April 2009: Perth band Umpire have just released their first album, appeared live just twice (the last to a sold out album launch show in Perth a few weeks ago) and they’re up for a WAMi for Best Indie Pop act. We caught up with Bass Player & Producer Simon Struthers to find out more about Umpire.
Can you tell us about Umpire, Who makes up the band?
Umpire was a project that we started when one of our other bands Mukaizake kind of went on hiatus for a while. We have our own studio space over there so we just kind of invented Umpire to justify keeping the space, hang out with each other and drink beer.
Umpire really consists of three main people being Geoff Symons, Michael Lake (Lakey) and myself, however we recently added drummer Josh Watkins so we can play live shows, and we are really looking forward to his input on future recordings. The whole idea behind the band was to try something totally different to how we had approached music in many of the other bands we’ve played in over the years. Every other band I have ever been part of always did the weekly rehearsal thing as a whole band and played shows almost every week. This kind of set up becomes relatively uninspiring after a while and it relies in the everyone being available on those nights, which can create a bit of tension in bands as everyone has their own lives. So really I guess Umpire was a way of writing music on our own individual terms.
You have all played together in different bands, Could you talk a bit about your history leading up to Umpire?
The history is a little complicated as all of our bands have had multiple members involved at different stages in other bands. Lakey and I were originally in a band that we started in high school called Adam Said Galore (ASG) with Andrew Ryan and Matt Maguire. Eventually Lakey and I started a side project from that band called Mukaizake with Geoff and another friend Dan Erickson. Lakey left ASG in 1999 and then Geoff came into ASG to fill in the extra guitar parts. After a while Dan moved to Melbourne and Mukaizake kind of went into hibernation and we started Umpire. Geoff then left ASG in 2006.
So I guess the end result now is that I play i three bands. Umpire with Geoff and Lakey, Mukaizake with Geoff, Lakey and Dan, and Adam Said Galore with Matt and Andrew. Wow sorry i did warn you it was complicated. The strange thing is that Umpire have just released their first record, Mukaizake have a new CD coming out in November and we are aiming to release a new ASG record early next year, so busy times ahead!
Could you talk about your recent release? How long did it take to produce the album?
The new Umpire record really took about 2 years on and off to complete, with people off doing various other things and living on opposite sides of Australia. The CD had been finished for over 18 months, it just took a while for us to put it out. We are really doing this project for ourselves so releasing it wasn’t really a priority. We sent the record out to various Australian record labels and were fairly underwhelmed with the response from them. It’s amazing really that most Australian labels have the attitude of “don’t send us anything, if we want to hear you we’ll let you know”, which i find a bizarre attitude to have. So we gave tracks to a Radio station in Perth called RTR FM who flogged it for about 12 months, i think it was the most played track on that station for quite a while, and from that it kind of generated a fair bit of interest in the band, enough for us to get our shit together.
We got to the point where we just thought lets put it out ourselves and booked a CD Launch. So about six weeks before we were going to launch the CD we met up with a record label called Good Cop Bad Cop who were really keen and were starting a side label called Winterborn which would distribute the CD nationally through Inertia and I guess here we are. So it’s a very DIY project where we are totally in control of everything which is great, and we have a national distributor getting it out there and into shops, dealing with all of the messy admin stuff.
Do you have a favorite track?
My favorite track on this album has to be Motel. There is something about that track that really captured all of the expectations I had for it and it just kind of takes you to a different place, capturing the right mood. Out of all of the tracks its the one where I don’t hear any flaws in the production, playing or recording of it, and I can just listen to the song. This is a rare thing especially when you have spent countless days working on it and dissecting every detail in the track. The song was made from the guitar line that Lakey had, I then added bass and we did some rough recording of drums which I think were the ones that we used. Geoff then added his vocals that allowed us to commit to a final structure, I also love the chorus that Geoff sings on this, I remember it gave me chills the first time he sang it. I was then mixing it at my house in Sydney and added all of the Piano/keyboard bits to fill out the space a little. Definitely my favorite track.
The album was recorded at your Forensic Audio studios in Perth, what made you decide to set this up?
