Maintaining innovation

After 15 years, Umphrey’s McGee keeps it fresh

Photo by Michael Bloom

In their 15th year as a group, Umphrey’s McGee is coming to Colorado to play shows on June 7 at Red Rocks Ampitheatre and June 8 at Chautauqua Auditorium. Boulder Weekly caught up with keyboardist/vocalist Joel Cummins to talk about the upcoming Colorado shows, songwriting, covering other bands, and the side of Umphrey’s McGee that fans don’t get to see.

Boulder Weekly: You guys have all known each other since your college days at Notre Dame, and since you guys know each other so well I was wondering what are some funny things about the side of Umphrey’s that we don’t really know about?

Joel Cummins: Well, one of the most well-known things is that [guitarist/vocalist] Brendan [Bayliss] loves to bust my balls on stage, and I really want to let all the fans know that he gets it back at least in double if not triple off the stage from me, so that’s kind of nice.

One fun thing that people probably don’t know is that we have a fantasy football league together with the band and crew members, so once fall comes around there’s definitely an uptick in the amount of shit talking that happens, which is always a lot of fun.

What kinds of moments in your life inspire you to create a song?

I’ve just tried to make a lot of decisions, particularly in the last five years, that put me in a place where I’m ready and excited to create, and that carries all the way to marrying my wife, who works in the music business and is just a huge encourager of everything musical.

We’re going back into the studio right after the Colorado shows for a week to record material for the next release, and it’s been so evident in the studio lately that we all understand what it’s going to take to get a good recording of a song. Everybody is locked in and focused but having fun with it.

Everyone loves it when you cover another band’s song and put your own spin on it. How do you guys stay innovative while using someone else’s lyrics?

Sometimes we want the cover to be as close as possible to the original and a lot of times we put our own spin, or something, on it to make the song more Umphrey’s McGee. The most important thing is that we always look at playing cover songs as kind of a portal to getting someone’s attention that we may not have had previously.

I think there’s kind of a comfort zone that we find with the covers like when everyone jumps into a song like The Who’s “Baba O’Riley,” which is a universally known song. There’s something really cool to see the audience explode in recognition of that.

How does the atmosphere of a big venue like Red Rocks, and the crowd that fills those venues, inspire you?

It’s always been my favorite outdoor venue we’ve ever played, and there’s such an inherent energy there. So the minute you step on that stage, you feel it.

I really feel like last year was the first year that we were able to completely harness it, and all of a sudden, Red Rocks felt like a 500-person room. You realize more than anywhere else that you just have to go for it and take something to the next level there, and I feel the energy is so much more apparent than in most venues so you have something to build steam off of when you feel the crowd getting into it like that.

So you’ll do the big show at Red Rocks, but then the small venue at Chautauqua Auditorium the next day. What can we expect from Umphrey’s debut at Chautauqua?

The fun thing about doing this show after Red Rocks is that the pressure is kind of off, and everyone that’s there is going to be so amped to be there in this small environment.

I think you’ll see things get a little loose, maybe even get a little silly. Colorado crowds are just always the best, there’s really not a better music-loving state than Colorado. People just get it there, and that just makes us more confident to be able to try new things.

Umphrey´s McGee plays Red Rocks Amphitheatre Friday, June 7. Doors at 5:30 p.m. 18300 Alameda Parkway, Morrison, 720-865-2494.