Alexander Kretov and Shauna McLaron are an unlikely pair. A fated meeting in Moscow back in early 2000s led the two from Russia to Ukraine to the Canadian Yukon back to Ternopil, “the Nashville of Ukraine”. Making music for no one but themselves throughout this time, the two had amassed a “massive archive”; something needed to be done. Enter Ummagma.
A shortened form of Pink Floyd’s fourth studio album Ummagumma, products of their musical collaboration appeared on the music scene in July of last year in the form of two albums – a 12-track self-titled album, and Antigravity, another dozen tracks “dedicated to time, space and everything that makes your reality much lighter”.
With radio play in nearly 20 countries, spots on the Scottish New Music Charts and New York’s Indie Darkroom Radio, a feature in Russia’s Rolling Stone and most recently the win on British Amazing Radio’s Alternative Eurovision, the Ukrainian-Canadian team are making musical waves. Likened to Peter Gabriel, Arcade Fire, Pink Floyd and Snow Patrol, they have found their own sound, despite this rather prestigious list of comparisons, which can only be described as a fragrant potpourri of “ethereal dreamrock powerpop fusion”.
You’ve been compared to some pretty big names. Is there one you relate to more than another?
[As to] who we personally relate to, I think we are closer to Cocteau Twins and Slowdive in terms of our sound, but to Pink Floyd and David Sylvian in our approach to doing things. We are definitely hard to pigeonhole, as our music crosses at least eight musical genres.
You released Ummagma and Antigravity on the same day – what’s the story behind the two albums?
Most of the material from our self-titled album was drawn from our Moscow and Kyiv period, where we were living at that time. The Antigravity album is more reflective and melancholic because [of] the sentiment we were experiencing at the time of writing. Moving from Kyiv to Ternopil, then to Kremenets, then to northern Canada, then back to Ternopil/Kremenets, [with] the birth of a child along the way has been a bittersweet period of worry mixed with hope in all respects.
Have you found Ukraine the best diving board from which to jump for your music?
I can’t say that Ukraine was “the best” diving board for Ummagma, because there exists a whole set of limitations to trying to get anywhere with good music in this part of the world. What I can say is that there have been certain “pluses”. First, [there is a] high volume of great and unique sounding music coming from here. Moreover, there are amicable relations between so many bands, which makes for a nice support network. Looking from the outside too it seems that music writers and listeners are intrigued by the idea that the music they appreciate originated in Ukraine.
Keeping the lyrics to a minimum seems to be a trend on both albums, what’s the motivation behind that?
I don’t see it like that at all. I think it would be fairer to say that the lyrics don’t dominate in our music. We like the idea of vocals as an instrument, so that they are woven into the song in the same way that the other instruments are.
Some tracks on Antigravity, such as Balkanofellini, embrace a different feel than the ambient/dreampop you’re known for. Are you making a move to more Balkan-inspired music?
Actually, I don’t foresee us heading in any concrete directions – we have a broken compass, and we like it that way. We create music on a whim and that whim depends on the convergence of so many factors at different points in time. It’s all a matter of chance, timing and inspiration. We understand how people are pleasantly surprised by our music because, to tell the truth, we also often surprise ourselves in the process of its creation.
Your videos remain true to your otherworldly lyrics, featuring scenes of nature predominantly. Have you remained visibly behind the scenes on purpose?
We definitely have tried to create videos that expressed a similar sentiment to what we felt the music represented. We didn’t see the point of being the focus of our own videos, since we never wanted to give people the impression that the music centred on us – I mean, we are not selling ourselves – we’re pitching a concept and a feeling.
What comes next for the two of you? For Ummagma?
Well, it seems we may be working with a rather well-reputed British producer for our next release and we’ve already begun recording for that. In the meantime, we’ll likely go ahead with the CD and vinyl release [of our previous albums]. To tell the truth, our debut releases felt pretty much like a crapshoot as to how things would turn out, so we didn’t invest in any hard copies at that time. We also plan to release an EP with the Moscow-based post-rock shoegaze project Sounds of Sputnik. Apart from that, the game plan is to do what we’ve always done – write music that we, in first order, are happy with.