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Class of 2017: Matt Umland

I usually don’t take solicitations for picks, but when your editor texts you at 1 a.m. and says, “Matt Umland is playing some otherworldly stuff by himself at Little Rock right now. He’s got to be in the Class of 2017,” and you realize that Umland is one of the dependable forces behind beloved local indie [...]
Kevin J. Elliott

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usually don’t take solicitations for picks, but when your editor texts you at 1 a.m. and says, “Matt Umland is playing some otherworldly stuff by himself at Little Rock right now. He’s got to be in the Class of 2017,” and you realize that Umland is one of the dependable forces behind beloved local indie rockers Tin Armor, it’s time to investigate.

What Umland does currently is an entirely different beast than what he’s done with Tin Armor for the past decade. It’s more like he’s become a flannel-wearing progenitor of blue-eyed soul, or a late-night quiet storm on the AM dial—say Michael McDonald, Donald Fagen, or Steve Winwood.

Take for instance, “Magnet,” which has been hiding on the Internet for over a year now. While you wouldn’t mistake it for the D’Angelo cuts which Umland calls a direct inspiration, it does have all the touchstones of neo-soul.

It’s a hybrid of the classics and modern genre-bending visionaries like Frank Ocean and James Blake. Then again, you might also mistake it for ’80s-era Hall and Oates, or any number of yacht rock heroes.

“You’re starting to see this weird blur in music, where the idea of interesting, engaging production is becoming central to all music,” says Umland on what attracted him to his current aesthetic. “I think that mix of ambience, experimental, and the emotive use of voice, can flow under this umbrella of R&B and sensible pop music.”

For those not expecting this left turn, no worries. Tin Armor is still around (with an album complete and ready for release) and Umland is still a member; but the lengthy hiatus allowed for him to explore his more sensual side—navigating through one-man slow jams.

“For a very long time, I’ve only made music with a group of people,” says Umland. “I just wanted to try to do a musical project that was just me—it’s been a decade since I’ve done that. I’ve also become very interested in music technology, like modular synths and Ableton—software and hardware. I’ve been doing that for fun. And with that I wanted to make R&B and have it be just me.”

Opposed to the rough-hewn, three-chord jangle of Tin Armor, as a solo artist Umland has focused on production and craft. His knack for sound design is nuanced and sophisticated. In the wrong hands, what Umland does could be seen as hokey or inauthentic. But given the amount of time and effort and sleight of hand Umland uses in his first batch of recordings—all by his lonesome—it’s more than evident that he’s projecting from a very real and sincere center. There’s the same attention to detail in his live show as there is to his arrangements in the studio. Playing solo adds yet another layer of depth and difficulty, but it’s a challenge Umland thrives on. In the same set, he’s prone to play a number of different instruments backed by his compositions, something Umland eventually wants to eliminate.

“Nowadays I feel more beholden to having a good sound system,” says Umland. “I never used to care about having a good sound system, but now I want to be effective in more settings, and be able to have a live set where I play more instrumentation. “

So far, there’s no real plan to expand this project into a full-blown band. He’s determined for the project to exist under his own name and keep it that way. While it’s a labor of love for Umland, to him it’s high time for everyone to start hearing what he’s been working so long to achieve. An EP will be released this summer, followed by an album by the end of the year.

In this new generation of disposable music and internet consumption, soul music is soul music wherever it comes from. And according to Umland, his soul comes from a place where there are no limits to what can be accomplished and what soul can sound like. Sugar is sugar whether it’s brown or white.

His EP is set to drop this month. For more, visit soundcloud.com/mattumland.

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Music industry designates Blackout Tuesday as time of pause

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To honor the memory of George Floyd and fix the injustices surrounding his death, the music industry has designated Tuesday as a time of pause to collaborate on ways to better support the black community.

Businesses and organizations within the music industry have been asked to pause regular work to reflect on how they can better serve the black community, according to a report from Variety. In general, businesses and organizations across the board have been asked to use Tuesday as a way to focus on the effort.

The message that circulated around social media quickly on Monday stated that “Blackout Tuesday” is being used as “a day to disconnect from work and reconnect with our community” and “an urgent step of action to provoke accountability and change.”

The movement has been gaining momentum under the hashtag #TheShowMustBePaused. Major labels such as Capitol Music Group and Warner Music Group announced their alignment with the “Blackout Tuesday” cause. 

