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Published: 2012/11/23
by Dean Budnick

Once More With Umph: Brendan Bayliss Reader Interview (Five Years On)

Today we revisit the reader interview with Brendan Bayliss from November 2007.

Brendan Bayliss, Martyrs’, Chicago, IL, 5/14/07- photo by Norman Sands

Umphrey’s McGee will soon celebrate their tenth year as a band. To mark this occasion, along with the recent release of the group’s Live at the Murat two CD set, we selected UM guitarist Brendan Bayliss as the subject of our latest reader interview. Here he talks about life on the road, happenings at home, the state of the group’s next studio effort and why he’d like to take a Stanley Jordan mulligan.

We received a number of questions busting your chops on the state of Notre Dame football. Let’s start things off with one of the nicer ones: “Being a Notre Dame graduate, how do you feel about the football team’s performance so far this season?” Phil R

BB- I don’t know if this is a Zen statement or some old Chinese proverb but you can’t know happiness unless you know pain. So what we’re doing is building it up for two years from now. That’s why we’re not scoring any points on offense, we’re saving it for two years from now.

Duly noted. Okay, on to the band“Describe a typical day leading up to a show. Do you have any pre-game rituals,’ favorite meals, eccentric habits, etc.?” Justin M

BB- On a typical day it really depends on what the night before was. If I was a good boy and went to bed I’ll try to get a workout in because I’m getting fat. Then we’ll get together and talk about a setlist, whoever’s on the bus. And there’s a lot of downtime, trying to kill time. We set up a backstage practice rig every day and we’ll do that if we’re motivated. Usually, the first week of a tour we’ll do it and the second week we’ll kind of play video games and walk around and get away from each other.

What about on a day off like today how do you occupy yourself?

BB- This is a half-day because we’re at Higher Ground for two nights, so they’re letting us set up today and do a practice. So today is like a half-day. In New York I had Sunday off, so I woke up at 11AM and got on a boat for four hours, just something totally different to get away from it. But it really depends on what the night before was if the people are motivated or hung over or whatever.

How often does the band practice like that on the road?

BB- This tour we’re going to do it twice. Once in Denver and once in Burlington. You see, we don’t really tour like normal bands. We go out for a week come home for a few days, go out for two weeks and come home. We made a rule that we can’t do more than three weeks because we want to be able to do this for a long time. So we don’t schedule as many off day practices because we try to play five out of six days.

What led to that rule about no more than three weeks at a time?

BB- Well some guys are married, the sound guy’s married, the monitor guy’s married, Jake’s married and that’s a big part of it. We’re not 22 years old and just out of college anymore. So after ten years of doing it, after a few weeks you kind of need a break. You can get tired of playing the same stuff and if you don’t have a break you can’t really work on new stuff.

“Do you do any songwriting on the road or is it too distracting?” Ellen B

BB- Usually not but I’d say we definitely work on stuff. We’ll work on stuff separately at home and then bring it in at sound check and practice it. It’s more of arranging ideas. And then every night we’ll try to listen to some of the improv to see if there’s anything worthwhile we can use, so I guess that’s kind of writing.

“Why there are no Zappa covers in the regular rotation since Frank is such an obvious, major influence on the sound of the band certainly more than Flock of Seagulls or Supertramp (not that either of those cover’s don’t go over quite well)?” Paul U

BB- That’s a good question. We’ve always talked about doing things like “Inca Roads,” some of the stuff that’s really challenging. We’ve worked on some stuff but unless we’re going to absolutely nail it 100%, it’s sacrilegious. Sometimes it’s best to leave that for listening because I don’t think we’d do it justice.

“Is there going to be an Umphfest? Don’t get me wrong, Trancegression was a blast, but are you guys gonna ever have your own?” Jared I

BB- We’ve been debating that for a long time and for the time being, no. It wouldn’t be right to do unless we were big enough to sell enough tickets to really do it right and have it be pimp. If we’re not going to be able pimp it out the right way, it’s just easier to go play other people’s festivals because I don’t want to have to deal with port-a-potties, fences. But eventually if we grow big enough to do it right we would but until then if you can only half-ass it, don’t even bother.

“Over the years you’ve had some memorable guests on stage, I was wondering who was the most exciting guest appearance you’ve had on stage with you? Also, who wouldyou like to jam with if you had the chance?” Matt P

BB- We’d played with a lot of good people Probably the most exciting I would have to say is Victor Wooten just because he’s the baddest ever. And to hear him in my inner ears playing on stage next to me that was really, really, really cool. I mean does it get better than that?

Who would I like to jam with? Probably Al Di Meola or Stanley Jordan. Those two. I got a chance to meet Stanley Jordan once and I tried to tell him that his playing was of biblical proportions and I said, “Hi, you’re the Bible.” That’s how it came out and he was like, “Ohh, okay.” I’d like to make that one up.

“Do you think the new release is the perfect starting off point for new listeners? Do you have any suggestions gently introduce my new girlfriend to the world of UM?” Joe R

BB- If you want to introduce your girlfriend to the world of Umphrey’s McGee, we have what we call we call chick songs and dude songs. Some of the dude songs are long guitar solo rock songs and some of the chick songs are 3 minutes and a chorus. So I’d say give her a mix of chick songs, that’s my advice.

Can you specify?

BB- No, you guys can figure them out

“What are your favorite moment or moments on the new live release?” Jen F

BB- My favorite moments are the crowd. The “Fuck yeah!” and “This album sucks!” chant. I think it’s just hilarious. And the angular moment thing that Jake ad Kris I think is pretty bad ass.

You went into those shows knowing that this release would come out of them, correct?

BB- Well we went in with the intention of capturing enough to put them out. We weren’t guaranteed that we were going to play well.

Historically, do you find that situation facilitates creativity, puts a damper on it or do you just ignore the fact that you’re recording with that goal in mind?

BB- A lot of the ignoring it. I don’t want to jinx us because the next time if we do something like this and we blow it, I’ll blame it on this but I think every time we’ve ever been really challenged by something like that, we’ve responded. So we’re probably due for some stinkers.

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