Arts & Culture

Q&A with Wume

We talk to the Baltimore synth-drum duo about their new album, Maintain.

Before embarking on a month-long European tour with fellow Baltimore artist Dan Deacon, April Camlin and Albert Schatz of
Wume (pronounced woom) talked with us about learning new instruments, loving The Doors, and feeling at home in Baltimore. Their new album, Maintain (out now, via Ehse Records), is a hypnotic collection of soundtrack grooves that you can’t help but bob along to.

So not only do you guys have a new album, but you’re also joining [fellow Baltimore artist] Dan Deacon on his European tour.
April Camlin: Oh yeah, we’re really psyched about it.

How did you guys meet?
Albert Schatz: Dan and I met on tour. We both played a really crappy show in St. Louis when I was in this weird band called Bird Names. So when he would come to Chicago [where I was living at the time], I would book his shows, and when I was in Baltimore, I would play Wham City or The Depot or wherever. Then, you know, he got famous and he would stay with me [when he was playing shows in town] and we’ve both been good friends for a long time.

And how’d you meet each other?
AC: Kind of through the same scene—through Dan. I used to live with him, and Bird Names would always stay at our place. I remember the first time I heard them play, I was like, “Oh, this is what the inside of my brain feels like.” I got really excited, I was super into them, and we stayed in touch. The DIY music scene in this country is just this network of friends with everybody doing each other favors and staying connected and visiting each other on various tours.

That’s one of the cool things about bands coming out of Baltimore. It seems like everyone has been friends or playing together for a long time. But you guys started in Chicago, right?
AS: I’m from Chicago, the near suburbs, and April’s from the suburbs of Baltimore.

AC: I grew up in Baltimore City—in Belair-Edison. I had lived here for 26 years and I needed a change of scenery. I had been visiting Chicago and it just felt like the right place for me.

AS: In 2010, I had just quit Bird Names and I had never played the keyboard before but I was interested in learning. And April wanted to take the drums to the next level. We’re both a little primitive in our styles.

AC: It was great because we were both at the same experience level with our instruments and we were both interested in experimenting with odd time signatures—playing around with polyrhythms—so it came together very organically.

How do you manage to bring your polyrhythms together into something cohesive?
AS: I can’t describe what we’re going for and I don’t know how to get there every time—to the point where I’m like, “This is the music, this is good”—but I know once we get there. I know when it’s happening. If we just keep messing around, keep trying stuff, something will happen.

Yeah, it’s not easy to describe your sound, but it does feel right.
AS: I usually bob my head when we’re playing music, and once it starts spinning in an around-the-world motion, I’m like, “Alright, this is it, it’s going down.”

AC: For me, Al is definitely the backbone of our sound. He does a lot of the melodic composition, so when I’m coming up with drum parts to go along with it, I think, “Ok, what is the part I can’t play?” and then I try to teach myself to play it.

AS: I fancy myself a sort of Woody Woodpecker instigator with April because I’ll write a part that makes her like, “This is impossible!” But I tell her: just try it, just try it, and it’ll just be a couple hours—she’s so fast at picking stuff up. It’s like I can throw anything at her and she would get it, no problem.

What was the thought behind the use of sporadic vocals on some of the tracks?
AC: We like to look at vocals as our version of the guitar solo. We invest so much time and creative energy into writing the songs—that’s our focus—and vocals are the thing we think about least. They can be a nice accent, but a lot of times they steal the spotlight from everything else.

AS: For me, I’m always trying to avoid the pigeonhole of being an instrumental band. I like to sing, I love lyrics, I love vocals, and it’s a different tambour you can add to a song. We used to play everything by hand: I would be doing all the keyboard parts by hand and pedals by foot and April would be playing as many drums as she could possibly fit, but it wasn’t finished. We thought, what else could we possibly do? But then we realized, well, our mouths are available. It was the only thing we had left.

And now you’re doing loops and sequencing, too?
AS: I fought it for a long time, but its actually been freeing for me. I have a lot more fun playing live because it used to be…

AC: A gauntlet.

AS: It was like doing this elaborate dance. All these keyboards and all these levels. It took forever to set up and it made me feel like a ball of stress. I feel much more chilled out now that I can focus on the performance.

AC: I think working with sequences has really helped us refine our sound.

