throwing in the organ there. Again, it is not about being note-y, but it’s about the voicings, and really trying to be emotive with these simple voicings, and yet with some chords that you might not expect, initially, when you hear that melody. That was one of the things that I worked pretty hard attrying to get that exactly how we wanted it to be so there was somewhat of an interesting progression happening underneath that section. That was really a lot of fun for me to do.

After that, the strings and the organ are intertwined a little bit. When we decided that we wanted strings on that, I went in one day and laid down some examples of some stuff that we thought we might want the strings to do, so we gave it to Nate Swanson to do that, and he came back and totally expanded on what I put down, and absolutely nailed what we were looking for.

The final piece of the puzzleI read Jake’s interview with you, and he talked about his guitar work on _Mantis_was Jake’s solo that he laid down in the end, and it was totally the icing on the cake. We had the entire song done, and we thought: “We need something else for the last section,” and Jake just crushed it. It was awesome to hear that, and realize that, man, this is finally done. (laughs)

RR: The title track stands out as a high point in the studio career of Umphrey’s McGee, and it definitely doesn’t detract from the other material on Mantis. I felt it was smart to sequence the dual “Cemetery Walk” tracks after “Mantis,” because one could continue on with the journey without too much of an anti-climatic residue.

JC: You know, it’s interesting, because I don’t know if people really realize something like this. We spent months trying to get the sequencing the way we wanted it to, and that’s always been a pretty important thing for us. I think we’ve gotten better as the years have gone by. There are so many things that we take into consideration from key changes from song to song, tempos, song structures, guitar solosthe overall vibe of something. That’s always a lot of fun to play around with, to banter about, to figure out “what’s going to be the lead track? Where are we going to build things up? Where are we going to create more of a moody, vibe-y feel?” That’s something that I feel like definitely helps in creating a motive for an album.

To me, a great example of that is Radiohead’s In Rainbows. You listen to that front to back, and I can’t think of another track, or another way, that would have made it any more perfect. That’s something, obviously, that the Beatles were outstanding at, and I love, still, to experience albums as albums, and not just a collection of songs that have nothing to do with each other. Hopefully, that is something that we were able to achieve by putting out Mantis the way that we did, too.

RR: I am curious about the construction of “Cemetery Walk.”

JC: To touch on the sequencing again, we felt that after “Mantis,” where you had a 12-minute onslaught of music, we wanted something that would keep the pace up, and at the same time, give the ears a little bit of a breather. Having just the piano to start it out gives you 30 seconds of some melody, but at the same time, it is not too intrusive.

That one started out on my four-track machine here in Chicago, and then I took it to Jake’s studio in Niles [Michigan], and we refined it a little bit. We have a process of when we are working on songs together to work up the arrangements, and then what we will do is I will record some live piano or keyboard tracks, and Jake will actually play drums to it. He’ll go back and fill in some bass or guitar ideas after the fact. It’s fun. We’ve done a lot of tunes like that like “13 Days,” “Higgins,” and “Words.” “Cemetery Walk” and “Mantis” were two on the new album that we did that way, as well, so a lot of the melodies were already out there.

I had sections in 7/8 and 4/4 when I brought it to Niles but I wasn’t happy, so we decided to try it in 7/8, and it really took off and gave it a more momentum. We left one of the 4/4 sections in there. We mixed it up in the middle of the song, but then it kicks back in to the 7/8. It was trial and error of trying ideas, and doing it that way. After we had done the work at Jake’s, we brought it to the band in the beginning of 2007, and really honed in on the arrangement. We tried to make that one a little unusual with how the verse structure and the chorus is set upagain, just to give the song its own feel, and keep things fresh. We’ve never been a band that does verse-verse-chorus-verse-chorus-verse-chorus-out (laughter)making something that’s flowing, but doing something that doesn’t really have the traditional set of how a pop song should be arranged.

After the first part that we released as a single, the more uptempo part, there’s a darker, dirge-like section that has this really anthemic build up to a drop out. That part was really fun to record, and to envision and capture on tape, as we took on the different elementsput them in, and took them out. There’s about five or six tracks recorded of Kevin [Browning, Umphrey’s “sound caresser” and engineer extraordinaire] and I with boots on doing a stomp track. That’s a little bit of the march element that you hear. There’s also a dark track in there where I’m doing some very difficult to understand and very much so buried-in-the-mix vocal stuff that we effected a lot. Again, it’s just trying to add to the chaotic, frightening element that is happening throughout that section.

