Like so many bands, U-Melt came together by accident. But, the New York-based quartet owes its continued success to anything but luck.
Since first linking up in 2003, U-Melt—-Adam Bendy (Bass, Vocals), Zac Lasher (Keyboards, Synthesizers & Vocals), George Miller (Drums & Vocals) and Rob Salzer (Guitar & Vocals)—-has blossomed into one of the jam-scenes hardest working acts, barnstorming high-profile festivals, distributing its debut album _ The Unbelievable Meltdown_ through the Homegrown Music Network and performing upwards of 300 shows in just under three years. Commanding a clear understanding of the jamband blueprint, U-Melts varied live show is a throwback to the improvisational bands of yore, stocked with zany covers and high energy segues. In the past year, the group also paid tribute to Pink Floyd, jammed with a number of scene veterans and made a point to play long and late whenever possible (but not at the risk of sounding overly loose). Shortly after performing his 300 show at Pittsfield, MAs La Cocina, guitarist Rob Salzer gave Jambands.com our first U-Melt history lesson and discussed the groups road to the 2007 Jammys.
First off, can you tell us a bit about U-Melts inception?
Well, we first played together in August 2003. We had talked a little bit, not about playing but about music in general, on various music related websites like Terrapin Presents. Adam and I played in a band called a440 and Zac and George played together in another band. To make a long story short, we actually camped next to each other at Phishs IT festival. a440 was supposed to set up and play, but my drummer and my rhythm guitar players van broke down on their way up to Maine. We also had a lead singer at the time, Dave, who literally disappeared at the festival. So it was just the two of us and, after Phishs last set, we were still kind of itching to play, so we ended up jamming with Zac and George. a440 had a lot of artistic differences, but the four of us immediately saw eye-to-eye. So we decided to merge bands. We still had about thirty a440 shows lined up, so we rehearsed for maybe two weeks and went on the road under that name. At our first show we only knew four songs—-Green Amber, Missed, Human Compass and MMWs Bubblehouse—- but had to play two sets [laughs].
How would your describe U-Melts sound at that point?
a440 was a lot more hard-rock and guitar-harmony driven. We also had a Grateful Dead influence, a 70s mixture of folk and funk disco. So we started out with this just kind of bluesy rock improv thing. But, over time, we really started to develop our true sound—-a full blown progressive rock, dance mix.
Over the past three years, U-Melt has staged a number of musical pranks and hosted a handful of themed sets. To what extent do you view this as an essential ingredient in U-Melts sound?
In addition to improving our playing, the only thing we really feel is necessary is to keep our fans on their toes. Were definitely influenced by these huge jambands—-Phish really did it right, they really kept their fans guessing. When your touring for a living, you need to keep people coming back to your shows. So, we try to do different things, whether its
covering classic Pink Floyd or playing Kool and the Gangs Get Down On It, which made people laugh their asses off—-but they had a good time listening to it!
U-Melt has also made a number of popular covers its own
Certain covers really lend themselves to experimentation, like Medeski, Martin and Woods Bubblehouse. We take that song and we put a ten minute straight-up techno/trance jam in the middle of it. We love jazz, we love trance, we love prog-rock and it all of that comes through in our music. Its really great to combine all these different styles of music. We did the same thing to Pink Floyds Welcome to the Machine. On the album, Welcome to the Machine doesnt have a beat. It does have a pulse to it but theres no drums—-its all sound effects and what not. So, we put a four-on-the-floor dance beat behind it. Now, its a dance song that people already know and thats just one way to keep things interesting.
How has U-Melts songwriting process evolved over the past few years?
When we started, Zac and I were the primary writers, but, now, George also writes. I have some jazz influences and have recently been getting into techno, but primarily come from a rock background. But Zac comes from a theatre background so he takes this kind of dramatic approach to song writing and arranging that works really well. Over time, weve tried to push ourselves to compose more and make music which is more complex.
Pretty much every time we write a song at this point were really feeding off each other. So were really influencing each other in terms of complex compositions and arrangements. I try to make it as compositional as possible without being too pretentious about it [laughs].
Even when we come up with these extended structures and really long parts, we make sure we have hooks so people dont get bored. I cant tell you how many times Ive been at a show where the band sounds awesome, but the jams go on way too long. Dont get me wrong—-I love this scene more than anyone, but if you keep going on a fifteen minute tangent, eventually people will start getting bored.
Do you plan to enter the studio anytime soon to record your sophomore album?
Were going to head into the studio in late March to record our second album. Were going to go out to Ohio where we recorded our first album at the Mind Ignition Studios. Alex Lusht, who produced our first album, is going to work with us again and our road engineer, Josh Parrish, is going to come out help produce the album as well. Most of the songs on the album people that have been coming to see us a lot probably know really well at this point. We have easily three CDs or more worth of material we havent recorded. So, its a very difficult process shorting through the songs and trying to figure out what to put on this album. If you listen to the songs on the first album and the ones were writing now, its almost like two different bands. And there is a ton of material in between that really shows the transition from where we started to where we are now. So, basically, what were trying to do is take the best group of songs, the middle ones, and make it the most cohesive album possible.
On New Years Eve, Strangefolks Don Scott jammed with U-Melt at New Yorks CODA. How has your relationship with his group evolved over the past thee years?
Some of our closest friends have done artwork for Strangefolk and we played with them at Wormtown up in Massachusetts for several years now. In 2003, we played at the Knitting Factorys Old Office and Patchen Montgomery, who was living in New York at the time, came down to see us and ended up singing Traffics Low Spark of High Heeled Boys. A year later, our entire band learned some of their songs and Patchen sang lead at a benefit in Teaneck, NJ. We just kept crossing paths as festivals and got to know them pretty well. When I was younger, I was a huge fan of Strangefolk and on New Years Don and Deep Banana Blackouts Rob Somerville both sat in on Carne and Through The Prism.
Where do you hope to be by next years Jammys [as with this feature the band now qualifies for a potential nomination in the New Groove category]?
We want to gradually expand out fanbase across the country, but we dont want to spread ourselves to thin to fast. Playing festivals definitely helps. We find it tough to play a 45-minute opening set and really express ourselves. So, the free-hour late-night festival set is really best case scenario for us. There are no worries about where we are going to take our set and we are really comfortable where we are. This past NYE was probably my favorite show weve played yet. We didnt have to worry about time or stuffing our set into 45 minutes. Weve been establishing ourselves up and down the east coast and are also doing some dates with Tea Leaf Green. Ideally, wed love to get to the point where we could headline for 3 weeks at the time and really cover some ground on the east coast and Midwest.
_Mike Greenhaus heard U-Melts first gig while shopping for veggie burritos in the IT parking lot. You can listen to his podcast every week at www.relix.com/radio. _