Progressive Rock With Brad Houser: Umphrey’s McGee’s “Mantis” – Bassist Ryan Stasik
Meet Brad Houser –
Umphrey’s McGee – “Mantis”
Bassist – Ryan Stasik
This band has my vote for best progressive rock band on the planet… For one reason… According to bassist Ryan Stasik, 40-60% of each live show is improvised………………….!!
These guys have all the classic elements of prog: detailed, sometimes lengthy compositions, odd meters (a prog requirement), blistering solos, major chops. The only missing element is that there are “no songs about mythological beasts”, according to bassist Ryan Stasik.
Active since 1997, Umphrey’s have become major players on the American “jam band” scene. They share common ground with other bands such as Phish, Widespread Panic, and the Grateful Dead in that their set lists constantly change, they typically do two sets per night, allow taping of shows, and collectively improvise. Otherwise, they have little in common with the other bands on the jam scene. Heavily influenced by bands such as Yes, King Crimson, Pink Floyd, Gentle Giant, Frank Zappa, Iron Maiden, the Police, Led Zeppelin…………… these guys are amazing songwriters.
Released in January, 2009, “Mantis” is their most recent studio effort. Featuring stellar musicianship in every chair, this recording shows Umphrey’s to be a progressive band in top form; Great vocals, superb song-craft. Some might find it too intense, although probably not for the average reader of this magazine. Available on iTunes…….
A few days ago I had the pleasure of speaking with bassist Ryan Stasik for a few minutes.
BH- Upon listening to your latest studio recording, I’m reminded of Gentle Giant, King Crimson…
RS- Definitely. We’ve all checked them out a lot.
BH- Your main lead guitarist, Jake Cinninger, is amazing. At the recent show I caught (Bear Creek Festival), I was hearing a strong dose of Eric Johnson in his playing.
RS- He is also heavily into Buck Dharma from Blue Oyster Cult. Jake started out as a drummer, by age 12 he was playing drums in biker-rock bands, the rest of the guys in the band were 26 or so. He’s been playing guitar since about age 10.
BH- Wow……….. When did you start playing bass?
RS- Around ’96, in college. I had a Les Paul guitar, sold that to Brendan (Bayliss, singer/guitarist), scraped some $$ together and got a bass. I played piano since age 5, and played guitar for a few years.
BH- When did you get that Lakland (55-94, 5-string)?
RS- Around 2003-4. It’s great, versatile, tons of different sounds. I live in Chicago, where they are made, so I can just go to their shop when I need an adjustment on it.
BH- They’re great, I use one of their hollowbodies as my main bass.
RS- I have one of those, too. I love recording with it.
BH- What are some your main influences on bass?
RS- I was born in ’76, so I was influenced by a lot of the popular 80’s bands, Guns n’ Roses, Aerosmith, Pantera, White Zombie, Prong. I wasn’t really listening to bass at the time. Later on I discovered Jaco, Yes, Gentle Giant, and Frank Zappa. Duff from Guns ‘n Roses and Krist Novoselic of Nirvana influenced me a lot.
BH- Who are the main writers in the band?
RS- Jake brings in totally finished recordings of songs, and we learn them. Brendan brings in finished songs as well. Joel, our keyboardist, brings in songs also. I tend to bring in ideas that get fleshed out by the band. We also write live as a group a lot. 40-60% of our live shows are improvised. We have live talkback mics and in-ears for cues, also hand signals and “dance steps” that we have developed.
BH- Incredible. Your drummer (Kris Myers) is a monster.
RS- He joined in 03. He was literally the first guy we heard on audition tapes, and as soon as we started playing with him for the first time, we knew he was it. Plus, it turned out that he lived right down the street……….
RS- He loves to play. One night we finished our last song, and Kris just kept going, turned into about a 7 minute drum solo, great show closer.
BH- the Energizer Bunny on drums………… What about your live rig?
RS- I use an Ampeg vintage reissue SVT, with a 410 and 115 cab, and a GK 2001 RB with a 412 cab. Also, I use Moog Taurus III pedals, they’re more road worthy than the Taurus II, which broke a lot. I also use a phaser, octave pedal (Boss), and a Source Audio Hot Hands.
BH- What’s that?
RS- It’s a laser ring that goes on your finger or the bass, and you can change the sounds of their pedals on the fly. Pretty cool.
BH- Sounds like it!
RS- I also today just got an MXR Octave Deluxe pedal, which I think will be good.
BH- What’s next?
RS- We did 3 nights at the Riviera Theater in Chicago on New Year’s, and in 2011 we’ll be headlining Prog Fest, and we will also be playing at Jam The Dam in Amsterdam.
BH- Thanks for your time, it’s been a pleasure.
RS- See you next time.
Catch these guys live, on YouTube, or on the web. Not to be missed.
Happy 2011 Everyone-