The idea was to build that up as much as we possibly could, and then have it drop outhave the 7/8 theme come back, which is what happens in “Cemetery Walk II.” It’s almost like a progressive’s dance party (laughs)keeping it in 7/8 time while really having it be this uptempo, fun experience.

RR: I love the instrumental “Cemetery Walk II,” as well. Whose idea was it to split up “Cemetery Walk” into two songs? I thought that was a great idea.

JC: That was my idea. We thought that it would be nice. These tracks are, obviously, thematically-related, but they had to be two separate things. When we first laid down the ideathe second partwe weren’t totally sure that that was going to be something that made the album. Kevin and Manny [Sanchez, whose studioI.V. Lab Studios in Chicago was used for the bulk of the Mantis recordings, along with Steve Albini’s studio, Electrical Audio] did an awesome job of arranging all the keyboard parts that I put down (laughs) because we went into the studio one day, and I think I recorded ten different things that I just gave to them and said, “All righthere’s the general idea of how I’d like this arranged, but you guys can mess with it, and see what you come up with.” And so that was really exciting to see that track finally come together, and to see the rest of the guys in the band to be really into it being on [the album].

RR: That track sets up the variety of the second half of Mantis quite well. You’ve got 80s pop motifs and, later on, a Yes/Rick Wakeman solo on one of the songs

JC: Yeah, “Red Tape.”

RR: I was wondering about your thought process regarding those compositions. It seemed that the various styles really upped the ante on that second side of Mantis.

JC: Definitely. Definitely. That solo that you’re talking about starts out with a composed thing, and then goes into more of a keyboard solo. Ryan [Stasik, bassist], Kris [Myers, drummer] and I worked on that section to have something that was not as much focused on the eighth notes. The rest of “Red Tape” has this driving eighth note theme to it, so we wanted to break that up a little bit, and have something that leads into, I guess, what you would call the chorus section that happens in the middle there. I feel like we worked on it for a couple of weeks, really fine-tuning it, and getting the ideas down rhythmically what we wanted to do, but yeah, that was definitely a lot of fun to performputting down a couple of synth tracks for that.

There are a couple of other parts in there, one right in the beginning of “Spires,” and another one right at the beginning of “Red Tape,” that are actually parts that Jake added on keyboards. I heard a few things, put a few things in there, and we ended up using most of them. We had a couple of other ones that we didn’t use, but he had some nice things that he threw in, as well. That’s one thing that I don’t know if people out there know that yet. The couple of notes at the beginning of “Red Tape” where he adds melody notes to the first 20 seconds or so, and I’m not even sure how to describe itsort of an 80’s sounding keyboard tone. He did that and the synth line that’s in the intro to “Spires” between the beginning section and the first verse.

RR: You mentioned working with Ryan, and I know as a bassist, he has a unique point of view as far as what he is hearing from the dual guitarists, the dual percussionists, and what he gets from you as the keyboardist. Let’s flip that. In the live setting, how are you relating to Ryan, as opposed to the other band members?

JC: Well, it’s great because I always have the option of doing three or four different things relating to what he’s playing. One of them is doubling and augmenting his parts with octaves, or in unison. Another one is harmonizing with what he is doing. Another option is doing something that might rhythmically link up to it. And, of course, the fourth option is doing something completely different to what he is doing. Having all of these things to work with is a lot of fun, and depending on what is happening with the guitarists, I can either be in more of a supportive role, or doing something completely different from him. That’s obviously something we’ve worked on over the years, making sure that my left hand isn’t conflicting with his parts. That can also (laughs) be a problem with keyboard players. There have definitely been points (laughs) in our career where that was an issue for me.

But, yeah, it’s great because we’ve all gotten to a point where everybody in the band has such a good sense of intuition about what somebody might be intending to do next, or where they are going with an idea, and so it is great to be able to have those options. He and I have definitely worked a lot on syncing up on stuff. There will even be points where we’ll just be looking at each other, and Jake and Brendan are going off on something, and we canthe other night, to change a root note, I think we were going back and forth between a D chord and an A chord, and we had this 1/5 thing going, and I was laughing at him, going “F-sharp!” so he threw that in instead of the A on one of them, and there was this really cool effect. All of a sudden, there was a different bass underneath Jake and Brendan while they were continuing with a similar idea.

