Umbrella Assassins Q&A
With a full album 'Humanity' and an EP 'King Of Fruit Vol 1', the events of 2020 didn't seem to conspire to prevent the marvellous Haverhill band Umbrella Assassins from being as prolific as ever. With a gloriously raucous sound, the band's mix of indie, punk and rock continues to thrill both on record and (when we get back to it) in live shows, and the guys have kindly answered a few questions for me below. Your introduction to 'Shed Punk' starts here!
Umbrella Assassins are Stevie C (Guitar, Vocals), Andrew 'Bunge' Plumb (Bass, Vocals) and Garry McKervill (Drums, Vocals)
'Humanity' and 'King Of Fruit Vol 1' are available, along with masses of other singles, EPs and albums, primarily on the Umbrella Assassins bandcamp page but also other well-known digital sites.
Hi Guys, thank you for taking some time out to answer a few questions. For those people who don't know Umbrella Assassins, could you give a short history of the band?
Umbrella Assassins started in 2006 as an Indie/Post punk four piece, gigging heavily in East Anglia, London and occasionally further afield, with two memorable gigs in Amsterdam. In 2016, we became drummer-less, and with a re-jig, formed as a trio, and consequently a slight change in our 'sound' came about. Around the same time we started practicing in Steve's shed and one evening, after several beers, ‘Shed Punk' was born.
And who would you say were the main influences on Umbrella Assassins?
Too many to list and it changes daily, each song tends to have its own set of influences but here's a few, in no particular order :-
The Doors, 13th Floor Elevators, The Stooges, Black Sabbath, Jason Williamson, Spacemen 3, John Reis, The Minutemen, All the alternative 80s and 90s bands, anything on the Goner record label and garage punk in general.
More recently, Hot Snakes, Honeyblood, Viagra Boys, Amyl And The Sniffers, Sleaford Mods, Australian garage rock and punk especially Crocodilous.
Basically anything that sounds cool as f*ck and contains fuzzy overdriven guitars and drums. Beer has also been an influence over the years....
You've managed to get two releases out in 2020 - a full length album 'Humanity' and the 'King Of Fruit Vol 1' EP. How was it recording in these strange times? Did Covid present any particular challenges to putting them together?
So by a stroke of luck Garry decided he wanted to start recording live drums rather than using an electric kit, which we had used on the early songs we recorded in the shed. This meant turning half of his garage into a fully sound-proofed studio. Tiny Eyes studios, (named due its size being to scale with Garry's eyes) allowed us to record at
our leisure, in-between lockdowns and restrictions, and not having to visit a studio or involve anyone else. The studio is now pretty well equipped and we are learning new techniques all the time.
We haven't been as lucky recently and we’re yet to get started on 'Volume Two'. The challenges posed by the various lockdowns are partly the reason for releasing songs in volumes rather than a full album.
I notice glancing through your Bandcamp stories that 'Humanity' was due to be called 'Zoo Planet' - why the change of name in the title of the album? And is there a concept / story that runs through 'Humanity'?
‘Zoo Planet’ was the working title, I guess it got us thinking about what it all meant. It has a human quality to it, it's not perfect but it kinda is, in its own way. So we decided ‘Humanity’ was a better title and reflected the social climate at the time.
We have to confess that it's not really a concept album, I think we might have written the release details after a few too many, but it does have a theme of mental health and dealing with that running through it. Which kinda bought about this idea of an alien coming to earth, abducting us and the shed, taking us to a new planet and forming a band. We used that idea with the art work and parts of a podcast we created to support the release. So maybe that is the concept after all!
A lot of ideas run into each other and spark new things, sometimes I forget where things even come from at all.
'King Of Fruit' has a second volume due out this year. What can people expect from 'King Of Fruit Volume 2'; similar sounding songs to Volume 1 or have you split the EP into two halves because the songs are different in some way?
We found recording a whole album ('Humanity') quite a long experience. We have always recorded at a pace or been restricted by money for studio time. Sometimes we'd record a whole song in one evening. We like to do that... get songs recorded while the feeling and reason we wrote them is still clear in our minds, capture that urgency. The thought of not recording a song because I got hit by a bus fills me with dread, for us this is more important than a song being technically perfect, but hasn't always worked out.
So with that in mind, we wanted to find a middle ground and be aware of not over working songs but also being really happy with the finished song. There's also restrictions we face with actually getting together to record, which is very annoying.
I think we had a strong idea with how we wanted Vol.1 to sound. We wanted lots of percussion to sit underneath the main instruments. With Vol.2 we have been thinking about a country vibe, but still garage rock, influenced by the Black Lips and Neil Young.
We have four or five songs written, but until we hear them and they start to come together, you’re never sure which way they will go.
If you had to pick two or three favourite tracks from 'Humanity' and 'King Of Fruit Vol 1' which ones would you pick?
Crack open a beer and listen to it all! But if we had to choose then I think we'd always choose our latest stuff, so all three songs on ‘King Of Fruit’.
I enjoyed the video you made for 'Rich'; is making videos something you enjoy?
