It’s that time of year again in the great city of Toronto. North by Northeast is upon us, once again, to bless us with all of its musical glory. In celebration of the next four days, an interview from one of the hottest bands of each day will be posted right here. And today that band is Ume. This trio out of Texas is more than meets the eye. When the band’s frontwoman Lauren Larson steps on stage, one probably wouldn’t expect that this pretty blonde has a history of playing in grindcore bands in Houston’s DIY punk scene under her belt. That is, until Ume start playing their loud and punk-inspired style of indie rock. Right now the band is touring non-stop and getting ready to follow-up their latest EP, entitled Sunshower, with a hard-hitting full-length. With bassist Eric Larson and drummer Jeff Barrera bringing it just as hard as Lauren, it’s no wonder these guys are known as one of the heaviest bands in indie.
The range of genres that can be heard in your music is pretty extensive. Who, or what, are some of your influences?
Lauren: At age 13 I stayed up all night with my brother’s guitar and a tape of Nirvana’s Incesticide until I learned to play “Aneurysm” by ear. My hands though were too small to play a power chord, so I was really forced to develop my own style of playing and to find my own alternative tunings. My music subconscious is also probably shaped by early experiences with Prince, Deep Purple’s “Child in Time,” the Muppet album, piano recitals, and a high school mix tape that combined bands like Neutral Milk Hotel with Neurosis. When the band started, we were influenced by bands like Fugazi, the DIY punk scene we emerged from, and practicing in a studio surrounded by Black Metal bands. Now we just try to combine intensity and melody in new ways.
I’ve read that the birth of Ume came out of a love connection. Can you tell me a bit about how the three of you met?
Lauren: We all met playing in different bands in high school as part of the DIY music scene around Houston. When I was 15, I played in a hardcore punk band called Twelve Blades (I was not your typical grind-core/metal guitarist). For our first show we traveled from our super small town to Houston to play our 30 second songs. Eric, now Ume’s bassist, happened to be there and said to himself, “If I ever see that guitarist again, I’m going to talk to her.” A few months later, my band was playing a skate park. After our set I was moping on the vert ramp and Eric came up to talk to me. He was the first guy to ever ask for my number. We’ve been together ever since. We also met Jeff in high school when he played bass in a Racecar Riot. But we didn’t form Ume together until a few years later.
What made you guys come together and decide to form Ume?
Lauren: Hmmm… we ran into Jeff again at an Unwound concert and basically asked if he wanted to play drums with us in Eric’s parents’ garage. He’d never played drums, Eric rarely played bass, and I’d never sung… we wanted to try something new. When I finally gathered the courage to scream we figured we had a vocalist and so became Ume.
I know that there was a while when you guys were split with you and Eric living in Pennsylvania and Jeff staying in Texas. How did you guys successfully keep Ume going for that period of time?
Lauren: I was going to grad school, thinking I was going to be an academic philosopher, but I found myself running to the guitar every half-hour. Every chance we got, we would play music. Jeff would also sometimes fly up for shows and we would drive to Texas in the summers. I guess it’s like a long-term relationship where you really appreciate the time you have together.
What’s the status of the full-length album right now?
Lauren: We’re stopping by Echo Mountain studios in Asheville, NC to record some demo tracks for the full-length at the end of this tour!
Have you been playing any new material live yet?
Lauren: Yes, we’ve been road-testing a couple tracks and will be debuting two more brand new songs this tour.
You played South by Southwest earlier this year and now you’re up north for North by Northeast. How do you like playing the big festivals compared to your own tours?
Lauren: Festivals like NXNE are always a blast and the energy and diversity of the environment is inspiring. Being out of the 100 degree Texas heat is also refreshing. We personally always try to put ourselves completely into every performance, whether we’re in a tiny dive bar or festival setting. So other than the number of people and volume of food and drinks consumed at a festival, it’s really the same.
Being from Texas, were you guys SXSW goers before having played it?
Lauren: Eric and I went to SXSW once in high school. All I remember is Jets to Brazil and Austin’s amazing food! So happy to live here now.
So what’s better then? Knowing that you’ve played in the same setting as a great band like Jets to Brazil or having full access to Austin food?
Lauren: It’s the combination of bands, BBQ, migas, and Lone Star.
I’ve read a lot about people being shocked by the energy that comes out of you guys at your live shows. You’ve been together for a few years now, is it still something that you get comments on after you play?
Lauren: Every single show. I’ve been told that when people see us setting up on stage they expect our performance to be low-key. I guess because we don’t really “look the part.” I’m more concerned about playing my guitar parts well than fulfilling some image of what an indie rock band should look like. I’m repeatedly told after shows, “Wow, I thought you’d suck, but you can really play guitar.” I’ve even been asked to admit that I’m “not really playing guitar up there, because no one could move around like that and really play.” I like to shatter expectations. Though maybe it’s mundane to folks who’ve seen us a lot because my dad recently told me I need to set a fire on stage…
And what are the chances that you’d go through with that one?
Lauren: [laughs] Jimi already pulled that one.
Do you consider yourselves the kind of band that needs to be seen and heard live?
Lauren: The live performance is my favourite part of being in a band, but I would hope that the recorded material like our new Sunshower EP stands on its own. [ END ]