Play Like You Mean It: An Interview With Ume's Lauren Larson
At this year's LouFest, Austin-based trio Ume performed a riotous set punctuated by the band's massive, impressionistic rock and lead singer Lauren Larson's fiery stage presence. Previously barely known to most fans in attendance, the band is now playing one of the fall concert season's most anticipated shows this Thursday at the Firebird.
Last week I caught up with Larson over the phone from her home in Austin. We chatted about '90s rock bands, learning how to let it all out on stage and the epic journey that brought them to St. Louis this past August.
Chris Bay: If I'm not mistaken, you have had a bit of downtime from the road lately. After your summer dates what have you been up to and how have you been preparing for this short run of dates over the next week or so?
Lauren Larson: We've had about maybe two weeks off. We toured all through August and September so we've only had a few weeks off. And we've been writing new music like crazy. We haven't started recording yet, but we have maybe two more new songs and we'll be doing those live. We'll be doing them in St. Louis coming up.
[We've also been] relearning some songs that we've never played live before that are actually on [the most recent record Phantoms]. We recorded the record with our old drummer. So now that we have a new drummer we're relearning some of those songs. A couple of them we've never played live, even with the old drummer. It's been nice just to be able to spend some time writing because we haven't actually gotten to write with our new drummer yet.
Has your new drummer changed the writing dynamic at all, or is it still a similar process to what it was?
She's just, she's an amazing musician. She brings a heaviness to our style and we're able to do a lot more. Right now we're drawing influence from bands like Battles and Radiohead which were never part of our repertoire before, so it's fun.
When you guys played at LouFest earlier this year, back in August, there was a lot of buzz after your set. It resulted in a lot of very positive reactions, even given the early set time. You played early on a hot Sunday afternoon. What are some of the more intense, extreme shows you've played?
Well, that was an intense experience because the afternoon before at 5:30 pm on that Saturday we played the Dia De Los Toadies festival in New Braunfels, TX which is south of Austin, and it was 106 degrees. So we jumped in our van, drove fifteen hours to St. Louis, drove all night and pulled in at noon and we were playing that set at 2:00.
Wow, that makes the performance even more remarkable.
We're definitely a working band, and I think we drove 2,000 miles to play two major festivals in 30 hours that weekend. [Laughs]
When you play these shows in a festival setting where it might be that much of the crowd either barely knows you or has never heard you at all, do you have to approach that differently? Do you feel that as a band you have to go out and win the crowd over or do you just go out and do the same thing that you would in a club?
No matter what the show, whether we're playing a punk show in a basement or on a big festival stage, I try to hold nothing back. I put myself completely into each and every performance. It is very rewarding though to see a crowd grow and feel their energy, which feeds my energy. So like I said, I always try to hold nothing back no matter what. It makes me look nervous too, to a certain degree. [Laughs]
I caught your set at LouFest and the entire band, but especially you, were very animated and physical, thrashing around on the stage. Is the physicality an essential part of music for you?
It wasn't. I've been playing in bands since I was fourteen years old. When I was in my first band I would stand with my back to the audience with my head down. I was still loud. I've always been loud on the guitar. I think it really wasn't until Ume that I felt this new freedom in performance. I think it has grown. For me, playing live is a really visual experience, it's a chance to immerse yourself completely into something. I'm shy in other aspects of my life. I'm actually more nervous talking between songs on the mic than playing my music. It is a physical performance but I'm definitely not athletic, I'm always tired after we play.
So many bands now that I see, they're playing and it looks like they just don't want to be there. I think we're the antithesis of that.