It was June of 2014, Umphrey’s McGee, while overseas for some London Brooklyn Bowl shows, received privileged but pricey time in the famed Abbey Road Studio where the Beatles recorded most of their iconic records as well as Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. Recorded in 12 hours with little time for breaks or even meandering the historic space, the album finds the veteran sextet capturing some of their most familiar and newest material within a pressurized setting. As written in our previous London Session album review, a couple of recent songs are given slightly different treatments, a few old favorites are perfected for posterity, and one big Beatles song gives everything closure. One of the braver choices for The London Session is “Eat”, a live staple for the past decade that has yet to make it on a formal studio album until now. Glide is proud to premiere the video that captures the recording of “Eat” at Abbey Road, while founding member/keyboardist Joel Cummins gives us exclusive insight into the London session. Of course as you’ll see at the start of the video, in typical UM fashion the band paid tribute to their surroundings with some Great Gig in the Sky teases…
The London Session due to financial and time reasons were done rather quickly – perhaps you didn’t get enough time to do certain things in the studio you could have done with more time. What more would you have like to have done from a recording standpoint or even just as a visitor and music fan?
I’d love to have an entire month to work at Abbey Road Studios but I doubt our label would foot the bill for that. We probably could have ripped off another 15-20 tunes it was so inspiring in there. As far as the recording standpoint of just having 12 hours, I’m quite happy with the results and we certainly overachieved by getting an entire album done.
“Eat” is one of the heavier songs in the Umphey’s catalog with some dark riffing, which is one of the band’s many strengths to pull off the word “heavy” with credibility and skill. Of all the songs you could have chosen for The London Session– how did “Eat” get the nod as a potential song?
I believe we chose “Eat” much like we chose many of the other older songs we did that day. There was no real studio version of “Eat,” it only appeared on our Live From the Murat album we released in ’07 so it seemed like a good opportunity and that the ambience of the room would support the song well. “Eat” is one of Jake’s (Cinninger) tunes and certainly one of our heavier tunes overall. One fun addition for this version was Jake singing in the voice of Cookie Monster with the new vocal section. The vocals give the tune a little more of a wink towards satire.
Brendan (Bayliss) says”I sucked on it” at the end of the”Eat” video – how does the band really feel about how the song went down?
I have no particular memory of how “Eat” felt when we put it down, but we only did one take. Maybe Brendan’s guitars are a bit lower in the mix now.
It was noted you had few expectations of the what the album might actually yield – was there any type of plan on what type of compositions to record and to provide a variety of sorts?
With Umphrey’s McGee, variety tends to be the norm, but it’s often different on studio albums. Both Mantis & Similar Skin had more of a sound to the album while others we’ve put out have had more diversity. With the London Sessions, first and foremost we wanted to showcase newer material like” Bad Friday” & “Comma Later” while putting a different spin on “Cut the Cable” & “No Diablo.” Then we looked at tunes that would be fairly easy for us to nail as a band live. Thats where the rest of the choices came in.
The album represents 14 years of change – almost biographical – do you see the band’s past decade and a half as one of one continuous flow upwards in terms of musical growth and maturity or do you see it more of up and down wave over the last 14 years?
We’ve been very lucky that Umphrey’s McGee has always been trending in a slow but steady upwards direction. I don’t really think about that very much, as the focus is always “where are we now & what’s next.The live shows are great for reinventing tunes that we wrote in the past 18 years, but I don’t think that was really a consideration for The London Session, perhaps it just looks that way when you add things up.
What years do you think represented the strongest jumps in growth from a compositional and musicianship direction?
The first big jump was obviously with Anchor Drops in 2004. It was our first album with Kris on drums & the first one where there were hints of the heavier sound that winds through many of our more recent compositions. I’m still very proud of Mantis, how cohesive that album is & how strong the songwriting is on that one. It was a huge accomplishment to keep an entire album’s worth of new material under wraps until we released the album. And of course the last two, Similar Skin & The London Session have been major successes for us. We’re still headed in the right direction.
When you got to Abbey Road you really had to step up your game – did being there provide another sense of being able to make “magic” happen? I understand you nailed “She’s So Heavy” on one take with just minutes in studio time remaining?
When you’re in the studio you’re trying to give 110% to whatever track you’re working on, no matter what. That said, we knew we had to step up, focus & deliver in a very short amount of time that day at Abbey Road. So you just go for it. Jake’s guitar work on Rocker 2 turned out to be quite magical, and personally I was very happy with how the Wurlitzer part turned out on “She’s So Heavy.” I’m a big fan of Billy Preston so I knew that was a big one for me. And yes, we did “She’s So Heavy” in one take with minutes to spare that night.
The Beatles were known to do 75 takes on a single song to get it right but you guys didn’t have that “luxury” – what was the most takes you took on a song there and which one?
Funny, I have no idea how many takes we did of the first couple tunes. I know we did at least three-four of most of them, but that was about it. We weren’t trying to play our most complex songs, which helped.
What songs did you attempt but didn’t make the cut?
We used every song we tried for the album, which has never happened. Ever. Things really clicked.
Has this recording experience given you more confidence than anything the band has attempted? Do you ever plan to use the term “Abbey Road Recording Artists Umphrey’s McGee” or something of that sort?
Ha! That’s a good idea. Sure, this built some confidence no doubt. It was a dream come true for us collectively & individually.
So with only 12 hours there was there any leeway for breaks – food, drink and restroom time?
No breaks! Yes, fortunately when recording, things need to be backed up,etc. So we had a nice break for lunch and a couple mini breaks in there to enjoy the garden outside. The entire facility is top notch, we did get to explore a bit. But it’s a working studio so it was mostly business happening in there.
Now that you have been in Abbey Road studios and laid a European foundation of sorts – when do you foresee a full European tour in the future?
I hope we tour Europe sooner than later. I think the most logical way to go back to Europe for us would be to line up a few festival plays during the summer.
Studio photo by Kevin Browning