Our relationship has definitely continued to develop over the years. Now, we even have one song called “Wappy Sprayberry” where Ryan has this melody that he plays throughout the A section, I’m playing key bass, and Jake and I are comping chords, and changing roots, much like I was just saying there so that his bass riff that he plays sounds like it can be in about six different key areas. Depending on the night, we’ll go around, and hit on different key areas.

RR: What are you doing to keep yourself fresh as a musician, and how do you fit those ideas into the plans of the rest of the members in Umphrey’s? On Mantis, the band could have easily jumped the shark with some of the ideas, but to your credit, you didn’t, so Umphrey’s can conceivably continue even further forward.

JC: Right. Well, one thing I just want to point out is that I have a real appreciation for the phrase “jump the shark” since I’ve seen Arrested Development, and Henry Winkler portraying a lawyer in that, and actually jumping over a shark onI don’t know what it wasa dock or some beach at some point. Having studied up on the origin of the phrase “jump the shark”are you familiar with that?

RR: Yes, I’ve seen the Happy Days episode with Fonzie.

JC: (laughter) It’s hilarious. I was a little bit too young for that, so the reference of where it got started was lost on me until I looked a little into it. (laughs) Yeah, I have a new found appreciation for that phrase.

There are a lot of things that we are doing at this point that have actually made things fresher for us as we’ve gone on, and as the band has grown. One of those, and this touches upon something that you brought up a little earlier, is the way that we tour. I think that is probably the biggest factor in keeping, especially improvisation, fresh because, I don’t know what it is, the physiological or emotional effect, or whatever it is, but after playing six or seven days in a row, the chance that your improvisation is going to be as lucid or energetic on day 7 as it was on day 1 or 2 is just not the same.

We recognize this, and in the interest of making each show as strong as it can be, have really tried to cut back, and the most shows we’ll do in a row now is five. Most of the time, we’ll do four days in a row, and have a day off. It’s for that exact reason that just getting that creative recharge in there, whether it’s a couple of days at home, or a day off on the road, makes all the difference in the world. Listening back to it, you can hear it in the music. Things will be as tight on days 6 or 7, but maybe the natural spontaneity or creative is a little bit less. That’s something that we’ve definitely worked on to stay fresh.

I think another thing is that we’ve got practice gear that we set up virtually every night backstage, so before a show, we can spend a half hour going over the bullet points of what we are trying to accomplish each night, and make sure that we’re all on the same page. I think we’ve found that that’s really boosted our confidence in performance because you can only do so much good just talking about something, and not actually trying to execute it. That’s really allowed us to execute some harder things live.

Another thing is 2008, for one reason or another (laughs), saw us all doing a lot of different musical things on the side. I think that that’s another great avenue for us to individually both work on our chops, and explore really who we are in a live setting and what we can create and bring some of those things back to the table with Umphrey’s.

I, personally, found myself in a lot of other bands this year. I’ll go chronologically backwards here. [Author’s Note: The writer spoke to Joel Cummins at his home in Chicago on February 18, just before Umphrey’s McGee hit the road for Atlanta.] I did a couple of shows with Tony Franklin and Willie Waldman. Tony Franklin was, of course, the bassist with David Gilmour, The Firm, Clapton, Roy Harperhe’s got a ridiculous resume of people. He’s a guy who loves to come out and make music with Jake, Kris, Willie and me as the North Indiana All Stars. He’s an awesome person who is very much into this concept of being in the moment. And that’s another thing that I’ve tried to push on the other guys over the past year. When something doesn’t go the way you expected it to go, leave it as that, mentally re-group right away, and get back right to where you are. It’s been a lot of fun. Our group does all improvisation, and it’s been a great, great, great creative outlet, and we’ve been able to do a lot of after shows, and a few other shows.

Another project I got involved in Ryan and Kris was a band called Yacht Rock that we formed on Jam Cruise. I think that’s something that will probably be happening again. Did it with Jamie Shields from the New Deal, and Dan Lebowitz from ALO. It’s kind of a tribute to the smooth hits of FM radio from ’76 to ’84. It was an absolute smash on the cruise. I could not believe how much people were into iteverybody singing along, and that was really a fun side project to do.