AS: It’s much tighter, but I still miss the live feel. I was watching Stop Making Sense about the Talking Heads and they’re all on stage percolating and vibing off each other and I thought, I miss that. But it’s also not totally different with a computer—it’s like the third member of our band.

So what was the decision behind moving to Baltimore in 2013?
AC: Al started working with Dan and I wanted to go back to school to finish my BFA at MICA, which I just finished. I just graduated! So it kind of worked out perfectly.

AS: Yeah, I’m Dan’s sound engineer. We’ve been friends since like 2005, but in 2012, I started touring with him, doing his sound.

AC: Baltimore is just such an amazing and supportive community. I love Chicago and I miss it all the time, but it feels like family here. I knew it would be the right place for us.

How has Baltimore’s music scene evolved over all those years?
AC: I will definitely say there are a lot more women in the music scene now, and that’s really great for me to see. Ten years ago, it was very discouraging. I really wanted to play the drums, but not everyone would take me seriously and it was tough. There were certainly incredible female musicians—there have always been incredible female musicians here—but there is a better balance now. It’s still not where I hope it would be, but it’s nice that there is more diversity in general.

Baltimore can be a city of disparate scenes—that’s probably how it is in a lot of towns—but it seems like over the past few years, there have been some shows and dance nights around town that really help to diversify the music scene and its been a long time coming. I’ve been in this academic bubble with a million jobs and going to school full-time, so I don’t really go out that much, but
Abdu Ali has a regular dance party called Kahlon and that’s been a really amazing thing for the city.

AS: I do sound at Metro Gallery and The Crown, so I see every kind of music here. It’s really diverse, more so than it used to be, and Baltimore has so many different kinds of bands. And the quality is really good.

AC: That’s the benefit of being in a smaller town. When I lived in Chicago, I always felt like the music scene was so incredible and inspiring and everyone worked so hard and it sounded really good, but all of the different arts scenes were so separate. In Baltimore, they’re all existing and informing each other. You’ll see the same people at an art opening that you’ll see at a show or at the Annex Theatre watching a performance. It’s a small town, but there’s enough fresh blood coming in all the time that everyone is really strengthening each other.

How were you influenced on this album?
AC: I think a big part of the inspiration comes from how we put the record together.

AS: We recorded it as a demo, just because we wanted to record, but we didn’t have any money. It was really casual. I borrowed a few mics from Dan and Christian Best of the Smoke Bellow and we did it in our basement in Mt. Vernon. We would just get together. We were never like, “Ok, this is the take that’s going to be on the record.”

AC: “Let’s see what happens.”

AS: We would do that for a week or two then go back and listen to all the takes and decide on the good ones.

AC: Al got all these blue moving blankets, lined the room, and built me this sound-dampening drum cage. It was like playing inside of a tent.

AS: We started it last spring and finished it that June. It came out as a tape last summer originally called Basement Waves, in case it sucked, but then we realized it was actually kind of good, so we changed the name.

Speaking of names, explain “Wume.”
AS: I had been listening to a lot of the German band, Faust, and their compilation called The Wümme Years. Wümme is a town in Germany where their home studio was.

AC: And they all lived there. It seemed so utopian.

AS: Faust’s work ethic is kind of like our archetype—this free, casual, experimental music-making environment—so they’re very inspirational to us. We toured for a year as Wumme but every called us wummy, so we lost a “M” and that’s where we’re at.

AC: For better or for worse.

You have this awesome tour with Dan Deacon. How did that come about?
AC: I think it just happened out of us being pals. We opened for Deerhoof a few months ago and Dan came up to us afterwards like, “You guys should come to Europe with me.” Dan has all these ideas—I always refer to him as a visionary—but somehow he always makes it work. Throughout his musical career, he’s been really generous to his friends. He always wants to share the wealth and his success with everyone around him.

AS: The Round Robin Tour of 2008 is the perfect example of that. He wanted to share Baltimore with the rest of the country.

AC: And he wanted to bring all his friends along for the ride.

Is this be the biggest tour that either of you have done before?
AS: I’ve toured with Dan before, but we haven’t toured anything but the Midwest, and this is a month-long, so this is a big thing for us.

AC: It’s definitely the biggest thing I’ve ever done. It’s really exciting.

You’ll come back with all these new experiences from the road.
AS: My goal for this year is to record another album. I really like the way Maintain came out. I still love listening to it, which is crazy, but I think we can do better, so that’s our drive. I’m looking forward to the next go.