September 21, 2006

Daze Interviews Umphrey's McGee Bassist Ryan Stasik

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Sun: How would you describe the experience of an Umphrey’s McGee show to someone whose never heard you before?
Ryan Stasik, Bass: Interesting question. Well, hopefully they’re listening, and if they are, then we go on a journey together, with both the band and the audience. In a full show we usually like to take a lot of risks and do a lot of improv, so the audience doesn’t know what’s going on, and we don’t know what’s going on, and when we hit that journey together, it keeps them coming back; the excitement and the risk.
Sun: That sort of communication – is it something that had to be built up over a number of years or did it come together in the band’s first moments?
Ryan: Well, for the improv, we have no idea what’s going to happen next. But that communication is something that clicked pretty early on when we started playing in South Bend. The connection has always been there. But the improv is always exciting, and as long as you stay positive about it, you know the result is going to be something good.
Sun: Can you explain the concept behind your “Jimmy Stewarts.”
Ryan: Basically, Jimmy Stewart is nothing more than open improv, although sometimes we will write out chord progressions and charts for us to follow. But basically, let’s say the song opens in F# minor, we’ll just do it, either without signals or we’ll give each other cues if we want it to go into double-time, or half-time, or trance-feel.
Sun: What are your main influences as a band?
Ryan: We love a lot of the early prog stuff, like Gensis and early Yes. We’re also into stuff we grew up on – Pearl Jam, Guns N Roses. As far as the improv stuff, we like Zappa and Miles Davis. And of course Patrick Swayze.
Sun: Speaking of jazz, I heard you guys played with Joshua Redman?
Ryan: Yeah, we did two shows with him. Fantastic guy, fantastic player. We also had Victor Wooten play with us.
Sun: What songs do you like to play at shows?
Ryan: I don’t have particularly have any favorites – I enjoy playing them all and trying to make them different each time we play them. There are times we all say we don’t want to play a certain song, but beyond that, I think my favorite songs are still yet to be written.
Sun: That’s good to hear. What’s your reaction to Safety in Numbers being leaked?
Ryan: I don’t think too much got out, although it is unfortunate. I don’t think it did any damage.
Sun: Umphrey’s started out entirely as a college jam session, right?
Ryan: Yes.
Sun: Incredible. Back then, did you ever imagine that you would be in the position you are in today with this band?
Ryan: Probably not, although I always thought I could be in a band professionally and become famous that way, although I would’ve never imagined that we would’ve collaborated with the musicians that we have, or done the extent of travelling that we have.
Sun: Do you ever get tired of being on the road so much, doing at least 150 shows a year?
Ryan: Well, tired compared to what, really? It’s all I’ve known – I think I would get tired going to the same office every day. Here, I get to change it daily.
Sun: After the tour, are you planning on heading back to the studio?
Ryan: Yeah, in January and February we’re going to be back there, with the master cuts hopefully finished by May, 2007. The record will be out by the fall. It’ll probably be a little more darker and aggressive. The main thing is to keep our fans surprised – and hopefully they won’t be disappointed.