This week taken by sound spends a little time with the very lovely Shauna McLarnon, one half of the alt-dream pop duo Ummagma.. A band that harnesses their musical energy into making each and every one of their songs take the listener on a journey..
I was first drawn to Ummagma after seeing their video for the song Lama.. Not only did the song manage to capture my attention with it's fantastic build.. But the visuals laid forth in the music video only helped to intensify the experience.. Ummagma are certainly worth checking out if you're up for something a little different than the dream pop norm.. Enjoy!
For those out there who aren't familiar with Ummagma, Can you tell us a little bit about yourselves?
We are two people about as diverse as you can imagine, but with a shared love for each other and for music. We are sharing that love with the world and you can feel it in our music. That’s us reaching out to (and hopefully reaching) you and other listeners.
I am Shauna McLarnon and the mastermind behind Ummagma is Alexander (Alexx) Kretov. I’m from Canada and Alexx is from Ukraine. Today marks 10 years since the day we met, so it seems we’ve reached a new milestone. There’s been a few along the way, including the birth of our daughter Nika and releasing 2 our debut albums at this time last year. We feel the effects of all three things – our meeting, our daughter, and our music – daily and it is what keeps us going. All three are necessary for us to be whole and for that harmony to be reflected in our music.
We are living in Ukraine these days, where things are quirky yet ‘normal’ and comfortable to us, at least for now.
I think I could talk right now until I’m blue in the face, but someone would really have to hear our music to really understand us.
So how exactly did you two meet and start making music together?
We met in Moscow in a very frenzied carefree way (at a concert in Moscow) and we’ve never looked back. We hit it off really well and immediately told each other about our musical pursuits, but we really didn’t take each other seriously as musicians until we started dating (and were showing off for each other). It was just us, our ideas and the music. Fortunately, we didn’t have any common friends at all, which meant we could literally take each other at face value and discover things about each other for ourselves, without knowing anything about one another beforehand. It has been an ongoing discovery and an amazing part of that has been through creating music together. We’ve always suspected that we were giving birth to something limitless.
How would you describe your sound to someone that's never heard it before?
The sound is one thing and the feeling is something beyond that, with the first obviously triggering the second. It’s hard to put your finger on what the Ummagma sound is (and most reviewers have stated as such), largely because we cover so many different genres of music, even within one album, often combining several genres within the same song. Our sound ranges from lush to lo-fi, from upbeat to melancholic, covering quite a lot of genres: dreampop, indie rock, ethereal/ ambient, shoegaze, progressive rock, synthpop, post-rock, folk rock, jazz, indietronic.
I suppose a common uniting factor laced through most of our music is a strong ethereal and spacey element, and that, even for our melancholic songs, everything is “of the light”. There is enough darkness, angst and despair in music these days without contributing to that mood. We are taking the high road, so we intend to create a sound and lyrics that are optimistic, hopeful and light-hearted. I think the world needs more of that, without being cheesy or superficial.
As creators of this music, we obviously have a certain subjective feeling attached to this music. It’s partially about the sound and lyrics, but is also about living through the experiences that gave rise to this or that song. But we have had some objective feedback over the past year and it has brought us much joy to know that our music is being received this way. We gather, from what others have said, that this music is enveloping (immersing) and freeing all at the same time, and that this is music you can dive into and never be overwhelmingly submerged. That we number among the few bands that they can listen to continuously and never get bored due to the diversity found in our music. Mind you, that is just what people have told us. Of course, I can’t speak for anyone who has not given us feedback. Oh yah, there was one guy who told us that our music does not turn him on and will never turn him on no matter what we might create in future. What can I say – it takes all kinds.
What does Ummagma mean to you?
Ummagma is just the two of us - a very real couple united by an improbable cause that developed over what is a fantastic story. This is a seemingly unlikely alliance, you could say, that was fated to produce an inevitable strange musical cocktail for the world (or at least for those who listen).
Ummagma is our raw musical connection – it’s the part of us (as a duo) that works best. Yes, apart from this we also happen to be a married couple and that part seems to be a bit more challenging to keep in balance compared to our music – the marriage is like the constant dose of ‘real life’ that the music then has to remedy – you know, like providing an antidote to all of that stuff. In fact, our relationship can be very challenging at times and that is why Ummagma is so essential to us – as if to restore harmony in our lives by letting our mind and worries escape and be totally overtaken by the music and melodies that our higher-self lets us create and feel.
Between the two of you, who are the artists that have influenced you the most?
Alexx always tries to avoid answering this question because he really doesn’t know (that’s up to the inner workings of the mind what it has picked up, borrowed and processed over the years), although he can name a few artists who he really likes sound-wise and who he admires as personalities or for their achievements. The same goes for me, to a large, extent, though I think that I am partial to Cocteau Twins (all of them, not only Elizabeth Fraser), David Sylvian and The Sundays.
However, I’d have to say, as sappy as it might sound, that the artist who has inspired me most is Alexx Kretov ? Why? Before we began making music together, I was working with 3 different musicians in Moscow – one was a more Cranberries/Sundays sounding project, one was a more Celtic/folk inspired project, and one was more indie rock inspired. Before that and simultaneous to that, I was mainly composing acapella songs. When Alexx came along, he literally rocked my world and filled it with a rich sound that inspired me to write in a totally different way, opening a new portal within me, so to speak. I think that is much more powerful than the inspiration that all other artists combined have had on me, so that is the one that has really been my guiding light.
Are there any genres that you have never liked?
Speed metal and death metal.
Which is the worst frustration you have suffered as a musician?
Nearly losing hope that any of this is actually worth it or the idea that nobody would want to listen to our music.
Which is the best part of making this music?
Definitely, it is the fact that we do it together and that there are plenty of people who feel that this music resonates with them.
You’ve been featured in Rolling Stone magazine and you recently won the Alternative Eurovision on Britain’s Amazing Radio. These are huge things for any musician. How were these experiences?
That was cool and rather out of the blue, which made it even cooler. It was, just for the record, an interview with Rolling Stone Russia, not with the mother ship (although it likely reached American shores too, though we’re not sure). It was a full-page spread in the October print edition, which led to a feature in the online November edition. You are welcome to read the English version of that article (the original was obviously in Russian, though the interview took place in English). It felt like a big deal at the time and it also stimulated us to finally go get some professional photos taken. I suppose we needed that kick in the pants (I mean helping hand).
As for the Alternative Eurovision, that was also really exciting and pretty last minute. We found out we were chosen to represent Ukraine about 12 hours before the show, but it was late at night our time and I totally forgot about it until the show began. There were bands from 21 countries involved and we were the lucky band to get the most votes. It’s as simple as that. The funny thing is, the host Dani Charlton picked one of our most abstract (=shoegaze) songs for the show, so I was sure that we wouldn’t stand a chance, but it turns out we did.
What’s in the pipeline for Ummagma going forward? And can we expect another release soon?
After holidays this summer, I suspect we’ll have some news to share with you, but I don’t want to jump the gun just yet. Suffice it to say that we’ve been recording, both for our next release and for a joint release with Sounds of Sputnik (that is an amazing shoegaze/postrock/dreampop project from Moscow in case you haven’t heard this name before). We also hope to shoot our next video in late August, but we’ll only know for sure when that time approaches.
Firstly, I'd like to thank Shauna so much for being a part of the site, Both you and your music are great and I wish you guys the best for the future! Secondly.. I'd like to thank you the reader for your continued support in making this site what it is! And thirdly.. there's a really cool interview with a great Australian band that are well and truly on the rise coming next week.. Look out for that one!