Yesterday, I spoke to Lauren Larson, the lead singer and guitarist of Ume, about the band’s current tour, having a secret life as a rock guitarist, and Bjork.
After The Show: So I saw you play last week at Webster Hall and I was amazed by how much power you guys created as a 3 person band. How is it touring with The Toadies and Helmet so far?
Lauren Larson/Ume: It’s a lot of fun and a real honor. The Toadies have always been great supporters of Texas bands and more independent bands. We played with them a couple of times and they invited us to do an east coast run, and Helmet picked us for the west coast run. I like that I don’t have to turn down my guitar!
A lot of bands today have limited to no stage-presence, they’re more shoegaze-y. Why do you make theatrics and displays of raw, unbridled energy important to your live show?
I’m pretty shy and reserved every other time, but [onstage] is my one chance to not hold everything back. It’s a different side of myself. Live music, rock and roll…when else can you put your heart completely into something and really let go?
With indie rock, a lot of bands are on stage and look like they don’t want to be there. Ume is the antithesis of that – we want to be there. Whether we’re playing to 5 or 5000 people, we put our heart completely into it. A lot of people tell me they’re inspired by what they see. It’s a lot of fun when for example young girls come up to me and say that I inspired them to do something they’re afraid to do or pick up a guitar.
What are the unique challenges and benefits of being married and having your spouse on tour with you?
Eric [bassist of Ume] and I grew up together through music. He met me when I was playing guitar in my first band at age 15, and we always made music together. I think being in a band with anyone, married or not, requires commitment and communication. The band lives together in a van. Being respectful, giving each other space, and appreciating each other are all important.
A lot of bands today are making the bulk of their income via licensing. What’s your view on licensing – is it a goal for your band?
Right now it’s hard being in a touring band. No industry is dishing out money like before. We would never write music with [merely] the intent of getting it licensed, but we have had a couple songs in TV shows that paid well…As long as it’s not a company that I have an ethical problem with. We don’t mind having our music shared that way.
You recently got record deals for the Europe and Taiwan markets. How do you navigate the business side of music?
It’s all pretty new to us. I came from a very DIY punk scene where kids were putting shows together in community spaces. The business side was far from my mind when I’m making music, but I’ve really learned a lot. Don’t always sign the first thing that comes your way, have confidence in your band, and keep freedom. Europe — We’ll be making our first trip over there for the Rock En Seine Festival [in Paris 8/25].
How did you initially balance working towards a Ph.D in philosophy and being in a band, and what made you decide to focus on music?
I’ve always had a duel personality – an academic nerdy side and my secret life as a rock guitarist. Most people wouldn’t expect it. For a while I always thought I could do both. I never wanted to categorize my life as either academic or musician. When I went to grad school I realized my heart wasn’t in the cerebral, and my passion was music – I could express my voice through music. I moved back to Austin, and I’m glad I decided to pursue music full time.
And last question, if you could have any band cover one of your songs, which band and what song of yours would you choose?
That’s interesting. Someone like Bjork to do a really interesting take on one of our songs…Bjork singing “Captive.” She could deconstruct it and her voice would soar.
Thanks Lauren. For tour dates and more info, check out Umemusic.com.
Interview conducted and edited for clarity by Suzanne Raga for After The Show.