Maybe you got the guitarist’s haircut or bought the t-shirt. Maybe you even went on tour. Hell, maybe you play in a suburban cover band to keep your favorite tunes alive. If you’re reading this, you probably love music. You might soak it up when it drips around you, and definitely affects you deep to your core. It is possible you’ve met your best friends and lovers through music, and maybe it’s even your career. It’s almost definitely your vacation!
But what if one of the bands that inspired you most in your youth, eventually invited you to open for them? Not just once either, but a handful of times in four short months.
This is the case for Buffalo’s Aqueous, who have been invited to play with Umphrey’s McGee somewhere between five-and-ten times since Summer Camp depending on how you slice the rules of festival-stats, sit-ins, and other wook-math. This past weekend they kicked off five Summer dates with two East Coast shows in Central Park and Asbury Park’s Stone Pony, with three remaining (announced) shows through Labor Day.
Check out these Q & A’s with Umphrey’s Joel Cummins (keys), followed by Aqueous’ Mike Gantzer (guitar/vocals) who discuss their blossoming relationship.
So, let’s talk tunes. Aqueous has stated in other interviews that they’ve been listening to Umphrey’s for about a decade. Can you hear an Umphrey’s influence in their stylings?
Joel Cummins: Yeah, I mean, they’re definitely a band in the scene that trends towards the progressive side of things, kind of like we do. So you definitely hear that in their sound. You can hear that they’re more on the “tight” side of things, where they’re aiming to hit each note. We’re like that, too, whereas a lot of the jam community takes on the Phish and Grateful Dead approach of loose and flowy.
I’ve seen them live a few times, and we’ve played together a few times now. I really enjoyed the 30 minutes or so I heard of their Summer Camp set before Vinnie and I went up and played “Kid Charlemagne.” They had some really complex songwriting in there that I thoroughly enjoyed. It’s good to see that that sort of vibe is happening with bands that are coming up on the scene.
I will say, aside from original songs, I also got to see the Dookie set when Kris and Ryan played Green Day [and more] with Mike from Aqueous at Summer Camp. The set was probably 90 minutes, and I think they played like, 50 songs! It was awesome. They crushed it, and it was so fun. What a cool change of pace, both for Summer Camp, and for our two groups to collaborate with.
That’s the sort of, out-of-the-box type of thing Umphrey’s likes to do. I was wondering going into it, “are people gonna know this stuff?” And turns out, people were going nuts! They loved it. It was really fun.
That sounds like a blast. Were you jealous you weren’t in the mix?
JC: Oh, no. They asked me to come up and sing the Ween tune, “It’s Gonna Be a Long Night,” but I respectfully passed as it was my only free night to hang out at Summer Camp. I chose to enjoy myself that night; I have enough time on stage. I don’t really need to get all Warren Haynes about it. [laughing] And that’s by no means a slander to Warren, it’s a compliment on his “festival ubiquity.”
Regarding covers, can we expect to see more Steely Dan out of the UM/AQ bill this Summer?
JC: Well that would definitely be cool! That’s the fun thing about touring with a band that really gets what you’re doing, and what you’ve been up to.
You know, they know to be ready. And I’m sure we’ll feel the same way. We’ve had a lot of fun touring with some of the up and coming bands like Aqueous, Spafford, and Big Something. It’s been a great rotation of bands who are hungry, and just going out there killing it every night. It’s fun.
Aqueous popped up on my radar a couple years ago when they opened for us in Buffalo. They were really dialed in and had a huge fanbase of just, big, big fans who seemed to dig their music. It’s cool to see that happening. And to feel like we can give back a little bit like so many artists did for us when we were coming up like String Cheese Incident, moe., Widespread Panic, and you know, all these bands who just kinda gave us a shot here and there. We’re eternally grateful for that. I should mention Gov’t Mule, who gave us some spots too, since I mentioned Warren earlier [laughing].
Is there anything you can recall from that early time in your career that still resonates with you now in the headliner slot?
JC: Oh, yeah, and I always think about this. The thing that stands out to me was something I talked about in the Reel-to-Real Film as well. When we were with String Cheese, there were all these small instruments back stage. And when we got there, it was like, “What is going on here? Are they taping something live?” And they told us, “Oh, no. This is just their practice gear.” [laughing]
That was just a huge game-changer for us. We just hadn’t been in the spaces until that point, you know? With an actual backstage area? Maybe even a Backstage Area number two!? But until then it was more, “Here is your backstage closet. There one chair for ten of you: good luck.” [laughing] So we hadn’t even considered that yet, and it changed our daily routine on the road after that.
moe. was really the first band that gave us a lot of opening shows back in 2003-2004. Just seeing how a touring band operates helped us hone in on how we wanted to do things, and make it work best for us.
Is the moe. connection coincidental? They’ve been instrumental in bringing Aqueous up as well, both being from New York.
JC: You know, it’s probably more coincidental than anything. But, there is that 3% jamband incestuous relationship. Where Kevin Bacon has six degrees of separation, the jamband world has two.
The thing is, we just want to go out with people on tour that have that hard-working ethos, but that also wanna have a good time. Who are gonna be on time and respectful with their stuff, but cool to work with as a team too. When bands can deliver that it makes it that much more enjoyable.
And has Aqueous done that?
JC: We’re just getting going, so the grade is still out [laughing]. I think they totally get it. It’s going to be a great time on the road this summer for sure.
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