I’ve also done a few solo shows. I’ve done duo shows with Brian Felix [Author’s Note: Felix was the keyboardist in OM Trio, who reunited to play as an opening act on Umphrey’s three-night stand at the Fillmore in San Francisco in mid-February 2008]. This is the third year where we do a holiday keyboard show. That gives me the opportunity of opening up more on my own, as well. I might be doing a show with an artist, Norton Wisdom, where it will be, again, improvisation. He is a painter, and he does water-based painting on acrylic, and he’ll come up with these unbelievable images in 15, 20 minutes, photograph them, wipe them off, and start from scratch again. He performs with Banyan, as well. I’ve done a couple of dates with Banyan, too, and that’s how I’ve gotten to know him. Mixing artistic mediums is something that has been interesting to participate in.

Another band that I’m in that has an album coming out this year is called Ohmphrey. That’s a combination band of the guys from OhmChris Poland, Megadeth’s original guitarist, and Robby Pagliari [bassist], he’s in Ohm with Chris and he’s done some work with Dokken and other bands. It’s more of a progressive-fusion album. We went in the studio with them in early 2007, recorded a bunch of tracks, and that’s going to be coming out in late spring. That’s another one where we might be doing some touring.

Oh, yeah. (laughs) I have one other project. Kick the McGee is Kris Myers from Umphrey’s, and Chris Clemente from Kick the Cat, and that’s just another band where we’ve done some improvisational gigs, and I think we’re going to put out some free music to give away to let people know who we are. Kick the McGee started because The Intersection in Grand Rapids [Michigan] was looking to do a ROTHBURY pre-party. They contacted Vince [Iwinski, UM manager] to see if there was any of our side projects that wanted to do it. We threw it together for that day, and the show went great, and we had about 400 people come see us (laughter)which is pretty crazy for a band that has never played a show. We did it there, and we did it one other time in Chicago. Chris Clemente is an unbelievable bass player. He may be one of the sickest and most versatile bass players in the Chicago area. He also plays in Drop Q with Kris Myers, so you may have heard of him before through that.

It’s one of these things where you’re getting together and playing with your friends to make music that the people want to dance to. People don’t get tired of hearing things that are happening in the moment. There is this euphoric moment that happens when you hit on something that’s really working, and there is no other avenue to really achieve thatat least that I’ve found. When you’ve got a bunch of musicians on stage who are going with it and trying to communicatewhen that happens and you can connect with the audience, I think that feeling is something that’s very real. Some times, beats, some times, it’s just fun, but it’s a lot of what keeps people coming back to live shows.

Yeah, it’s been a really, really fun, busy, and exciting year. You knowI’ve recorded a movie soundtrack for a friend that was all on piano, and that’s something that’s still in the works right now, but I’ve done a lot of the basic tracking for that.

This is what is so cool now. I’ve got to be honest. My fianchas been a huge part of making this stuff happen in my life. She’s in the music business, too. We actually met at Caribbean Holidaze in 2007. She lives out in L.A. right now, but she’ll be moving to Chicago in a few months.

RR: Congratulations.

JC: Thank you. It’s absolutely awesome. Thanks. She has really encouraged me to take as many opportunities as I can. Because she works in the music business, too, it has been very helpful. She is completely willing to do P.A. stuff for me to help make things happen, and so I’ve found that I have a lot more energy, a lot more ideas, a lot more things that I’ve been able to contribute both on music and things outside music, to the band’s business. And I definitely try to be the conduit between management and the band, and making sure everybody knows what goes down on any given night, how venues are, how towns are, how crowds are for us, and things like thathelping to try to develop the vision.

2008 and 2009 have been the best years of my life because it’s really given me the energy to focus more on music, to have this be an awesome, joyful activity for me to do, whether it’s by myself, with Umphrey’s, or with any other groups of musicians. I really feel lucky and happy to be where I’m at, and to have the good fortune to be able to do this on a daily basis. I know that in a few years family time is going to start, so I really want to take advantage of everything that is happening now, and live my life through music.

- Stay tuned for our final installment of The Mantis Monologues series in April when checks in with bassist Ryan Stasik, and offers some closing words from guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter, Jake Cinninger.

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