Ryan Stasik’s (Not So) Seceret ‘Stache
Photo by Chad Smith
You spoke about Summer Camp earlier. You guys have two festival events coming up this summer with that and sUMmer School. Can you talk a little bit about those?
Well, Summer Camp, I mean, if people have not been to Summer Camp, that’s my favorite festival of the year. I highly recommend you get a ticket and come out for that one. It’s a ton of fun, it’s a great area, it’s not too big, tons of great acts and pretty intimate. You get to hang out with a good core group of people and musicians every year. Now sUMmer School is a little different, that’s something we took on last year for the first time. It’s basically an Umphrey’s McGee summer camp where we teach what we do, what we go through, how we perform, what’s personal to us. Not just guitar lessons, not just bass lessons, drum lessons, but group lessons as well, vocal lessons, improvisational lessons. And then there’s a lot of hang time too, you know. People are camping out there, people are in dorms, there’s jam rooms that we frequent and go through and everybody gets to play with each other. We have kickball tournaments there, we have a disc golf course, so it’s a little bit of everything and it was highly successful last year. Going into it I didn’t know what to expect and I felt very rewarded and very pleased with the overall event at the end. Stanley Jordan was also a special guest so we always have a special guest each year for people who don’t just play the instruments that are in Umphrey’s McGee. So we’re doing that in June this year and looking forward to it again.
This past weekend you guys busted out a new tribute to Nate Dogg in Los Angeles. What was the idea behind that one?
We’ve all been a big fan of Nate Dogg for years and years and I think our drummer, Kris Myers, actually suggested it in an e-mail. He was like, “Hey man, I’m really big on this tune, I think I can sing it, maybe we should play it in L.A.” And I don’t think anybody was against that vote so we made it happen. That’s usually how it happens in our organization. I mean all band members have very different influences and different styles, what they’re listening to. Like our percussionist Andy [Farag] is into hip-hop, very much into hip-hop, where Kris is into electronic and jazz, and then Jake [Cinninger] and myself are more into the metal and the heavier stuff, and Brendan’s more into like Indigo Girls and The Beatles, stuff like that. So when you run the gamut like that, everybody makes their own suggestions from different backgrounds and allows us to keep it fair and democratic and also really widen the spectrum of music that we play as far as covers go.
I saw that Umphrey’s is going to be playing at Red Rocks with Delta Spirit and Dr. Dog. I thought they were kind of interesting openers for you guys. Have you all been listening to their music a little bit lately?
Yeah, I mean like I said, we listen to everything. We’re actually friends with some of the Dr. Dog guys. Eric Slick the drummer is a good friend of ours because he was playing in the trio with Adrian Belew while we were touring with a short stint with Adrian Belew. So he’s a good friend and they were just at the festival we did out in Phoenix so we got to see them as well. I’m just catching on to Delta Spirit, I had not really listened to them before but I like what’s going on there and I like the pairing of the three of us for Red Rocks. It’s going to be a pretty special night. We’re all just fans of all music, as long as it’s good music. Actually that’s not completely true, I like some really bad music as well.
Can you give us any examples of the kind of bad music that you’re into?
You know, I’d hate to say that it’s bad music because I consider what other people may consider bad, I consider good. So icons like Wesley Willis, perhaps. Are you familiar with Wesley Willis?
No, not really.
Check him out. He has passed on but he is an underground Chicago legend.
How about your old side project the Omega Moos [in which Stasik and Bayliss have perform with The New Deal keyboardist Jamie Shields and drummer Darren Shearer]? What’s the status of that right now?
[Laughs.] Gosh, we all want to play so badly. Unfortunately, with having babies and losing our drummer and being intercontinental, it’s been tough to schedule some gigs but I do promise, mark my words, that we will be touring in 2014 at the latest if we don’t get some fall dates in here in 2013. I know Jamie’s up and ready up there in Canada and our new drummer, Kris Myers, so it’s three parts Umphrey’s here. We have yet to rehearse anything but we’ve definitely had e-mail dialogues, discussions of new song choices and direction that we want to go with. Talk about a really fun time, I really, really enjoy that project. It’s always a good time.
How did the idea for UMBowl ever really come into being? It’s a very interesting concept.
I wish I had exact specifics on how and when it came to day, but just like a lot of things that happen with us, our core group and management, we hold meetings regularly so we’re always popping up new ideas. You either keep up or you get passed behind when it comes to technology, we feel. There’s a lot of opportunities out there and a lot of other groups are doing, and we thought it’d be pretty special to model something maybe after the Super Bowl, around the Super Bowl, musically and make it an experience. And we really wanted the fans to be interacting throughout the entire evening. So we decided we’d model it after four quarters with a halftime and an overtime with the encore, and we even go out as much as to get to the video and comedy aspect of it too.
Obviously if anybody knows anything about Umphrey’s McGee, they know that we’re freaking hilarious and we don’t take ourselves too seriously. Humor is definitely a big part, all of the Frank Zappa influence as well. So we try to make parodies, videos and we’re always joking around, we’re always pranking with each other and stuff like that, so we try to show that lighter side as well as a serious side when it comes to musicality during the show. So we’ve broken it up into four parts where fans can either vote on some of our best-of stuff and choose exactly what we do, we also have interactive sets where fans can text and make up phrases, ideas or thoughts and we’ll improv live to them on stage as they go onto a projection screen live in the audience. It’s just different ways of us coming up with ideas to try to keep things new, keep things fresh, keep us on our toes, keep us challenged as musicians and have the fans go home and be like, “Wow, I really was a part of that,” instead of just being someone in the audience. It does take a lot of hard work and a lot of planning, not only for the musicians but from behind the scenes guys with Kevin Browning and Vince Iwinski our management, and all of the people working on our home team at the office. It’s something that we work on pretty much half the year around just to prepare for.
I do have another thing I wanted to mention that we just started and it’s been hugely successful, we call it “Headphones and Snowcones.” And right now we have wireless headphones, I think there are sixteen available per show, if people want to get a soundboard mix on good, custom headphones and it’s out of a package deal where you can be in the theater and experience the concert differently. A lot of times I’ve gone to shows and you get the Chatty Kathy next to you who’s just like, “Oh did you hear that? Do you know the score?” And you’re like, “Man, I just want to hear the music.” Well this actually puts you in your own world and you hear the concert in a completely different way. So we’ve been running that a lot lately and I think we’re going to continue to do that in the future as just another way to experience a concert live in a different setting and a different environment. It’s been pretty neat. Some of the venues have been small enough too where people can wander around the entire venue and still have perfect sound from the soundboard mix. So it’s been pretty cool.
So now that you’re living in the Southeast, do you and Andy ever meet up to play golf or anything like that?
We’ve got a tee time tomorrow, 10 AM. We play a lot. We actually bring our clubs underneath the bus. Andy and I, I think we played four times out on the West Coast; we played in Vegas, we played out in Oregon, we played in California. So yeah man, we’re trying to get the single digit handicap as the goal for the end of the year. I want to be at 9.