An Interview with UME. One of the best bands to emerge from the underground since the 90’s

Noise Image interviewed lead singer/guitar player Lauren Larson from up-and-coming band Ume recently and delved into the inspiration behind their unusual band name, their tour experiences, and the Austin outfit’s latest album, Phantoms, which was released on August 30.  And even scored a free download of their single “Captive” for our readers.  Catch the interview and the link below!

(Lauren Larson Of Ume)

Zak Winters: How did you guys get started out in Texas?

Lauren: Yeah, Well I actually met Eric and our old drummer while going to High School. There weren’t any real punk bands in Houston, so I started in my first band when I was 15. Playing guitar in what was a kinda thrashy hard-core band called Twelve Blades. We kept making music and played our first show under the name Ume in 2002. But around the same time I moved away to graduate school. We didn’t play for several years but then we reformed around Austin in 2008 and started taking it more seriously.

Ume literally translates into ‘plum blossom’ in Japanese but symbolizes ‘devotion’. What does devotion or Ume personally mean to you?

Well back when we first started we had a friend that was big into Japanese culture, and we were playing around with names that wouldn’t be used or copied and that is when we asked him what Devotion would be in Japanese. We also liked the idea the people would have trouble pronouncing our name.

I don’t want to say we have little trials, but it seems every time we’re trying to move forward something will happen. Like we’ll be making a recording and our equipment will break or we’ll be going on tour and our van will break down. So I know we are definitely devoted to our music because as a band it has not been an easy road.

Can you give us a little picture of the tribulations you’ve overcame on the tours?

Well every time we go out on the road…(pauses and counts) we’ve broken down probably 10, no 11 times! Just totally broken down, engine smoking on the side of the road. Then we dip into the merch money to be towed. We’ve driven 600 miles to play for 6 people but whether we play [in front of] 6 people or 3000 people, which we’ve done, we give it our all. I hope this shows our devotion to people because we give it our best no matter what because we just love to play and the rest is just details.

Are there any stories that stick out in your mind from this tour? 

Well we’ve been having a really good time on this tour. Umm… One of the stops we got to play with the Flaming Lips and it was real fun getting to meet and hang out with them.

Well more than most bands I’ve encountered, you guys have shared the stage with a very large variety of musicians. One show you played with Muse and Eminem and then I catch you by chance with Stockholm Syndrome. Are there any bands that you hope to do more with in the future?

Well the most recent band that we’ve gotten in with is called Warpaint, we’ve kinda become intertwined in the last year. They’re just a really cool band from L.A. We definitely all love this band called Kylesa from Georgia. I kinda got into Warpaint because they’re really moody and new wave, while Kylesa is more metal and sludgy but I think they’re good examples that help define our sound. We definitely take a very art type sound and push the boundaries.

Now, you played the Kansas Festival at the beginning of this summer’s tour which included you on the bill with Eminem. Did his or any other person or group’s inclusion inflame you or the band’s ethics? Also have you ever been effected by a crowd’s prejudice musically or otherwise?

Well, a slew of rock bands played and while Eminem played we didn’t really stick around to see him play. I am not really about him at all. As far as new crowds, they always think we’re going to be a christian band or a folk band. At some of our shows security doesn’t even believe I am in a band and won’t let me backstage.  My favorite is “oh, what do you play? The violin?” But its okay (she laughs almost to her self) because I like to surprise people.

It’s actually great you touched on that. The editor in chief of our site, who happens to be a woman, and I were talking about the large amounts of women who are coming out on Rock and heavy music tours this summer. Do you feel this could be the start of a trend that opens up the sex barrier completely in Rock?

 Oh, man, I hope so! My dream is that one day people won’t be surprised to see women on a stage playing in a rock n roll band. Really guy or girl, it should be a whatever kinda thing. There are so many Women musicians out there and I really don’t understand why certain people are like “wow can you believe this girl thinks she can play guitar?” Essentially my dream is they won’t be surprised to see girl guitarist up their. I’ve even been asked if I was a dancer in the band! It is so frustrating.

You guys get allot of “Sounds-Like” thrown at your music. One of the big ones, I noticed right off the bat, was Sonic Youth. Especial with the Husband-Wife team you have going on. Also I’ve seen the yeah yeah yeahs, among many others. So, do you guys like any of these bands? Do you agree with the connections?

O yeah, I’ve been a fan of Sonic Youth since I was a child but I think it’s important to never consciously go out of your way to sound like something. I mean, I think people over look, because we are also big fans of Black Sabbath and David Bowie but people tend to look for the easiest answer. But yeah I am a huge fan of those bands.

The only show I ever had to cancel, I was super sick, and still don’t believe it but Thurston Moore from Sonic Youth had came out to see us. It was just… It crushed me! I had a fever and my throat was so messed up I couldn’t even talk. Ever since, even if I haven’t had a voice I’ve made it a point that I am still performing. I am not cancel a show just because I am sick. But seriously that was a bummer because that would have been a dream come true.

O, man! I am huge fan of Sonic Youth also, so I feel your pain but I am sure you’ll get a second chance because you guys are just too good not to have good things coming your way.

We’ll see…But there is that Devotion we keep talking about.

(NOTE: If you don’t give a rat’s ass about equipment go to the next page.)

