Ummagma is refueling my musical appetite for some time now. Its Canadian/Ukranian duo: Alexx Kretov & Shauna McLarnon. Apart from their daughters name being a letter away from mine, there is a better story to tell. Our relationship started as I was that click away from them somewhere on the internet , striving to discover any lustful tune. The play button insisted on the name of the band that shook me back to my teenage era, and went on for hours, as anyone in my desk chair would have committed the same ear crime, enchanted by Shauna’s mesmerizing voice (a new Liz Frazer!) and Alexx’s soundscapes dwelling me into Floydish-Fripp paths. Their own Fantastic “Rocky Road” that’s smooth as a candy swirl from 2003 to 2012 put into format. Inhaling away a security and warmth from a 4AD,80s-90s era I knew that our musical tastes were indeed hungry for the same reasons. For starters, Ummagma blends in heaps of genres from DreamPop,Post-rock, Post-Punk,Space Rock to Shoegaze and Ambient you name it. No I’m not joking! I can only describe it as a form of art a musical canvas, a story that disappears into a different skyline each and every time! The band, has independently released 2 full length LPs (Ummagma and Antigravity) on Bandcamp (go grab a copy and support-name your price!) and have a New Split EP with Finnish band Virta. You’re in for a splendiferous journey and you might even stumble upon some beloved atmospheres (Cocteau Twins,Blonde Redhead ,Peter Gabriel,David Sylvian,Sigur Ros,Lush,M83….). For the stats Ummagma,is an extraordinary band, with over 155 unique press posts already in more than 20 countries and have gained Radio Airplay in over 30 more .The musical Word is floating around the globe and just landed today in Greece for you. Here we are ready to get into a cozy conversation, so sit back and relax while listening to Ummagma! I ethereally dare you!
Visual and mental games: when I came across Ummagma on the internet, the "Ummagumma" album from my favourite band Pink Floyd popped into my head. Was that intentional to draw some listeners in your direction? Have you invented any Canadian-Ukrainian slang yourself! (like this instance with Ian Moore's Cambridge slang sex term for peculiar minds!)
Well, we do love Pink Floyd and our band name was derived from that album’s name, but not so directly as you might think. Ummagma was my husband’s username on various photography and music gear forums and one day, when we were getting ready to release our debut albums, we thought “hey, we don’t have a band name” and we had to make a choice. You know the result J
About any Canadian-Ukrainian slang, we don’t have any specific slang words (that I can recall off the top of my head), but my husband often end up mixing bits of English together to create something new that then becomes part of our common speech, like “I love you, my understand me”. I understand him.
What were the first albums you remember buying, the same goes for attending a concert, and did it change your life?
Blondie “Eat to the Beat” was the first vinyl album I ever bought with my own money, but the first cassette was likely Rick James “Super Freak”. I had won a Walkman when they just came onto the market and couldn’t wait to buy my first cassette. I used that same Walkman until I finished university (nearly 10 years)… those were the days of reliable equipment. First concert – you don’t want to know, but the first one that really impressed me was Paul Young in Calgary. You’d have to have lived through the 80s the see the attraction there, but he did pull off a great live show. None of that changed my life –but like any experience, everything does add its drop in the pond that ‘shapes’ your life.
Have you encountered any difficulties or challenges related to being partners for life and in a band? By the way what a lovely photo puzzle on your official band site. It’s an enthralling Love For Life memoir.
Oh yes, that is, at the same time, one of our biggest advantages and challenges. For one, we’ve been together for 10 years specifically because we are in love, married, have a child together. Many other projects like ours might have fallen apart in that time without all that ‘glue’ to keep them together. On the flip side, this love-music relationship also means that everything we are going through in our lives affects the music (for both of us) and it also affects when we do or don’t make music. When things are sour in our relationship, we do not write any music at all, for instance. For other bands, usually there are several songwriters and they might even channel their negative experiences into creating music. For us, we just ‘shut off’. So, we have to be in a good headspace (both of us) to create our music.
The best advice someone has given you?
Listen to other people, but don’t follow anyone’s advice. Make your own decisions. What is right for you may not be right for others (in our case, this is more than certain), so don’t pay too much attention to what others are doing or compare yourself to them. There’s really no point in doing that. You only have one path – keep it YOURS! I must remind myself of all of this from time to time, as I often forget and distracted from my own path.
Considering that you started creating music together in the 2000s, were there some drawbacks or periods of brainstorming?
There was a long period at the beginning of our musical experiments when we were still figuring out what kind of music was ‘ours’ and we wrote a lot of material along the way that will likely never see the light of day, so to speak. We really are not in favour of releasing anything that is depressing or negative, unlike so many other bands and we used to create music under any circumstances. But we’ll never use the material born of our darker moments, so now we just don’t write music when we are in a bad mood – period. It’s just better to wait until we are in a bright space, because our ultimate goal is to bring more light into this world and to convey that through our music.
How does money affect you in your music or everyday life as people and music makers – in terms of sharing things that you love and or even making music as something you love? In a materialized world, you are a DIY band and that means a lot to your fans!
