Umphrey’s McGee has had a busy year. They released a new album, Safety In Numbers. They toured relentlessly as usual. Now, as the year’s coming to a close, they’re gearing up for a three-night run in Chicago at the Aragon. Honest Tune contributing writer Brian Heisler had a chance to talk with guitarist Brendan Bayliss about closing out 2006 and plans going forward in 2007.
Honest Tune: Let’s talk about your plans for the rest of the year (2006). You have the annual acoustic holiday show coming up with Jake at The Vic, in Chicago, how did that come about?
Brendan Bayliss: This is maybe the third, maybe the fourth one. A couple years ago we talked about how it would be fun. Where Jake and I come from, in the Midwest, some of the most fun we ever had was just sittin’ around, kind of campfire style, acoustic guitars and just songs and stuff. Just something about it that we always liked and it seemed like the right time of the year to do it. So we did one and it worked and it was so much fun that we just decided to make it kind of an annual thing.
HT: And the money goes to charity?
BB: Yeah, we put some of the money to, I think it was Keys for Kids the first two years and now this one’s for Ustorm, which is a benefit I started with some other friends.
HT: Moving on to New Year’s; last year was your first year at The Aragon with Keller Williams and now you have three nights with North Mississippi Allstars, Los Lobos, and Taj Mahal, how did you decide to put together this year’s show?
BB: It was so great with Keller, we love him and we wanted to do it again with him, but we also thought that we kinda want to do a different show every year. There’s people that come every year to New Years, [we wanted] to make it different for them. We wanted to have Keller back, but we just kinda want to make it different. And then we were hanging out with the guys from North Mississippi at the Fuji Rock Fest, just talking about what gigs they have coming up. I just kinda asked, I think it was Coby, and was just like, ‘if you guys aren’t booked if you wanna do it, come out.’ And they were like, ‘sure.’ Los Lobos, I’m not quite sure how that happened. I think we heard that they might be interested or we put the offer out to them just to try and do something different, and they were into it. And then Taj Mahal was kind of the same thing.
HT: When you’re planning something out like New Year’s Eve, can you explain what it means to have a setlist versus a songlist?
BB: The setlist is, you just have everything written out, all the songs you’re going to play within that set, in the order the way they’re supposed to go, and you just kind of look at it and you play it. And the song list is a list of a lot more songs and there’s no order and it kind of leaves a lot more improv and freedom. We end up playing less songs because we’re not really sure where we’re going. Whereas, the setlist you kind of know if you’re improving and you need to head towards this song, you kind of know what the tempo is, what the key is, and you know kind of what your goal is. So the song list kind of opens it up and you can just kind of play for free and then when it sounds kind of like one of your songs, you can just go there.
HT: In the past have you usually done setlists or song lists on New Year’s?
BB: New Year’s we’ve done setlists because it’s just the whole time thing. It would really be a bummer if you’re out in the crowd and it’s like 12:15 or something and they haven’t played ‘Auld Lang Syne’ yet. You have to kinda have things planned on New Year’s. You could do something with it kind of open, but right around Midnight you kind of have to know what time it is.
HT: Do you have any special plans for New Year’s this year?
BB: Yeah, but I can’t tell you. I mean, what’s the fun in that?
HT: Okay, fair enough. In the past year a lot has happened; you guys played the Chicago Theatre for the first time, you did Lollapalooza, you played Red Rocks again, you did a new album, you played with Dave Matthews, you played at the White Sox game…twice.
BB: Yeah, what a crazy year, huh?
HT: Yeah, what’s the highlight in there for you?
BB: Oh, dude, that’s a tough question. I would say Fuji Rock Fest. Just ‘cause I’ve never been to Japan, I think.
HT: The Sox game; specifically I noticed you did not wear a Sox jersey either of the days that you played there. Are you a Cubs fan?
BB: Certainly. It’d be wrong of me and hypocritical. They offered everybody Sox jerseys and I said no. It’s just like, what are you gonna do? I’m a Cubs fan, I wasn’t trying to be rude, I just wore the Notre Dame jersey.
HT: In this coming year, there are rumors of a B-sides album coming-up, would you give us some insight on this?
BB: The rumors are true my friend. I think it’s gonna come out in March. We’re just finishing up the last of it. We’re not putting a whole lot of time into it because it is a B-sides. So we’re just kind of sifting through the old tape and putting it together.
HT: So it’s not something you’re physically recording right now?
BB: Well, no no no. We did go into the studio to do vocals on one of the tracks that hadn’t had vocals put on it yet. And Kevin, he’s our front of house guy, he has a lot of really nice gear, and so when we’re on the road sometimes in the hotel room, Joel and Jake were putting synth parts down for one of the songs. So, there’s little things that we’re doing to it, but if we wanted to do it like a real, real, real release we’d have to take some time off the road and we’re about to do that in January, just take some time off and do another new record.
HT: And do you have anything else planned already for 2007?
BB: Well pretty much we’re not gonna go out on the road till mid-February because we’re gonna be in the studio for six weeks. So we’re gonna start with recording a bunch of new songs. And then hopefully have another good year of shows. That’s all I got really planned.
HT: And finally, your prediction for the college football BCS Champion. (interview done a few weeks back, well before bowl announcements)
BB: I have a feeling that Ohio State’s gonna win it.
HT: You’re not going to take Notre Dame?
BB: I’d love to have Notre Dame, I’m just being realistic. I think that Notre Dame’s gonna win their bowl game and we’ll end up top five, top four. I just have a feeling Ohio State. I’d love to say Notre Dame, but I’d be full of shit.
HT: Who’s your Super Bowl champion for the year?
BB: I mean, I want the Bears to win it. They need to get Brady Quinn and then they’ll have it. As long as Rex plays well, because our defense is fine. I’m gonna take the Bears. But here’s the thing. The thing about Notre Dame is though, if USC was undefeated then we would have a shot to play Ohio State and we would win it, but we’re not even gonna have a chance to play for the championship. That’s why I have to go with Ohio State. Just to clarify.
HT: It could be Michigan as well, but I imagine you’re not a big Michigan fan.
BB: I won’t even speak the name. I won’t utter the name.