Let’s talk equipment. When I saw your show you personally had a rack filled with 5 guitars and more pedals than I could count. So first off, I believe you have a replica of Kurt Cobain’s custom “Lake Placid Blue” Mustang with the matching head-stock…

Equipment is my favorite thing to talk about but yeah it’s not like Kurt’s. What I have is an American Straticastor. That’s the one that is turquoise with the matching head-stock. That was my first guitar . Then I have a 1968 Fender. People always think its a mustang but its actually a precursor to the Fender Mustang. I also have a 70′s Mustang with ash-wood that is a little heavier. Then I have 70′s Stratocastor deluxe.

My initial thought was that you must use allot of alternate tunings to create your unique sound and the series of guitars helps keep the show moving if they’re pre-tuned for your set…. True or False?

I personally use allot of alternate tunings, because when I started playing guitar my hands were so little I couldn’t even make a traditional bar chord (note: for those unfamiliar, bar chords are the chosen go-to in the rock world for creating.) and hence I never play a power cord. I don’t even think there is one in our new album (“Phantoms”) but as far as alternate tunings like I said my hands were to small as a child so I just came up with finger figuration on my own and never let it stop me from playing.

Let’s talk amps. Do you have a model preference and do you like tubed amps or solid state or doesn’t it matter?

I prefer a tubed amp. The first amp I got was a Marshall Vixen 900 and it has Marshal’s signature dirty sound and that Marshall clean sound, with a very nice reverb. I also have a Fender twin amp but it doesn’t fit into Ume’s sound as much.

 I was hoping to ask your husband, Erik, himself about his effect pedal set-up. It’s so very rare, I can’t stress that enough, that for the bass he has so many pedals. Where did that come from?

 Actually he has been building those pedals. Erik got into effect pedal construction in the last year or two. One of his pedal’s is a replica of the Big Cheese pedal, which Radiohead uses on their song ‘National Anthem’. He did another which is a Erik Velvet clone. He also did another two that are like… a “tube boost” and then he plays a sweet pedal that has a real muddy sound and it’s actually made right in Brooklyn by a cool company called Frantone.

Ume is now signed, correct? What influenced your decision to ink the deal? We’re signed to Austin’s Modern Outsider. So the story goes after our EP we got several offers. We turn them all down because they were the kind of offers where the company wanted to own your soul, your music and even your touring merch. That was not what we were looking for.

We were looking for something more along the lines of a communal relationship which we found in Modern Outsiders Records. It was a good deal for the band and for them. It helped that they were from Austin too and they were just really cool people. We were D.I.Y. for a really long time but considering most importantly we know how distribution, money for press and radio, basically things like that.

Your new LP called Phantoms came out August 30th. Due to your aforementioned signing did you guys have a bigger budget?

We actually started this album before we signed onto Modern Outsider, and we were self funding it. Its been a long process, and for instance the tape machine broke when we were in early production and honestly we had a pretty modest budget.

 I just heard you say tape machine and it sounds weird in this pro-tools digital-everything era. But it’s also cool to keep in mind The Beatles’ album “Sargent Peppers..” was recorded on two 4-tracks that were pre-tapes.

We are recording in alot of analog but we also used some equipment that happens to be digital.

Are there any big changes that fans of previous recording, that they can expect or look forward to?

Well the first LP, if you can ever track that down, was just super raw and at the time we were just a band recording some demos and these guys in Brooklyn saw it and said to us that they would just love to put it out. They loved our creativity and we just thought it could help us get our music out there.

With Phantoms I really think we’ve showed a more velvety side of Ume. We’ve toyed around with sounds and ended up with more classic textures on it. We’ve done some vocal harmonies on it which we have never done before. We have an acoustic song that has a different vibe. So we just really tried some new things that we’ve never done before.

Are there any plans for a Phantoms vinyl release? Oh absolutely! We did the SunShower EP on a limited editions of gold, green and blue. The new LP is going to be on a clear magenta vinyl, on a very limited run but its just so cool because we love putting out vinyl.Is there a song off the album that you find personally one of your favorites or revealing?

Well I think all the songs off this LP are more personally revealing then the EP. I think I got a little more intimate with them. It was a hard record for me to make personally and some of the information in the lyrics were very revealing for me. If there is one song that really shocks me…. I am not sure but it could be “The Task,” it makes me feel really exposed yet it was the fastest song I ever wrote. It was totally different for me. There is is this vulnerability in it that makes me really nervous.

The new record as a whole is more lyrically intimate and is underwritten with more pain and vulnerability than other music we’ve released. Every song on this record – just like in every live performance – my heart is bursting through… revealing everything I’m feeling at that moment.

 In a perfect world where ANYTHING can happen where would Lauren be? And how about Ume?

(Laughs) I am just happy writing and playing music. I would just really like to be out there playing music while we tour the world. We’ve never toured Europe , Japan or Australia I would just love to go bring our music around the world. I want to travel and have people know who we are while still learning who they are because of their culture.

People knowing who we are its tiring to be called U*M*E (spells out) or “what’s your band’s name again?”  But, I am devoted to this Dream and what it takes. Don’t get me wrong we love that we’ve been able to see the country while doing what we absolutely love to do. There really isn’t anything else in the world I’d like to be doing.

The last word always goes to the band.  But when will you be touring again?

We’ll be doing alot more touring as the album comes out so keep in eye on our page.

*Note: This interview was done in August 2011. Ume has since played Lallapalloza, opened for the Toadies, Cursive, Helmet, Gang Of Four, Janes’s Addiction, Meat Puppets and most recently was added to The Smashing Pumpkin’s fall tour. If you haven’t heard Ume before, take the chance now and you’ll be able to say I remember them before they made it.


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