Æ: Aglet Eaters

Defying Wars and Gravity: Ummagma on the Road to Lees

Posted in Discover, Feature by R on April 16, 2014

I don’t know if you already know Shauna McLarnon at all. She’s the tireless singer/songwriter/PR person/mother who, together with husband/composer/co-frontperson Alexx Kretov make up Ukrainian stargazing duo Ummagma.

Not unlike Tears Run Rings, Shauna and I have been trying madly to get Ummagma on AE with a success rate hovering around zero. It could be due to sheer laziness, mutual distraction, my subliminal aversion to Pink Floyd, or, most likely, the simple absence of a musical moment to capitalise on.

Fear no more, dear readers, for that moment is now. AE, along with a couple dozen other blogs from around the world, has been selected to premiere Ummagma’s newest video – a trippy wander through time and down ‘The Road to Lees’

We feels speshul.

Far be it for us to simply thwack an embed code into a post and call it a completed entry – at AE, we’re all about analysis, critique, debate, and poking our nose into other people’s business. And how kind of Shauna to comply.

Coming up – “Why would you reference Pink Floyd, are you out to get me?”, “What’s a music video do, anyway?” and “So…. Ukraine, huh?”.

But first – ‘The Road to Lees’

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It sounds innocuous enough – ‘where’s your name from?’. But I’m asking YOU specifically, because “Ummagma” sounds a lot like the first Pink Floyd album I heard. Ummagumma, the album, caused a dull, persistent cranial throb the instant I turned it on and from that day forth PF and I have been unable to make nice. So my question to you is – WHY? Why are you Ummagma?

That’s a good question – I’m not sure I ever heard an explanation of why Cocteau Twins decided to call themselves that, or even Pink Floyd for that matter – that name must have sounded pretty faggy at that time (now you’ve got me wondering about that) but I do recall hearing the story about Duran Duran being named after a comics character. I must admit, our story is likely just as silly as that.

There is indeed a link between the name Ummagma and Pink Floyd’s fourth studio album – the short version is that, yes, Ummagma is a shortened and much easier-to-pronounce version of Ummagumma. Go figure.

The long version goes like this: Once upon a time when Alexx was a boy, his dad was big time into Pink Floyd, slyly managing to obtain such recordings when many could not. He shared that love with Alexx, who, you might notice, was inspired by Pink Floyd more than most – you can hear that their effect on a lot of our music today. Pink Floyd were among the first groups to treat songs as if they were soundscapes worth exploring and they took the listener on that journey with them. Now Alexx was using this nickname on various photography and sound forums (it seems a bunch of those old messages will be on the net forever now) and we both considered this name for our duo, along with “Antigravity”. Ummagma won out and thus were born the name of the band, the self-titled album and the accompanying “other” debut release issued on the same day.

What is the story behind ‘The Road to Lees’? How come you chose to make a video for it?

‘The Road to Lees’ was composed a few years ago, when Alexx wasn’t sleeping well. At about 5 a.m. one morning, he was out having a cup of coffee on the balcony of our apartment when birds started to sing. He grabbed a recording device to capture the sound and that is what you hear at the beginning of this track. The rest of the song was inspired by a vision of a journey from there to a fantastical timeless place called Lees and the brilliant experience en route.

We thought about the ‘timeless’ element of the song in its audio form and we wanted, in making the video, to somehow translate that into something related to time and its meaning. We didn’t see this so much about the future as about the past and present and the connection between the two. We wanted nostalgia and the intangibility of time and past events to be part of the concept for this new video.

Unfortunately however, apart from that which was familial or community-based, what we knew as the “good old days” were based on a faulty foundation, which we’re only figuring out now. Just the same, this is still a happy place for many. It is this happy place, these memories, that help us to overcome all the crap we’ve experienced on the way, letting us move forward.

 

Selfies Rule, OK?

Selfies Rule, OK?

 

ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM: How is the situation in Ukraine affecting your music making or musical direction? Or, more broadly, what do you find the effect of politics on art to be?

Well, speaking for myself, my psyche has taken a real beating during this time. It’s really hard to be in the kind of mindset I need to be in for creating – that applies to melodies and lyrics both. Writer’s block, you know? Alexx has been prolific in making music, as he always is, but it takes forever to complete & perfect a song when you are not motivated to hang out in the recording studio very often. Protests, unrest, mobilization, Russia’s invasion and occupation of Crimea, mercenary clandestine activity, tons of violence, information overload, and now conscription. None of this has been very positive for our mindset or anybody else’s here in Ukraine. I’m sure you can imagine.
We’ve had to apply ourselves to living this dream however we can – basically whenever inspiration finds its way in. And for me, there has been a lot of networking, research and organizational stuff happening in the background when songwriting escapes me, which basically has been for the past four months. Once in a while, we manage to pull a song off – either just involving Alexx or us both. In all of this, we’ve tried our best to muster up strength to create something beautiful despite all the ugliness surrounding us. Isn’t the light supposed to ultimately win out?

—–

Ukraine’s not the greatest place to be at the moment, so you can hardly fault Shauna and Alexx for their retreat into memories and nostalgia. You’ve already got my constant call to support music ringing in your ears. As it happens, a lot of Ummagma’s stuff you’ll find for free, but if you feel it’s worth it, buy it.

FREE download of “The Road to Lees” 
Bandcamp 
Soundcloud
LATEST SINGLE! 

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