By Gabe Kastner
Houston, TX noise-rockers Ume came to Toronto this past Friday, and they brought a bit of a monsoon along with them. Evan Jones — the third-year film student who invited the band up — explains: “Hurricane Lili, which was in the Gulf of Mexico near where we grew up, came through Louisiana and that area, and created a storm or some kind of front and it actually came up around here. That’s why it got really weird Friday.”
For the fifteen or so people who braved the storm that night and made it to the third floor of Reilly’s, it certainly did get weird. Weird but good. The storm was just as fierce inside as Jones’ band, The Ronin King, filled the room with the obliterating force of heavy bass guitar riffs and swirls of distorted feedback.
“We’re trying to bring polite mayhem to Canada,” says Jones of his formerly Texas-based band, which recently added third-year Ryerson computer science student Tristen Campbell to their line-up as the band’s second bassist. “Constructive mayhem,” Jones continues, “Romantic, striking mayhem. But not violent mayhem.”
The only violence to be found at the Ume/The Ronin King show was in the music, despite the intimidated reactions the Texans say they encountered when handing out flyer advertisements for the show that read “Two bands from Texas? Holy Shit!”
“That’s your mystique, and that’s where you’re from, so you gotta work it up. I don’t think any of us are gun-toting rednecks,” says Jones.
Besides, Ume members Lauren Larson, Eric Larson and Jeff Barrera didn’t drive the day-long journey to Toronto to incite violence. “I love Canada,” says Barerra, Ume thunderous drummer. “Canada’s not as conservative. I really hate the [Texas] suburbs all the snotty people who don’t allow any kind of fun.”
Even at home, their tactics for rebellion are of a peaceful nature. “We go around and graffiti things up just to make people go ‘Oh that’s pretty cool, there is a subculture here that’s trying to break out’ or ‘Hey, there are shows being played and kids are really good at their music!’” Jones says. “That’s how you battle the conservative people who won’t let you do anything. For a while we never had a skate park, and then we started petitioning and finally we got one in our little town and that was awesome.”
Jones’ experience in a Texas high school was similarly oppressive: “It was us against everybody. [I had] three or four friends, and then just everybody: authority figures, other kids, parents, school board members. It was just ridiculous. And therefore I had an interest in extreme, really noisy music and things like that just because it seemed so warped and I’d never come across it before. Y’know, I saw white walls and baseball fields every day, I didn’t get to see, like Sonic Youth and The Melvins [noise-rock originators of the ‘80s and ‘90s], and that’s why it completely blew me away and I got fixated on it because it was just so out of this world.” So the members of Ume and The Ronin King’s Canadian contingent (Campbell and Jones) picked up instruments and started scaring people.
“In high school my friends and I played in a band called Gevalt. The other kids had top-40 cover bands, and we were all drone-noise and guitar feedback.”
“It would be cool to open their eyes a little,” says Ume bassist and vocalist Eric Larson of the teeny-boppers who keep their radios tuned to mainstream pop.
As far as these bands are concerned, the place to go for new music is no longer the standard media outlets. “Underground music is at this point really, really strong,” says Jones.
They’re not snobs about the genre either, as long as the music’s from the heart. “Shows are better when you have a bunch of different genres,” says Larson.
Coming to Toronto is just part of the big picture for these bands.
“It’s cheesy to hear,” Jones says, “but it’s a world community. You start making friends all over. Within the past couple of years I’ve made friends from Japan, New York, Italy and California. It makes the world a bit smaller.”