Like a lot of other Gen Xers, Ryan Stasik settled on a career path while in college. But, as Stasik told the City Paper, it wasn’t the classes or professors at Notre Dame University that inspired him so much as the music-minded people he was hanging around on campus. These alternative characters included Brendan Bayliss (guitar/vocals) and Joel Cummins (keyboard/vocals) who, with Stasik (bass), comprised the core of the group that came to be known as Umphrey’s McGee. That was nearly a quarter century ago.
Since then there have been substantial changes to the lineup: Jake Cinninger (guitar/vocals), Andy Farag (percussion) and Kris Myers (drums/vocals). Together, this experimental collective has been working relentlessly, all the while cementing a reputation as one of the wackiest jam bands in the land, dabbling at times in folk, rock, funk, jazz, blues, reggae, electronic, metal and more.
Interestingly, as the act gradually expanded out of its original Midwestern headquarters, Stasik, along with band manager (and fellow Notre Dame alum) Vince Iwinski, would come to call Charleston home. For his part, Iwinski has immersed himself in teaching, as part of College of Charleston’s Arts Management program, and he has also become a significant player as far as producing and promoting major events at local venues. Stasik, meanwhile, has deftly inserted himself into the Lowcountry music scene during his time-off from Umphrey’s McGee’s various endeavors.
That said, Stasik is clear that his primary focus remains on his day job, and, at the moment, business is better than ever.
Although Umphrey’s McGee is best known as a live act, and for sharing the stage with everyone from Huey Lewis to Billy Strings, this eclectic ensemble has also been rather prolific in the studio over the years. In fact, according to Stasik, getting sidelined by the pandemic only seems to have intensified the band’s passion for songcraft.
The first fruits of this Covid-fueled creative blast came out last year as Umphrey’s McGee dropped an ambitious instrumental LP, with a seriously outrageous title, You Walked Up Shaking In Your Boots But You Stood Tall And Left A Raging Bull. Stasik said that once the matter of naming that project was finalized by him and his colleagues, the band members were adamant that it “not be altered by management or abbreviated by the press in any way.”
Next up, he said, is a more straightforward collection of tunes that is slated to come out this week, called, Asking For A Friend. This expansive batch of tracks showcases, on the one hand, the next highly-nuanced step for an ever-evolving band. But on the other hand, “It simply sounds like Umphrey’s,” as Stasik put it.
“All six of us are extremely proud,” Stasik said. “We’ve been eager to get it to new listeners and loyal fans because we genuinely feel like this record is our strongest work to date, particularly in regards to Bayliss’ lyrics. You know, we ended up with 14 songs, and somebody, hoping to make cuts, sent out an email that said ‘pick your least favorite three songs,’ and everybody picked a different three. I think that’s a good thing because we all liked almost all of them so much. And, really, why cut anything? I’m kind of excited that we’re releasing a lot of music this time.”
In the end, as far as career choices go, Stasik seems pretty pleased with the road he has traveled.
“Happiness and sanity is what success looks like for me. I’m lucky to be part of such a unique band that never plays the same song the same way twice. We challenge each other to reach new heights of improvisation on a daily basis. Perpetually striving to maintain that level of musicianship is what keeps me sane. Getting to do what I love for a living, while also having lots of time free to be with my wife (designer Mary Welch Fox Stasik) and children, is what keeps me happy.”
Asking For A Friend will be available worldwide on July 1 and Umphrey’s McGee will perform in Charleston at the 2022 Resonance Music and Arts Festival Sept. 15-17 at the Woodlands Nature Reserve.
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