Ryan Stasik’s (Not So) Seceret ‘Stache
It’s January 20, 2013 and Umphrey’s McGee is killing it at their sold-out 15th birthday show at New York City’s Brooklyn Bowl. The midpoint of the second set is approaching and the Umphreaks are going nuts as they hear the first few notes of “Bob,” a song that the band hasn’t played in nearly a decade. Then suddenly, after just a few seconds, it all stops. The music, the lights, everything. As perplexed fans look to one another, the truth starts to become clear. The guys have cut the power to their own show on purpose. The whole thing is a joke, a reference to the band’s first show at Bridget McGuire’s Filling Station in South Bend, IN exactly 15 years earlier, when the power abruptly cut them off in the middle of the very same song.
Did I mention that Umphrey’s McGee likes jokes? Well they do. Their music may have a bit of an edge but no one would ever accuse these prog-jam wizards of taking themselves too seriously. Bassist Ryan Stasik certainly embraces this spirit. The man and his most illustrious mustache will be making a stop at The Handlebar, a mustache-themed bar in Austin, TX, on April 20 to pregame before the big Umphrey’s McGee 4/20 show at Stubb’s BBQ later that evening. Fans who attend the event—appropriately billed as Stasik’s Stash and Bud Bash—will be able to enjoy some Umphrey’s themed drinks like the Drunk Bayliss (Irish Car Bomb), the GoldLikeJoel (Goldschlager shot with optional Jolly Rancher), Jimmy Stewart (bartender’s choice) and more.
We spoke with Stasik recently about the Umphrey’s 15th anniversary tour, playing with John Oates and Huey Lewis, getting his face printed on a hat, Nate Dogg covers, UMBowl, golf and much more.
So Umphrey’s McGee have been on their 15th anniversary tour lately. How has that been going?
Ryan Stasik: Yeah, can you believe that? Fifteen years, Jesus Christ. It’s been going really, really well. It doesn’t feel like it’s been that long, to be honest.
You guys played your official 15th anniversary show at the Brooklyn Bowl back in January. Whose idea was it to revisit the sort of fiasco from your first gig during that show?
I think like a lot of our ideas—just sort of sitting around, reminiscing, talking about the funny Spinal Tap moments that we’ve had in the past, and it just got brought up in conversation, we kind of all talked about it, and said, “Yeah, maybe we should do this.” It would be kind of funny just in case anybody was there who was there actually fifteen years ago at the little black hole Bridget McGuire’s that we played that first night.
Can you share some particular memories from this 15th anniversary tour so far?
I mean the whole year has been pretty overwhelming. It’s been a lot of fun, we’ve had a lot of sold out shows, the playing has been really good. What I’ve noticed the most is after fifteen years of improv-ing and jamming together, there’s definitely that nice sense of ESP. It’s like being with your brother, you know what the next move is going to be sometimes before they do it.
You guys played with Stanley Jordan recently at the McDowell Mountain Festival and you played with him a few times last year. How did that relationship start between you guys?
Actually, I believe it started when we played in Austin, Texas. It might have been South By Southwest. There was a more jamband-type room where he was playing the early show, maybe like 7 o’clock. I think we were doing the later show, and our guitar player/singer Brendan Bayliss has always been a huge fan. He actually turned me on to Stanley Jordan in college, and I think he went up to him and just said, “You’re my favorite guitar player. I would love to do some stuff if possible in the future.” Gave him his phone number. I think he called him and set up some dates and it was just as simple as that. And then we established quite a rapport over the years. He participated in our Summer School program, he sat in with us at moe.down and now at the festival in Phoenix, so there’s been almost double-digit appearances with him.
So speaking of guys that you’ve performed with, you’ve now played with John Oates and Huey Lewis. Are there any good stories from those collaborations?
Oh man, there’s tons of good stories from those. I don’t know if you can print some of them though. Those guys can still party.
Alright! [Laughs] Are there any plans right now for a new Umphrey’s album? Anything in the works?
Absolutely. We’re actually going back into the studio mid-May to really crack down and get a solidified group of numbers that make sense to go together. You know, we kind of feel like our last record, our last attempt, was a little all over the place as far as trying to take a group of songs and do something different, like three four-minute songs and kind of lump them together. We want something that kind of is the same feel and genre and a nice flow to a good record this time around.
Let’s talk about this upcoming event at The Handlebar on 4/20 that you guys are doing down in Austin. Is the moustache connection there for you?
We’re not playing. It’s more of a backyard gathering. We’re playing at Stubb’s that night. I think this is more of a meet-and-greet kind of hangout at the bar. I believe everyone at this bar is required to have a moustache, at The Handlebar. My friend CJ called me up and asked if we wanted to do something to help promote their bar, help promote our show, and pretty much give everybody who wants to get down a little early on April 20 a place to meet and hang out and have some fun.
So you guys have a special Grassroots hat with the moustache. Whose idea was that?
Well, this one has a good back story to it. You’re familiar with our festival Summer Camp that we do with moe. every year? I’ve been hosting/organizing a morning kickball game that we kind of carried from High Sierra Music Festival on the West Coast. I kind of wanted to bring it to the Midwest and make it our own there. So I’ve been doing that for the last four years. I’d like to note that I’m currently undefeated. So two years ago Ryan Connolly, whose lifeblood is Grassroots hats, made a bet with me. We were both getting pretty cocky and I told him that if I win, I want my own hat of me wearing a hat. And sure enough, he didn’t even show up to the event but my team won anyway. So I kind of had forgotten about it to be honest, and a good man, a good man of his word, he called me up about eight months later and he’s like, “Hey, I promised you that I owe you a hat.” So I was like, “Well, let’s make a hat of me wearing a hat.” [Laughs.] And sure enough, he did it. So that’s how that came about.
You recently moved out to Charleston. How are you enjoying the Southeast?
I freaking love it, man. I just built two beach cruisers for my wife and today I took a cruise out. I had the top down, it’s like golfing weather twelve months of the year. The food, the people, everything down here has just been so welcoming and hospitable that it feels like home.