Umphrey’s McGee Talks Practicing, Budweiser and “The Reaper”

Umphrey's - LUD Sticker-Photo by Dustin Dow

Last weekend Listen Up Denver! got the chance to sit down with Jake Cinninger, Kris Myers and Ryan Stasik of Umphrey’s McGee at sloppy mudfest that was Wakarusa.  The band is celebrating their 15th year together and is thrilled to be taking the stage at Red Rocks again this summer.  As the mainstage thundered away in the background, we talked about their favorite memories of The Rocks, their pre-show rituals and how much practicing it takes to maintain their incredibly tight performances.  As we all gear up for their two night stand in Colorado this weekend (Friday: Red Rocks, Saturday: Chautauqua) take a minute to check out this conversation.

LUD!: You’ve played Red Rocks several times now, is it still as powerful to walk out on stage as it was the first time you played?

Jake Cinninger: Oh yeah, it’s such a humbling venue because it’s such a natural amphitheater, its almost “meant to be.”  When you go there it is astounding that the place is naturally an Amphitheater that was formed due to all the plate tectonic action or whatever.  Plus it’s been a venue for over a hundred years, so it has all that history.  It’s a very humbling experience getting to play there.

LUD!: You’ve headlined Red Rocks several times now, do you have any favorite memories from playing at the venue?

Kris Myers: You know there are so many great memories, but my particular favorite is when we played with moe., we went out for the encore and played the Blue Oyster Cult tune…. Jake: “Don’t Fear The Reaper”… Kris: Yeah we went out as the Saturday Night Live skit and all the drummers including Wilco’s drummer Glenn Kotche went out there with cow bells and played in the front. Ryan Stasik: Me too!! Kris: and Ryan too, he switched it up. Stasik: I was rock’n me some cowbell!

LUD!: What is your approach when preparing for a festival set compared to a venue like Red Rocks or Chautauqua?

Ryan Stasik: There is no preparation for a festival….you just grip it and rip it.

JC: What we will do sometimes is look at what we played last time, say the last 4 times we played that particular venue and try to stay away from those songs so we don’t repeat things.  You know there are so many people that go from show to show and they want to see something fresh, so we try to take that into consideration.

LUD!: You guys seem to always be on point with each other, how much practicing or jamming together do you do between shows?

KM: It depends on if we have backstage practice gear.  We always try to have practice gear with us on the road, so we rehearse for a couple hours before the show.  Otherwise if we don’t have gear it’s all about being prepared…

RS: Practice… You’re talking about practice man? PRACTICE? [Group laughter]

JC: If we are together on off nights they are usually spent trying to write or record…trying to get something really concrete down and use our time wisely…try to get something logged.

LUD!: Speaking of writing, who does most of the writing in the group?

RS: I’d say lyrically Jake and Brendan pretty much write all the lyrics to their own songs.

JC: We have been a little bit more into the group writing when it comes to writing riffs.  We seem to get a better result when there are six heads taking on riff and making the best feel out of it rather than the “here’s a tune played exactly like this” approach. It feels cool because I like the whole collaboration…it just feels good.

LUD!: “Jimmy Stewart” has become a major element in your sets over the last several years.  How many songs have you developed from them?

KM: Quite a few actually, I’d say…Stasik: Thirty seven!  [group laughter] Kris: Well there is no actual number but we’ve always had “Jimmy Stewart” turn into songs eventually…since the beginning when we coined the term “Jimmy Stewart.”

JC: The song “In The Kitchen” was a “Stewart” from like 2001 and it ended up being one of our more popular songs, so that’s an example.  That first chord progression was kind of out of nowhere.

KM: I know the first song we wrote once I joined the band was “Wife Soup” which was a “Jimmy,” or parts of one anyway…then we went back and wrote the other parts and arranged it.

LUD!: Do you guys have any pre show rituals?

KM: Well I usually bring a goat back stage and then I …[laughter] no, no just kidding!

RS: Budweiser [Group laughter]

JC: I like to sleep before a show throughout the day. You know, have a little of what I like to call “black space”…you find it in the bunk and its super dark, take a fifteen minute nap then go play the show.

KM: Ryan likes to watch Hockey…. or the Steelers during football season.

JC: Budweiser

RS: Budweiser

KM: And…Budweiser

RS: You always have to take a good shit….very crucial, you can’t be on stage and be like “I got to take a shit.”  So pretty much a shit, a nap and a Budweiser and we’re good.

LUD!: You are known for throwing some particularly fun and off the wall covers into your shows. Anything special in store for the Red Rocks show this year?

RS: No, it’s undecided, we usually don’t think that far ahead.

JC: We’ll email each other this week, we’re still a few days out.

RS: We’re still trying to figure out tonight!

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