Progressive rock trio UMÆ emerged in 2017, and in the early days of January 2019 the band digitally released their debut album ‘Lost in the View’, which sees the core trio comprised of Anthony Cliplef (guitar, vocals), Guðjón Sveinsson (vocals, guitar) and Samy-George Salib (drums) collaborating with number of musicians including John Wesley (Porcupine Tree), Conner Green (Haken), Adam Holzman (Steven Wilson), and Eric Gillette (Neal Morse Band).
The trio answered our questions about the album, inspiration, and more.
Hello! First of all, I’d like to thank you for taking the time to answer this interview. How are you?
Samy: Living the dream.
Anth: Great, thanks. Thank you for having us.
Guðjón: Good, good!
Where did you get your band’s name from?
Anth: The characters are Icelandic, but the name is gibberish. Guðjón and I settled on this gibberish, which is also an inside joke, because it sounded good to us. The cool thing about using a name with no meaning attaches to it is that our band gets to define it entirely by our music.
If you had to describe your band’s sound in short terms, how would you?
Anth: It’s all over the place, but collected, haha.
What are the bands that have inspired you most with regards to your own music?
Anth: For me, Dream Theater, Transatlantic, Yes, Genesis, Rush, King Crimson, Steven Wilson… basically just a whole lot of Prog.
Samy: I’m actually inspired by drummers that have the right balance of emotion and technique, including Steve Gadd, Gavin Harrison, Todd Sucherman, Charlie Adams and Matt Garstka for example. This has opened me up to a variety of genres, as they make the drums “sing” and are able to play to the song without “hijacking” it.
Guðjón: I remember sending Anth 4 albums initially when discussing influences for the project; “Act IV” by The Dear Hunter, “Plains of the Purple Buffalo” by shels*, “A Long Time Listening” by Agent Fresco, and “The Tief, the Tide, and the River’s End” by Caligula’s Horse. I’m pretty sure these influences seeped into it, as well as more artists in that vein.
What’s the story behind the formation of UMÆ?
Anth: I met my bandmates for the first time on stage, playing unrehearsed covers of Dream Theater and Steven Wilson songs, down in Florida.
When I got home to Canada, I felt inspired and wanted to do something with the musicians I had played with. So, I sent them some midi programmed demo song files I had made. It wasn’t long before Guðjón got back to me about collaborating on some music.
Guðjón: Before I knew, he was sitting in my apartment and we started making noise. Best 6-week home invasion I’ve ever had.
Anth: Once G and I had a rough idea for the album and demos to send, we sent it off to Samy to listen to. Once Samy agreed to incorporate and perform the drums, we were 3. Then it was a matter of tracking down all those guests to fill out the rest of the band.
Samy: When we realized the scope of the project, we brought on other musicians to complete the album, including some world-class performers. However, for the purpose of this album, the three of us made a conscious decision to remain as a trio – at least until the album was completed.
You have just launched your debut album. What do you have to say on the concept behind “Lost in the View”?
Anth: For me, it’s mainly about various aspects of the past and how it affects us, how we hold onto it, and how we move forward with or from it.
Guðjón: To me it’s more of a thematic album than a concept album, even though in my head I have fairly detailed stories for the characters. Overall that is left up to interpretation though.
How do you think the music interacts or reflects on the themes you’re touching on in this album?
Anth: I feel like, because the music existed before the lyrics for most of what was written, the lyrical themes are actually more of a reflection of the music. For me, that’s almost always the case. I’ll write a piece of music, and let the lyrics flow out of that. I hope that gives a bit of insight into that interaction.
What went into the writing process of “Lost in the View”?
Anth: with my parts, I generally hear what I want to write in my head, then I figure it out on guitar and/or chart it out in a midi program. So, that’s what I was doing mainly.
As far as writing together goes, I would have a part of a song, a full song, or a full structure of a song with just guitar written, or Guðjón would have something like that as well, and we just sort of fed off each other’s ideas, essentially doing rough demos of everything into Pro Tools.
Sometimes I’d have a part and G would have a part, we’d order them, then connect them by filling in the middle. We just did a whole lot of that sort of stuff.
Guðjón: The core writing was actually done pretty fast over Anth’s initial 6-week stay in Iceland. We developed the ideas and arrangements over the course of the following year, and you could even say up until the very final mixes. Since we were working cross-continents, correspondence with Samy and Anth was pretty much constant throughout the process.
The album features guest appearances from John Wesley, Conner Green, Adam Holzman and Eric Gillette, among many other musicians. What was it like working with them?
Anth: It was really cool. They are all really down-to-earth sort of people, and all very enthusiastic. Everyone involved in the album really just emanated musicianship and passion for such, and I feel that it really shows in their contributions to the album.
What’s the idea behind the artwork?
Anth: When I was staying in Iceland for the first time, I was taken aback by all the scenery. Environment and atmosphere plays a big part in creativity for me. So, one morning, I sat at the dining room table at Guðjón’s’ family’s home and was looking out the window at this little mountain called Þorbjörn, and I decided to sketch it.
At some point, we were discussing album artwork, and my sketch came up. It seemed fitting to us. I like it because, to me, it represented letting go and moving forward from the past and just taking in something fresh and new. I know it will mean different things for different people, but that’s how it was for me.
Guðjón: It’s sort of the opposite for me. *laughs* I recently moved out of the country, away from that very mountain, to start something new. It ties into the concept in a nice way.
What advice might you have for other musicians, whether from a creative or business perspective?
Anth: Don’t wait for things to just happen. If you want your music to go anywhere at all, you have to start researching and learning everything you need to do, organize it into logical steps, then start executing it. You need to treat it like a full time job that you are not only not getting paid for, but actually investing time and money into. Lastly, you need to love it, otherwise you won’t be able to do all of the above for it.
Guðjón: Do it. Then do it some more.
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