The studio kind of came about by accident i guess. I have always been interested in recording and started buying bits and pieces of recording gear in about 1999 with the aim of being able to record our own bands. I did a bit of recording of my band Mukaizake and Adam Said Galore and from that people started asking me if I could record their bands. So I started doing this on a fairly casual basis and any money I received for recording was put back into buying more/better gear.
We then had the opportunity do rent out an old building in Leederville in Perth, so we went into it with a couple of other bands we were friends with to set it up as a rehearsal space where each of the bands had their own full time room. As i was in two of the bands we kind of took on two rooms and set up one as a control room with all of my recording gear and the other as a live recording room. Eventually things kind of evolved and I got the chance to produce and record the first record for Bob Evans and things kind of took off from there. I ran the space as a full time studio for three or four years until I moved to Sydney.
have you recorded many other bands?
I have had the chance to record and produce CD’s for Bob Evans, The Tucker B’s, Felicity Groom, Institut Polaire, One Horse Town, Pete Stone, Apricot Rail, Kill Devil Hills, Deloris, The Leap Year and many more, as well as my own bands. I had the great opportunity of getting paid as I was learning about recording/production, being able to buy better gear and getting to work with some amazing musicians.
Any regional, or national tours planned?
I think eventually we will get out there and tour but there are no firm plans yet. We have only played two live shows so far so we are more focused on the recording side of things. I think we have kind of adopted the attitude of a touring band in our own city, where we don’t see the need to play all that often live. There are plenty of bands that I love that I have never seen live so I don’t think its a necessity for us. But I guess we’ll just see how things go with the CD and hopefully look into getting it out overseas as well.
Perth has produced some great bands over the past few years, How do you find the Australian band scene today?
The Australian music scene is a strange one. I think Australia has some of the best bands on the planet coming out of it but Australia just isn’t big enough for bands to sustain a full time career in music. Most of the bands here do it because they love playing music and they often pour every cent they have into it. That really makes a strong scene of people who are really passionate about what they are doing.
The scene is really healthy right now, lots of people seem to be heading out to shows and supporting live original music but the scene is fairly cyclical and we are definitely heading toward a peak right now. Perth in particular has a really healthy music scene going on, with lots of really good venues supporting the industry and providing an outlet for original music, and it shows in the quality of the bands coming from there.
What are your musical influences?
Wow, way too many to mention. Sorry a bit of a cop out answer, from the umpire myspace:
WARNING! The members of Umpire variously enjoy the music of these bands: The Police, Sandpit, Elbow, Pavement, XTC, Death Cab For Cutie, Slint, Tortoise, Fugazi, The Futureheads, Band of Horses, Interpol, The Flaming Lips, (early) You Am I, (early) Echo & the Bunnymen, Mercury Rev, My Morning Jacket, Polvo, Radiohead, Red House Painters, Sigur Ros, Sonic Youth, TV on the Radio, Wilco, Wire and The Shins etc. As a result vague reminders of their sounds may pop up in Umpire songs.
As an independent music producer how do you see the role now of traditional CD sales versions online distribution technologies?
I think the online music distribution thing is great, It such an easy way to distribute music and have it available everywhere with out all of the hard stuff that makes putting out a CD so difficult. If you cant find it in your record shop you can go online and get it instantly. It’s also a really good way to maintain a back catalogue of records that are long out of pressing.
Personally though I am a fan of CD’s, i would spend and extra 10 dollars any day and have the disc in my car than an ipod. I guess I like artwork and also the fact that you commit to a whole record. The one thing I don’t like is the ability for people to just buy say the singles of a record as i think it makes music a little one dimensional. There are so many tracks on records that are real growers with repeated listens and skimming through a CD on an online store may not be the best way to judge these tracks and to not buy them. Bands put a lot of effort into creating a collection of songs that work together and I think that’s important. It’s kind of like just watching one scene form a movie because it”s a great scene and not caring about the context of it.
I am interested to how things eventuate with a generation of people coming through that have only known Itunes, purchasing single tracks online and not buying records. I think bands and record companies are realising that this is an issue along with illegal downloads and are trying to maintain CD sales by offering bonus content such as additional tracks or DVD content with physical CD sales.
All Photography by Marianne Symons.