Money, oh that… haha. It can empower us or disempower us. It’s due to lack of money that we still haven’t been able to make our music available on any physical media like CDs, vinyl or cassettes. Thank goodness for Bandcamp. It has helped us get the music out to thousands of listeners. Likewise for Soundcloud and Reverbnation. For years, all our free cash has gone into purchasing all the equipment and instruments we need to produce this music.
Do you think social media changed a piece from the pie(i.e. gave us a million things but deprived us of other things)?
Yes, but the truth is that, as an indie band, it has been 1000% more effective in getting the music out there than we could have ever imagined. This fact stands tall above all the drawbacks. The one thing I regret is that it takes so much time to adequately promote yourself through all of these social media platforms at the same time. We would much rather be making music or spending time in the studio instead.
In what direction do you think music and technology are headed, and what advice could you give to people that want to share their music with the world?
I think technology will develop more and more in favour of the users (listeners) and in favour of the few musicians that figure out/develop other ways to capitalize on their music. That is already hard right now and will become harder with every passing year or new application invented. So my advice is this – as harsh at is may sound: if you are making music for the love of music, keep doing it. If you are making music to share it with as many people as possible, do it and work at making that happen – often the audience won’t come to you; you have to find them. And if you are in this for the money, get out of this business; become an IT programmer or economist instead.
What do you think about online music sharing? Have you got any plans for a release physical in the next few months?
Well, we are giving away our music for free or whatever people want to pay because it’s listed as “name your price” – of course, most people pay nothing, but there are some who really appreciate us and they do. I am all in favour of online sharing – for us, it’s a great way to get our music known. Otherwise, how else would someone in Chile or Indonesia learn about Ummagma or obtain our music? Regarding a physical release, yes, we plan to finally release our 2 albums in a double-CD package. We are entering the design stage for that, so stay tuned! As for our next EP, we are currently ‘shopping around’ for a label to release that through.
How did you end up collaborating with the Finnish band Virta to release your new Split EP (released on May 25 via Bandcamp)?
This was the initiative of Italy’s Som Non-Label. The label’s founders were supporters of both of our bands and felt that we would combine well as a Split EP, which they will continue to do as tradition. Two tracks were taken from Virta’s debut EP and, since we debuted two albums at the same time, they decided to take one track from each album. We are usually more dreampopish than the two tracks chosen, but, in the context of the two Virta tracks that were chosen, it turned out that all four tracks fit together perfectly.
You won the Alternative Eurovision on Amazing Radio this month from amongst 21 countries with your track "1+1=3".How do you feel about your music’s evolution, and what do you think about its future?
Actually, we were surprised that they chose that particular track to enter into this competition, because it is one of our most alternative songs. I thought we would have a much better chance to win if they had chosen one of our other ‘chart-maker’ songs – like ‘Risky’, ‘Lama’, ‘Human Factor’, ‘BFD’ or ‘Rotation’. So we were surprised, yet very pleased, to learn we had won. Anyways, it’s hard to talk about a specific way our music has developed and will develop. The truth is that we just play whatever we want without thinking about some concrete tendency or specific hallmark sound or genre in the music we are making. Music for us is like random thoughts – sometimes you just can’t control what thoughts are popping into your head. You can, of course control what you put on your album, but why would you limit yourself to certain genres when nobody is imposing such boundaries on you?
As a DIY supporter that dwells in earlier times, we share the same love for the 4AD label output and the 90s. I believe that "the times, they are changing" and so is your music. I’m fascinated with the soundscapes that alternate in each song to convey a feeling. How long does it take to put thought in a piece, from paper to reality?
It’s different for every song. The composition and recording of one song might take a day or a few days, while others are written “in layers”. For instance, “Lama” took about 5 years to do because of that. I wasn’t even pregnant when Alexx started composing it and then he set it aside for a few years. Then he picked it up again after Nika was born (and after we moved our studio around from city to city and country to country) and finished it off instrumentally. I laid down the sample vocals when she was about 2 ½ and finally recorded the final version when she was 5. You know the expression “all in good time”… well this was some chunk of “good time”.
When listening to Ummagma, my cells are floating into a sentimental abyss.That joy warms my heart.Do you propose that music can be a savior factor in one’s state of mind? And what do you think when some people say "I don’t listen to music at all"?
I totally agree. Once, when I was living in Siberia, I was robbed and I had only $10 left, so I borrowed some money from friends and tried to arrange to have some money sent to me from Canada. It was a really difficult time, but I had 6 cassette tapes and my Walkman with me – I swear that Australian band Frente saved me from falling into depression. Whenever I felt low, that is what I listened to. To those who don’t listen to music at all, let’s hope you start one day… it would be to your benefit too.
Would you like to share anything with us Greeks about corruption in this world?
Corruption is so commonplace now that it is sickening and many people lose faith in ‘the system’. We unfortunately are part of the system, but we also create alternative sub-systems (i.e. through barter, societies of like-minded people with an alternative vision, through protests, etc.). Some are more formal and some are less formal. The thing is – with corruption so pervasive in so many realms of our lives and in so many countries, it seems that the only way to beat the system is to, as much as possible, bypass the system, create alternative sub-systems and function, where possible, within these sub-systems rather than the larger them-controlled system. This all might sound abstract, but I think some people will ‘get me’ right away.