Yes, making music vids gives us all a chance to express ourselves artistically in different ways. It's a lot of fun to come up with an idea and see that through, with a DIY approach. It's a different aspect of being in band. Hanging out together, having a laugh. It's hopefully a way for more people to potentially hear our songs and have a visual experience as well.
Your last few releases have been recorded at Tiny Eyes Studio in Haverhill. Is this your own recording / studio facility?
Yeah, it's our own recording space. It’s great to have a place to create and try new stuff out. No time or money restrictions. We may even record other bands or solo artists one day, who knows.
You've been releasing material since 2006 - do you feel the sound and songs of the band have changed over the years? If so, in what way?
It's like any band, you first start out and you haven't got a clue. It takes a while to find out what you might even hope to sound like and then so much to learn about actually playing live. I think we started to find that with the release of 'Negative Martin'. We were really hitting our stride live as well, as we were gigging regularly. Stretch (ex-drummer) was just a different kind of drummer so that meant we wrote songs differently. I love pretty much most of those songs, and without that era of UA, we wouldn't be where we are now.
I think our sound might have changed a bit. My voice has mellowed, I’m less angry, or angry in a different way. Bunge switching from lead to bass had a big effect on our sound as did Garry moving from bass to drums, both in a really positive way. I think we needed a fresh approach and say 'ok this is us now'. I think we're better song writers now as well. But saying that some of the older tunes are banging and were awesome to play live.
You're signed to German Shepherd Records, a Manchester label. How did that affiliation come about?
Our introduction to German Shepherd Records was through Dave Hammond. Dave presents The ‘Smelly Flower Pot Show’ on Cambridge105 FM and is a great supporter of emerging and independent artists, and he is very passionate about music. Dave knew Bob and Ian at German Shepherd Records, and would regularly play tracks from artists on the label. Bob and Ian had showed interest in us through Dave playing our songs on his show. In 2016 when Shed Punk was born we recorded an album called ‘12’ in the ‘Shed’, our first experiment in DIY recording. We recorded one song a month from start to finish and released each as a single before releasing them as an album, '12'. This was released, like all our songs that had come before, on our own label - Pint’A’Bread Records. In 2017 German Shepherd Records released ‘Cambridge Calling Volume 1, a charity album compilation featuring artists from the Cambridge area, many of whom had been featured on Dave’s show. We donated a track to the release taken from '12' called ‘Chicken’, which itself later had airplay on BBC 6 Music. In 2018 we recorded ‘Live at the Crunch’ at Crunch Studios in Norwich. The Crunch itself is housed in a cold war bunker and is run by Mr Jason, who has recorded us many times over the years. Jason has a mountain of vintage equipment and we recorded 3 tracks live to analog tape. This became our first release on German Shepherd Records.
'Shed Punk'! Is it literally just 'punk played in a shed' or is there more to the term?
Pretty much! But we've always struggled to pin point our sound. In the main we're garage rock but not really in the purist sense. Sometimes we might write a song with pop punk, grunge, even folk and country elements. Not wanting to tie ourselves to one genre, wanting to be able to have name for our sound, playing in a shed and encompassing ourselves with all things punk, it was natural. We don't wanna over complicate things. Music, beers and a shed.....that's all ‘Shed Punk’ is really.
We recently found out an Aussie band, The Chats call their music 'Shed Rock'. We've been to see them live and it's safe to say we are fans. But anyone can be ‘Shed Punk’, the shed itself isn’t a necessity!
In terms of 'playing live', bands have had to try different things over the last few months in terms of reaching out to their audience - eg with livestreams etc. Do you think bands will continue to carry on with these methods if we return to some sort of semblance of normality? And do you think the ways bands present themselves has changed forever now?
We sincerely hope not. I can't even start to explain what playing live to a crowd or going to see a live band means to us. It's everything. We will be back on the gig circuit as soon as possible. You can be sure of that.
Are there any local / Suffolk bands you'd recommend to readers? Do you feel the Suffolk / Essex band scene is a good scene at the moment?
The scene was ok before Covid I guess, but there’s no way to tell what it’s like now. Hopefully a lot of bands have stuck together through all this and will come back stronger.
We like all the band's that Dave Middle’s involved in. We would like Stuart Champion to get his songs out there, Lauren Frere a ukulele player and a band called Sleg but they are kinda underground at the moment. There's a band called Kulk that make their own fuzz pedals who have a cool sound.
It would be great if more bands tried to create a scene based on location rather than all having a similar sound, like the now legendary ultrazang nights at PJ McGuinty's in Ipswich.
Of course we have to mention our label mates Bouquet Of Dead Crows, The Scissors, and Adventures of Salvador. We would recommend checking out all the artists on German Shepherd Records, there’s a huge variety of brilliant acts all doing something original and interesting.
And finally, what does 2021 hold in store for Umbrella Assassins?
Firstly we need to get back into Tiny Eyes, start recording ‘King Of Fruit Volume 2’ and get those songs released. After that, we plan on getting gig ready for the summer. We also want to set up more gigs in our hometown of Haverhill.
Beyond that.....let's just say we listening to a lot of Viagra boys, Bunge has a new guitar, and Steve's thinking about buying a bass.