A Conversation With… Joel Cummins of Umphrey’s McGee

4:55 pm by

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Photo by Chad Smith, courtesy of Madison House Publicity.
Interview by B “Café con Leche” Gutierrez.

BOT had the opportunity to chat it up with Joel Cummins, founding member and keyboard-master of Umphrey’s McGee. We talked about new Umphrey’s material, side projects and interests, and even baseball came out in the conversation.

Umphrey’s McGee is playing a show in Fayetteville, AR at George’s Majestic Lounge on Sunday, Sept 26. Do you have your ticket yet? Don’t miss out!

A Conversation With Joel Cummins of Umphrey’s McGee

Café con Leche: Thanks for taking the time to talk to BOT. Umphrey’s McGee has been busy touring.

Joel Cummins: Yes, we have.

Café: With around 125 shows every year, ya’ll spend a lot of time on the road. Tell me how you and the band manage to stay fresh and keep up the pace.

Joel: We tour a lot, but we always try to not be on the road for more than three weeks at the time. We take time to rest, to come back home to our families and friends. That’s why our girlfriends or wives still like us.
We strive for balance. Keeping things balanced helps to keep the quality of our new material at a high level, as well as helping the longevity of the band. We’re all still friends and great band mates.
We do most of the writing back home. We take the time away from touring to work on material that we love and our fans will love.

Café: While touring, you play at a lot of clubs and music festivals. Which do you prefer?

Joel: The venue doesn’t make a difference to me, as long as the people there want to listen to our music. In the summer is nice to play at festivals outside, you get to enjoy the sunshine and the nice weather. And it’s nice to go into clubs or theaters when the weather is not so great outside.
We’ve been going to Arkansas for a few years now. The first time we were there was in 2003 and we’ve kept going back ever since. We’ve played in Fayetteville several times and we’ve been to Wakarusa.

Café: You survived the Wakarusa heat!

Joel: [Laughs] Yes, it was hot. But we had two great sets. One close to sun down at the main stage and a late night at one of the tents. The second set was a late night show at the Revival tent and it got hot in there. But we had fans around the stage, so that and the energy of the crowd kept us going.

Café: Let’s talk about what else keeps you going. On stage you play the keyboards. But what are your roles or interests off stage?

Joel: I’m involved in the business side of the band. I do some booking and management. And apart from Umphrey’s, I love to spend time with my family and friends in Chicago. I recently got married in Jamaica. My wife is also in the music business. And we both like to travel a lot. We’re planning a trip to various countries in Southeast Asia. Travel is one of my special interests. Visiting new places, going to concerts.

Café: What’s the last great show you saw?

Joel: It was actually on Saturday night at Wrigley Field, where the Cubs play. I went with some family to see Dave Matthews Band. It’s been a lousy baseball season, so it was great seeing something good happening at Wrigley Field.

Then we got to talking about Umphrey’s McGee happenings. The band will perform a double-header concert webcast on Sunday Oct. 3. During the webcast they will also unveil their new logo chosen from a contest at CreativeAllies.com. Martin Sexton takes the stage first at 9pm, followed by Umphrey’s McGee at 10pm. You can catch that webcast at CreativeAllies.com/more/expressionwebcast

Café: Apart from the new logo, what else is happening with Umphrey’s McGee?

Joel: We have new material coming out soon. We’re releasing a new song, maybe next week. We haven’t performed it for an audience before.

Café: That’s the same approach taken with the last album, Mantis. You didn’t release any of the material until the album came out.

Joel: Yes, that’s correct. We don’t have to test material at a show. We know that it’ll be great when performed live. The fans will love this song, it feels like a classic Umphrey’s McGee song.

Café: What’s the biggest challenge in preparing material without performing it for an audience before release?

Joel: It can be really challenging to translate a recorded song to a live version of it. There’s a song that has a lot of vocals and multiple keyboard parts, so bringing that to the stage is the challenge. Measuring that, and taking it to the stage.

Café: You’ll probably need help with the keyboards on that song. Are you gonna have someone sit in for those performances?

Joel: Or I could play with my feet [laughs.]
We’ll either have someone sit in, or we have a couple of the Umphrey’s guys that can play the keyboard as well. Jake Cinninger (guitars) can play the keyboard and so can Ryan Stasik (bass).

Café: Now, you and Jake have both produced solo albums a few years back while remaining with Umphrey’s. Do you have any plans for another solo album?

Joel: I’m sure it will happen again, but I have no plans of working on a solo album now. At the time of producing Common Sense, I had a lot of material ready and it just came together. Right now I’m focusing on Umphrey’s and a side project, OHMphrey. Jake and Kris Myers from Umphrey’s are also on the band. It’s a collaboration of Umphrey’s and OHM. We played at Jam Cruise this year.

Café: That’s awesome.

Joel: It’s a lot of fun and we’re putting a lot of work into it.

Café: I also want to know what you’re currently listening to. What’s been playing on your iPod?

Joel: I’ve been listening to Breathe Owl Breathe, indie-rock from Michigan. I’ve also been playing Explosions in the Sky, from Austin. I also have a vinyl collection and I’ve been playing Steve Wonder, Led Zeppelin III— always a great one. I listen to a variety of music, from classic rock to electronic and indie.

Café: Big part of the BOT readers are in Texas, so I have to ask this. When are ya’ll going back to Texas?

Joel: Soon, we hope. We’re actually looking at the first part of 2011. In the next couple of years, we’d like to be part of the Austin City Limits Music Fest.

Café: You have fans waiting for you in Texas.

And before I said my GRACIAS for taking the time to talk to BOT, I asked Joel if he had anything else to add. And here’s what he said:

Joel: We’re excited about the show at George’s on Sunday. We’re happy about coming back to Fayetteville, there’s a great crowd there. And the show is almost sold out. It’s been one of our best selling shows this year. Thank you for the love, Fayetteville!

You hear that? Better get your ticket soon!
See you there,
– Café con Leche