Thursday, 26 November 2015

Feature: Ummagma (26/11/15)


Ummagma consists of Shaun McLarnon, who hails from Canada's Yukon, and Alexander Kretov, who was originally from Ukraine, before moving to Canada. Now based in Peterborough, Ontario, Ummagma are following up their simultaneous 2012 LP releases, 'Antigravity' and 'Ummagma', with a release of their 'Frequency' EP; set for release on 4th December (2015). They've landed press coverage and radio play in more than 50 countries, now it's our turn to share their music with you and ask Shauna some questions about the world of music... 

General Questions:

1. How old were you when you started getting involved in music and how?
I was 26 by the time I realised I could even sing. That was when I was living in Russia's Siberia, doing research there in follow-up to my master's degree thesis. I just kind of 'found my voice' there - first I was singing covers of Sarah McLachlan, Irish traditional folk songs and whatnot, but then I started dreaming of songs in my sleep and recorded the melodies and ideas got from that and songwriting just been from that. I continued honing this craft while living back in Canada, then Russian again (Moscow this time) and then Ukraine... Now back in Canada. 

As for Alexx Kretov, my partner in Ummagma and in life, he studied at 'music school' (an awesome remix from the Soviet era) since he was a kid but finally only picked up a guitar for the first time when he was 12 or 13 I think. How he is able to play pretty much anything he picks up is beyond me though - certainly they don't teach you more than 2 instruments at such music schools. 

2. What is the most inspiring musical performance you've ever seen?
I think, for me, it's a tie between several - or maybe not. My love for some of them might be connected in part with the performance they gave and the overall feeling I got, in part due to the friends I was able to share the experience with. In any case, one of the most memorable for me was seeing Bjork live in Moscow's Olympic Stadium. That woman is the most impressive musical creature I've ever seen in my life... She stuns and thrills me and I admire her immensely. We are also both Northerners - she being from Iceland and I from the Yukon territory in Canada. That is a big inspiration from the North and seeing other talented people from the North make massive waves worldwide. 

But her performance there was so brilliant - amazing what one fire-fuelled woman can do to rouse tens of thousands of people. All her electronic compositions were flipping on her head and performed with a string orchestra, imported from Iceland as well, and her string-based tracks were transformed into an electronic bliss session. She kept everyone on their toes the whole time and played for nearly three hours. 

I also really enjoyed seeing Mogwai in Moscow, The Cure in Edinburgh, Dead Can Dance in Vancouver, Massive Attack (Elizabeth Fraser also travelled with them to appear at Moscow's Olympic Stadium for that concert), and going way back - seeing Crowded House in Ottawa, as well as the Montreal concerts of Sisters of Mercy, Front 242, Inspiral Carpets and Skinny Puppy. The list would surely be longer if I got out more... 

3. Who have you been listening to lately?
Oh so many bands truth be told. In the shoe gaze / dream pop camp there is Bloodhounds On My Trail (Australia), Stella Diana (Italy), Maff (Chile), Malka (NYC-Peru), and Lights That Change (Wales), The Virgance (UK), and Pure Phase Ensemble 4 ft. Mark Gardener (Poland-UK). The latter is a pretty massive deal, unbeknownst to many, as it's the first  showcase-genre release (space rock too) involving Mark Gardener since Ride split up back in the 1990s. This album is just massive, but seems to not have registered on most people's radar because they are so consumed with Ride's revival (which is, obviously, a massive new and awesome development in general). 

I also really love Novena (Italy) and can't go for more than a week without listening to something from his latest release. I also haven't heard the new album from Intenna (Indonesia), but really want to because they are so great. Also Spool (Japan). Also really looking forward to new releases from Clustersun (Italy), Mahogany (should be coming), and The Veldt (two of them coming - WOOHOO!!!) If you don't already know The Veldt (aka Apollo Heights), you likely were not around for the first wave of shoegaze in the early 90s - they were among the leaders on the US scene, at that time with numerous productions overseen by none other than Cocteau Twins' mastermind Robin Guthrie. Anyways, they are bound to make a comeback this year because they always rock and their sound is more original than most bands in the shoegaze scene, due to mixing all kinds of influences from RnB to ambient to dream-psych. Keep your eyes peeled for them. I'm also praying that Puna (Peru) will be releasing new music this year because this is aural silk for me. Both Alexx and I are also big fans of Sexores (Spain-Ecuador) and we can't wait for their coming LP. In our opinion, they make the most delicious dream gaze among modern-day bands.

In the indie rock camp there is My Cruel Goro (Italy), Stellarscope and Panophonic (both Philadelphia and both headed by the prolific Tom Lugo), and A Shoreline Dream (Colorado), who have a new single out but promise more coming soon in 2016. Of course, Tame Impala too. Ophiuco is the only trip hop in my playlist right now, without referencing bands from the early 90s worth recalling. 

