Pages Navigation Menu

What I Learned at Bandcamp: Ummagma

Ummagma is a CanadianUkrainian duo comprised of Alexx Kretov and Shauna McLarnon that formed in Moscow in 2003 when the two began dating.

The pair released two albums, Ummagma and Antigravity, on Bandcamp in July. The music touches on several genres, from dreampop to progressive rock and post-punk.

Kretov and McLarnon were gracious enough to answer some questions for The Spec about their albums and plans for the future, read what they had to say below…

How long have you been making music?
AK: Music started early for me. At first I played the clarinet at music school and I really didn’t like it. At the age of 13, I finally got a guitar and heard the Beatles and Pink Floyd. No learning by ear training, just complete improvisation. At 17, I was already recording music at home on a double cassette recorder, and there was this awesome function to overlay one track over another. In 2003, we got our first computer and made our first joint recordings with Shauna.

I can work for a long time on the mix or not, and I’m always changing something. Then I leave it and come back again. When we’ve finished a song we put it in a folder along with the others, and only later, after some time, we return to listen and figure out what songs we should actually share with the wider public.

SM: Making music started late for me. It was already after finishing off my master’s degree when I finally discovered that I could sing and it was shortly after that when I wrote my first song. I wrote my first few songs in my sleep in 1998 while I was living in Russia’s Siberia region, where I’m convinced people feel a greater closeness to Mother Earth than in many other places. Anyway, I like to think that I’m not actually making it, but rather channeling it. Thanks to whatever entities are helping me out with that. For both of us, our music finally went from bud to blossom upon meeting eachother and creating the music that would lay the bedrock for Ummagma.

Who or what are your influences?
AK: In first, second and third place, it has been my father Yuri. He opened life behind my bedroom door to music, literature, poetry and painting. He has had a strong influence on me! It so happens that in response to what the question is, I catch myself thinking what his voice sounds like. When I was little, he used to come to where I was playing and sit next to me so that he could sing me a song on guitar. Then I learned about fun music and music laced with sweet sorrow. My father also really loved the sea, and I love it. He loved my mother and me, and I love my family too. Gradually, it just all made sense.

As for the influence stemming from certain individuals in the world of music, there are so many of them. My memory is trained to store what’s important, which can’t be said about names. In general, anyone who does his job with love and joy is certainly worthy of attention, and if such work also happens to be talented, then he deserves honor and praise! Music is a worldwide ocean, which allows you to fully understand who you are when you submit to it.

The music that is close to my heart is rather diverse and Ummagma is also diverse. I do not do what is thought of as being “in style.” Every day I go out to sea under the black flag known as Jolly Roger.

SM: Oh, I’d have to say, for better or for worse, that my main influence is the people I live with (my family). If things are not good at home, there is no music. When things are good at home, life is wonderful and the creative juices flow. Such is life. Fortunately for listeners, that means that we are never dumping negativity on them because we only write music when things are good and that energy then comes across in the music. That idea also very much motivates me in our music – setting the intent that this music will be of the highest benefit for anyone who listens to it.

How did you come up with your name?
AK: This has been the name of my email address for some time now and I also used this name for registration on numerous photography and music forums.

SM: The name of our band is somewhat like our daughter’s name. We weren’t 100% sure about what her name should be until it came time to check out of the hospital and, to do that, we had to indicate her name. We went with the names bouncing around in our heads at the time – Nika Tatiana. The same goes for our band – Ummagma was the best option after Alexx turned down my other two proposals “Icicle Reef” and “Antigravity”. The compromise was that the latter name would be reserved for the second of our two debut albums. Hence we now have the self-titled Ummagma and Antigravity – Ummagma’s two fraternal (definitely not identical) twins – birthed via Bandcamp in what seems to be an upward direction.

How did you guys meet/form the band?
SM: We both have a similar, though not exact, take on the events that occurred that night, but the rest is common history. We both lived in Moscow, Russia at that time and were both attending the concert of acoustic guitarist Ivan Smirnov, who is legendary in Russia but really should be better known in the West because his music is so brilliant. You can easily find him on YouTube. So we were both there, but separately. I was sitting with some people, and he was sitting with others. After the concert, the bar practically cleared out and only about 50 people remained – he and I were among them. I was friends with some of the musicians and went to join them for drinks afterwards when I noticed that he was no longer with his friends and I chatted him up, I guess you can say. Or not. He thinks he chatted me up. In any case, we were chatty, hanging out with these fine lads in Ivan’s band and kapow…. Fast forward to 2005 and we’re getting married. Ha ha. OK that’s how we met as a couple, but musically, we connected through kitchen jam sessions where Alexx wowed and inspired me with his guitar antics. Later, when we finally got a computer and a midi keyboard, he wowed me with his synth skills no less than on guitar. Ummagma is a product of love and she is a servant to love. Period.

