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Interview: Ume Provides Fresh Sound to the Rock World

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The music world has been quick to write the eulogy for rock music in recent months. The state of rock music is in question when a band like Mumford and Sons is considered rock. Nothing against those guys, they are great, but they are not what you historically think of when you think of rock music. Luckily, Ume has arrived to remind us of what rock music is supposed to sound like.

Ume is a three piece outfit hailing from Austin, Texas, and features Lauren Larson on guitar/vocals, Eric Larson on bass and Rachel Fuhrer on drums. They feature heavy pounding drums over fuzzy, loud guitars blazing through Marshal stacks. This is a band that was once deemed too loud to open for Cat Power. Let’s see Mumford and Sons make that claim.

Rolling Stone listed them as one of the best unsigned bands in the country a couple years ago. They have since released a debut full length record, Phantoms, and are on tour with Cursive and picking up steam.

At first listen Ume is reminiscent of 90’s fuzzy post-punk, and while they do have those elements, simply saddling them with that label is a disservice. Larson’s guitar work is certainly fuzzy and they have their heavy moments, but they also drop in wavy melodies and Larson’s voice meshes well and becomes Ume’s fourth instrument.

Lauren was kind enough to take some time to answer a few questions for Culture Mob via email about their past, present and future.

Andrew Eide: Being named one of the best unsigned bands by Rolling Stone must have felt great, but have you felt any pressure along with that? Did having that tag make you feel like you had to raise the bar?

Lauren Larson: Our goal is to write the best music we can and to put ourselves completely into every live show. Getting the attention of Rolling Stone was awesome, and we are grateful, but it didn’t change a ton for us… we can always get better and will keep pushing forward.

AE: People seem to fall over themselves to assign a label to the Ume sound, shoegaze, post-punk, etc. How would you describe Ume and your sound?

LL: One thing people have been saying after our live shows lately is that we are the most passionate band they’ve seen in a long time. We appreciate that description. A lot of other indie rock bands take the stage and act like they don’t want to be there. We’re the antithesis of that; we’re passionate about making music and hold nothing back when doing so. As far as the catchy phrase to describe what that sounds like, I’ll leave that to the writers.

AE: There have also been a lot of comparisons to Sonic Youth for obvious reasons. Do you feel like that is a compliment or does it make you feel that people are boxing you into a sound or genre without letting your music speak for itself?

LL: I made a connection Sonic Youth as a teenager when I found a band that was also using alternate tunings like I was. I had come up with my own tunings because it was hard for me to play traditional chords and I had no idea of the “right” way to play… I still don’t. People can draw any comparisons they want, but I just hope they don’t do so because they see a blonde musician on stage who has a sometimes growly voice. (Btw, at the only show we ever canceled due to sickness, Thurston Moore showed up to see us… we met him later, but he’s still never seen the band play… bummer).

AE: What were some of the bands that you listened to growing up that have helped influence your sound?

LL: I grew up doing routines to Prince, the Muppet Album, and imitating Axl Rose. Then I got into Nirvana, which opened the door to heavier punk music and I started accumulating mix tapes that ranged from Neurosis to Neutral Milk Hotel. Eric and I met as teenagers in the DIY punk scene around Houston when my first thrashy band was playing at a skate park. That time of zines, tapes, and boxes of hand screened 7″ still has a big impact on how we see music as a community. Our drummer Rachel draws influences from John Bonham to Miles Davis… she’s awesome.

AE: What current bands float your boats these days?

LL: We’ve gotten to play a couple times with Warpaint and really love those ladies’ sound. I’ve also been listening to Mount Moriah and Mastodon these days.

AE: What is Ume’s writing process? Is it collaborative?

LL: We write collaboratively – sometimes it’s very belabored, sometimes it’s instinctual and happens almost intuitively.

AE: Heavy rock music is still very much a male dominated world, what barriers or stereotypes have you guys had to face in that world?

LL: Clubs have gotten upset when I was leaving the merch booth – because they thought I was the merch girl and couldn’t possibly be in a band. Once a sound guy saw my Marshall stack and expressed over the loud speakers – “a little blond with a big amp… turn down, sugar” – before even hearing me play. I’ve been asked if I was the dancer in the band and people have yelled “take it off” when I take the stage. I’ve also been upset when publications want to feature the band, but then ask “what beauty products” I use, rather than what gear I use. All frustrating, but all the more reason to keep making music and to keep supporting other girls making music through non-profits like Girls Rock Camp.

AE: I read a review of your new record, Phantoms, that referred to it as a ‘mature’ sound for you guys? Do you feel you are more mature than say, you were when you recorded Sunshower?

LL: Maturity is never a word I think of when I think of making music. With Sunshower we were learning to play together. With Phantoms we had more of an idea of what we wanted the record to sound like and we experimented a bit more with orchestrated textures… maybe that’s maturity?

AE: Is it true that you were slated to open for Cat Power but were told you were too loud? Have you heard from her since that incident? Have you rehearsed some acoustic versions of your songs for the next time you encounter her?

LL: Yes, early on we were booked to open for Cat Power, but were dropped from the show for being too abrasive. We actually got to play with her this summer at LouFest in St. Louis!

AE: You were working on your PHD? This reminds me of Greg Graffin of Bad Religion, does punk rock draw academics to it?

LL: I was in a PhD program in philosophy but put that on hold to do music. In both contexts, there are opportunities to shatter expectations and conventions. But at this point, I feel I can best express my voice through music. It allows for me to express something more visceral, a side of me that I probably wouldn’t show otherwise.

AE: What are the upcoming plans for Ume? More touring? Recording?

LL: We’ll be playing SXSW, touring, and hopefully recording later this year. We’re writing tons of new music and are excited to finally release songs with our new drummer, Rachel.

Ume’s tour with Cursive continues through February and March and to find out what day they hit your town check here.