I've been taking in a lot of synthpop and electronica bands too including Rodney Cromwell (London), Real Experts (score two for London with those two releases), A Copy For Collapse (Italy), Lunar Twin (Hawaii-USA), Meter Bridge and Vague Notion (both from Canada), and Hologram Teen, who is hard to pin down geographically because this is the solo project of Morgane Lhote, long-time former keyboardist for Stereolab during the key years of their development - she's obviously from France but has travelled around living in the UK and NYC and is now based in LA as far as I understand. She just released her debut single as a solo performer through London's Deep Distance label, so that's been on my playlist too. Rodney Cromwell's 'Age of Anxiety' is, in my opinion, the most awesome synth pop release of 2015, followed up by an extension of that - the 'Black Dog' EP. I'm also really looking forward to finally hearing his remix of Meter Bridge, which should come out shortly. 

After all that, I would really be lying if I were to say that Sounds of Sputnik and Ummagma are among the two top things I listen to still today. There's absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to hear your own music over and over and over, right? :) Really hoping others will want to as well, they can find a whole lot from both projects at: http://ummagma.bandcamp.com and http://soundsofsputnik.bandcamp.com

3 Qs for Ummagma:

1. Why / how did you decide to play the style and genre of music that you do?
We actually never decided to play any particular style and, if you go through our first two albums, you'll see that we actually cover about 8 or so genres (or sub-genres) - dream pop, indietronica, folk pop, space rock, showcase, synth pop, indie rock, ambient, ethereal wave with leanings towards prog and post rock. A mouthful, yeah? 
We're all over the board in life and in music, and we never limit ourselves by genre. We have a lot more stuff recorded than we've ever released and certainly not all of it even falls into the realms we are best known for playing. 
But we develop each separate release around a concept or framework of some kind and choose the songs for that release that best fit that message. 

2. What challenges have you faced creating music being based in Canada and Ukraine?
In Ukraine, things are not what they once were. It's hard to be in a positive headspace there, as we were during our relatively carefree space several years ago... But since then the country has been in turmoil - of course, since we were living there for such a long time and were still based there during all the related events, we also went through a negative transition, along with this country. Mass protest in Kyiv and other cities, then the Crimean invasion, occupation, and annexation, then all the warring that has been happening in Eastern Ukraine. The economy is shot, the local currency has devalued more than 300%. Everything has lost it's value, including property, labour, and not only. We had to leave. 
Well, in Canada, there are few obstacles of that nature. I'd say that the main limitation is time because unfortunately it seems that now we spend most of our time ensuring that we have enough income to make rent and cover utilities and food. Financial woes and related lack of time have been the biggest challenge here, for us in any case. On the bright side of things, I'm do happy to once again be in an atmosphere where not everybody is thinking of the war 24/7. So yeah, not your typical 'band challenges' likely, relative to other artists. 

3. What process did you go through creating 'Orion', musically and visually?
'Orion' was actually one of the first songs we ever created together and it was a fantastical process actually, at least in my own mind. Such great memories and emotions attached to this one. We had only been together as a couple for a short while by the time this one came about and we had just set up our first recording studio. It was an exciting time. All the lyrics I'm singing are about Alexx and his guitar playing us equally as embracing (me), all layered over his fantastical bubbly space synth in that track. 

Random Q:

A lyric / quote you live by?
I could certainly never reasonably wrap anything up in a quote, so I'll throw some lyrics at you, which somewhat reflects my need to stick to core values, and disgust with some of the attitudes observable nowadays. This kind of thought pattern is pretty recurrent for me and we remind ourselves constantly to not get caught up in useless, hollow or detrimental things and tendencies, and that we need to keep things real. These lyrics come from our song 'Human Factor', which you can find here: https://ummagma.bandcamp.com/track/human-factor

‘Seems we’re all out of time
Never quite a chance to unwind
Fighting fire, fighting it with fire
Just might get burned

Seems the more that we earn
The more that we spend
The less we’re concerned
About anybody but ourselves
And you think we’d learn

Find yourself on that line
Time for analyzing your life
Got to asking what could
Make you whole

It’s not the things that you buy
The clothes that you wear
The car that you drive
Not anything that can be bought or sold

Must be out of your mind
To scale down the human factor
Say it’s to make time for personal betterment
Of your soul
And you sure must be blind
If you can’t see before you
The consequences when human nature
Is traded for gold'. 

'Orion' Review:
An incredible atmospheric, spacey theme to both the track and the video; Alexx and Shauna flawlessly combine shoegaze, dream pop and electronica to create the fantastic 'Ummagma' sound. With otherworldly instrumentals and smooth harmonious vocals, this belongs on the soundtrack of the next big sci-film film. 


Ummagma's Links:

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