Companies have also announced practices such as pausing social media activity throughout the whole day.

Spotify and ViacomCBS have already announced an 8 minute and 46-second moment of silence for Tuesday. The time reflects how long the Minnesota police officer dug his knee into the kneck of Floyd.

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Curbside Concerts brings live music, hope to those in need

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Can’tStopColumbus took a quick pause when the pandemic shut down the world and asked two questions:

  1. Are we sure we're solving the needs of everyone in our community during this time? 
  2. Are we not just coming up with ideas based on our own experiences?

Our elder community was one of the major demographics to have stricter socially distancing guidelines suggested to them. Holidays and birthdays went by without hugs from grandpa or grandma’s cookies.

Out of the need to fill that missing love in the life of American seniors, the idea of Curbside Concerts was born. Anyone is able to jump on the Curbside Concerts signup page and request a concert for an elder, sick people not able to leave the house, or a simple celebration.

Sending a concert telegram is free, and you can also leave a message for a loved one and suggest what type of tunes the organization-selected Columbus-area musician.

So far, the feedback has been inspiring. 

“People cried. I cried. We cried. It was beautiful,” said Zach Friedman, one of the service’s founders and creators. “We had a powerful idea on our hands, and the amazing power of the #Can'tStopColumbus community to scale it and bring it to life.”

To date, Curbside Concerts has had over 50 volunteers. Their job is to drive around a Columbus musician and their equipment with trucks provided by Ricart Automotive. It’s a road trip around the Columbus area, delivering concerts to those who may just need their spirits lifted. It’s like a non-depressing version of Inside Llewyn Davis.

Support has come from all ends of the Columbus creative community, including The Columbus Foundation, Greater Columbus Arts Council, Streetlight Guild, and What? Productions. Through these organizations, musicians are able to be paid for a route that usually lasts five to six hours. 100 percent of the donations they receive on their route also goes to the musicians.

Friedman is asking people to keep requests to older audiences.

“Working with local musicians to perform curbside at people's homes is the vehicle or medium, but the real thing we are doing here is connecting those to older people they love, with an authentic and emotional experience to send love over,” Friedman said.

We found out pretty quickly how much as a collective that we take live music for granted. Live streams have been a temporary, dulled-down replacement. You realize how long people have been robbed of the experience when you see a musician pull up in a pickup truck, set up in five minutes, and serenade neighborhoods with songs like “Lean on Me” and “What A Wonderful World.” It starts off with a message to one house and then resonates down the street, like the citizens of Gas Town rushing to The People Eater for even a drop of water.

Photos by Zak Kolesar

For most people, it was their first taste of live music since mid-March. While we may want concerts to return as soon as possible, its productions like Curbside Concerts that display the emotional power of music.

To request to send someone a concert, follow the link here: https://sendaconcert.herokuapp.com/request

To volunteer for Curbside Concerts, follow the link here: https://www.signupgenius.com/go/9040b45abaa22a4fb6-curbside

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Arts & Culture

Live music allowed again in restaurants and bars: how will these establishments respond?

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A major step forward in the return of live music in Ohio took place over the weekend. The Ohio coronavirus guidelines were updated to reflect the new COVID-19 Dine Safe Ohio Order.

The order outlining the guidelines on live music in restaurant and bars is as follows:

Musicians and bands may perform in restaurants and bars as long as the individuals who are performing maintain social distancing of at least 6 feet from all other people including, but not limited to, fellow performers and restaurant and bar patrons and staff.

DJ's are included along with musicians and bands in the order.

Something that was on the mind of a lot of musicians with the reopening of restaurants and the indefinite closing of large venues was how restaurants and bars were going to respond to the immediate venue demand. Places like Woodlands Tavern that already have an infrastructure for live music will have no problem complying with the updated order, but will restaurants and bars that depended on jukeboxes before pivot to a live music model?

With a lot more space available in restaurants due to capacity cuts, does this leave more room for a live music set up? Or will restaurants have to get rid of even more tables if they want to make room for a performer?

The thought of live music in a venue setting is alone enough to get excited about. How these places that now have the ability to host live music execute freeing up space for a band to set up or a DJ to bring his rig in while practicing social distancing is what makes this situation a tricky one.

Not being able to get down in a MojoFlo Soul Train line will be pretty tough, but it’s a tradeoff we’ll have to accept for the return of live music.

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