Umphrey’s McGee is back rocking. “Similar Skin,” the band’s eighth album, is a welcome return to a combination of prog-rock meets psychedelic rock.
“It felt good for us to come back to that,” keyboardist-vocalist Joel Cummins said during a phone call from his Chicago home. “We wanted to focus on a rock element this time. The new songs fit that vein. We like to rock. It feels good.”
The veteran jam band, which plays Jannus Live on Sunday, rocks hard and also has a sense of humor, kind of like prog-rock heroes Rush. “Adding some humor is a good thing,” Cummins said. “ A lot of bands don’t do that but, yeah, Rush slips it in. I remember the tour when they played in front of washers and dryers, which were working onstage. I like that kind of quirky.”
It takes one to know one, and UM is one of those oddball acts, which is unpredictable and challenging. Umphrey’s McGee has pushed the envelope since the band emerged from South Bend, Indiana, in 1997.
Eight months after forming the wise guys released their debut, “Greatest Hits Volume 3.”
“Most people got the joke, but there was this one fan from Germany who didn’t get it,” Cummins recalled. “On the back of the album we made up a couple of fictional albums just to tell the story of our ‘greatest hits,’ but this German fan wrote us to tell us he’s been working on finding the albums, which we never made. We love joking around. I think it’s a healthy thing.”
Umphrey’s McGee — which also includes vocalist-guitarist Brendan Bayliss, guitarist Jake Cinninger, bassist Ryan Stasik, percussionist Andy Farag and drummer Kris Myers — has been all over the sonic map since it is comprised of six very different players. “I think that’s a great thing,” Cummins said. “We’re all into different styles of music. Jack was in a metal band and played in a country band. Chris has a jazz degree. Paul has played in ska bands. I studied classical piano. So if anyone wonders why we’ve been sonically diverse, well, we have a lot of different influences. That being said, there is a common thread that connects everything.”
The band has been together for 17 years without as much of a speed bump since the members of UM get along so well.
“There’s no way we could be on the road like we’ve been on the road for all this time if we all didn’t like each other,” Cummins said. “I think it’s remarkable that six guys get along as well as we do. We each have input, and we compromise and it all works out.”
Cummins believes the band will be around for quite awhile. “I don’t see a need to stop,” Cummins said. “We love playing together, and we have an audience that is loyal. It’s great that we have such a following since we are an acquired taste. But apparently quite a few people like that taste.”