Upcoming projects, where do you want to go from here?
AK: We are already working on new songs following the release of our double debut. When the opportunity presents itself, we would be pleased to share that music with you too.

SM: We are also working on some collaborations with other musicians and Alexx has also been recording, mixing and producing some other artists’ work over the past month or so. The studio is partially dedicated to Ummagma songs right now and partially to help shape other peoples’ art – anyway, it’s all infused with Ummagma in a way. We can certainly look forward to more of the good stuff that has been happening for us in the short the time that has passed since our albums’ release – more reviews and interviews, more radio play (hopefully lots more), more video production, more songwriting and recording, more cooperation of all sorts with musicians and artists in various genres. We’d envision our music in soundtracks, commercials, and compilations. We also plan to get our own band website together pronto. What’s happening behind the curtain, so to speak, is getting exciting and I’m not about to spill all the beans. Ha! But I have given you a few to chew on. The world will know what’s up with Ummagma soon enough.

What inspires your music?
AK: When I hear sounds, I can see their form. It’s kind of like music’s eyes or something. And it’s possible to see a lot, but the last word always rests with harmony. Also, searching for that fine line, harmony, and the activities of many creative people, no matter what they do – that inspires me. What is your own individual harmony and what is your own choice? At what point do you decide to play this note and not another? Why choose this or that colour among the many that exist? Maybe this is our moment of love? And what inspires us to love?

SM: For me, it comes from silence and solitude. I always write better when nobody is around and when I have a slow schedule. It seems that my brain easily gets too bogged down with information overload, juggling tasks, noise pollution and the thousand jobs that just never seem to get done. When I can remove myself from that and be in an environment or space that encourages me to let all that go, that is what inspires me. It’s as if I can finally hear myself (my higher self) or maybe my muses whispering to me, bringing me melodies and such. That doesn’t happen very strongly when I am amassed with events, information and a mass of other peoples’ sounds that generally just distract me.

What musicians or bands do you look up to?
AK: Well, I can say Pink Floyd and the Beatles. Well really, this is a question that I would have been able to answer much fuller when I was 17 years old, when it seemed that I had so many role models. The older I get, the narrower this list becomes in one respect and fuller in another. What I can easily say, however, is that I certainly appreciate a lot of other musicians out there. We could start by looking at the music I listen to on iTunes, for instance. Starting with J.S.Bach, Pink Floyd, Zakir Hussain, Joe Satriani, Paco De Lucia, Radiohead, Mike Oldfield, Bjork, Enigma, Cocteau Twins, Slowdive, T-rex, Bob Marley, David Bowie, Beatles, Led Zeppelin, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Amy Winehouse and Billie Holiday, this list goes on for quite a while.

SM: OK – hands down I must say Cocteau Twins and I must say that this interview is well timed with Elizabeth Fraser’s birthday – happy birthday Queen Liz… All three members of this iconic group are still making music and living an interesting life. Robin and Simon together founded the Bella Union label, which is a lovely hotbed of talent and that is not the only way they promote good talent. For instance, Simon now has a show on Amazing Radio. I am also inspired by Paul Lopez of Spell 336, who is also the founder of the Shoegaze Collective, and Tom Lugo of Patetico Recordings, who is also the mastermind behind Stellarscope, Panaphonic and Shishi – why? Because they have a long history of living their music – by creating good songs, fostering cooperation, recognizing the Godseed in other artists, and promoting other artists’ music. They are brilliant at and dedicated to what they do. Did I already mention Cocteau Twins? But seriously – there are too many great artists to name here.

Why do you make music?
AK: I do it because it brings me inner joy and self confidence.

SM: Why would you sit on it or bury it otherwise? It’s like dimming your own light. If you have music within you, let her breathe, give her life, nurture her growth and she will nurture yours (and hopefully that growth will be contagious). That is one of our dreams with Ummagma – to fly in the process and to help other people take flight despite the gravitational and centrifugal forces of everything that might be happening around them – you know? Antigravity.

5 Comments

  1. Thank you so much for publishing this! Thank you Alexis and thank you to The Spec Blog! For anyone else visiting this page, please come check us out further at http://www.facebook.com/ummagma – Thanks!

    • Thank you for the interview and taking the time to provide such well-thought-out responses. Good luck in your future projects!

      – Alexis

  2. Coll

  3. Nice job! Nice music!

  4. Pretty insightful – you would never know these things from just listening to their music, but it’s interesting.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Paul Lopez of The Shoegaze Collective and Tom Lugo of Patetico Recordings mentioned in Ummagma interview « Pateticorecordings' Weblog - [...] bands. Check it out is definitely worth the read! Shoegaze, Psychedelic, Ambient, Indie rock http://thespecblog.com/​learned-bandcamp-ummagma/ Share this:FacebookTwitterTumblrLinkedInStumbleUponPinterestRedditDiggEmailLike this:LikeBe…

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *