Umbilicus - Interview
When you think of names like Paul Mazurkiewicz, Taylor Nordberg, Brian Stephenson or Vernon Blake you probably expect some very noisy and brutal stuff like Cannibal Corpse or other death metal. With Umbilicus the US/Canadian quartet does something completely different – they do play very chilling seventies rock with some slight metal influences here and there. "Path Of 1000 Suns" has become a very bright and positive album which puts you in a good mood and let you forget all the shit happening these days. Just as the album was the interview I did with Paul via Skype, thanks again for this, it was much fun! I hope you dear readers enjoy the interview as much as I did.
Debut album of Umbilicus was released in September, can you introduce the band a little bit more?
Yeah, I was extremely excited that we were closing it with the release date on September 30th. The band consists of myself on drums, Vernon Blake on bass guitar, Taylor Nordberg on guitar and Brian Stephenson is our vocalist. The three of us, Taylor, Vernon and me live in Florida – we're all from the same Tampa area and Brian Stephenson is from Ottawa, Canada. It makes things a little more challenging at this point right now where we're able to possibly do some shows or debut, ironically enough we've never even jammed together as a full band because of the whole pandemic thing here. With technology of course you're luckily able to record things like that and you don't have to be in the same room these days. We started jamming together in 2020 probably around May or June after Cannibal Corpse was done recording the album "Violence Unimagined". I talked to my buddy Vernon and we actually had a project about 20 years ago. It was myself, Vernon on bass and Jack Owen, one of the original guitar players in Cannibal Corpse. It was around 2000 we started a rock project. It was a kind of break-up to death metal and all that kind of stuff and to play the style of music that I really love which is 70s rock which is Umbilicus pretty much. Jack Owen had the same kind of taste that I did so we decided to start this project. We ended up playing two shows in Tampa around that time in 2000 in a smaller bar. We wrote all originals and we had maybe about 15 songs written and we could just never procure a proper singer that we were looking for. The band unfortunately I guess fell apart and nothing ever became of the songs we wrote. We made some demos but nothing of any quality to one will be released. I always like to say fast forward twenty years and when this opportunity arose like I was saying with the pandemic in '20 and me actually having more time again, not knowing what was gonna happen with touring and all with Cannibal Corpse, I talked to Vernon and asked him if he wanted to get that project and the band back together. He was all for it and the thing was that Jack doesn't live in Florida any more. He is living in Illinois now and we really didn't think he wanted to be part of it anyway. So what happened was that Vernon and I started playing actually some of the old songs because we had to start somewhere and we really like the songs that we wrote back for the original project which was called "Path Of Man" by the way. We learned some of the old songs and just him and I played bass and drums and then we figured out that we needed a new guitar player. We needed to kinda start fresh in this project and that's when Taylor came into the fold. We had some mutual friends that suggested we try him out. So we did and the first practice we had was just magical. Taylor learned one of the old songs that we had from the other project and he jammed it with us and we just started somewhere. It was awesome and it was a lot of fun and we gelled right off the bat and he was totally interested in wanting to move this forward as well. What we ended up doing though is we were considering using some of those old songs but the fact that Jack really had a good hand in pretty much writing most all those we said to start fresh. Taylor is a great creative force, a great artist and somebody in so many different capacities and a great songwriter so he ended up writing the bulk of this material pretty much all of it. The last piece of the puzzle was getting a vocalist. We toyed with the idea that it would be nice to have somebody local just to be able to play and to be able to be together all the time. We didn't want to admit ourselves at the same time because maybe the right guys weren't gonna be here and Taylor suggested Brian. Taylor is in another band with him and we said why not, we'll give it a shot! We sent a couple of songs to Brian and when we heard back after he only had one or two songs for a couple of days and he just slapped something together it was just like "wow, this is unbelievable!". He was the missing piece. We know he is in Canada but he is such a great vocalist and we'll make it work. So Brian was brought in at the end there and all the music was already finished actually. We had all the songs completed and they were actually recorded. It was just a matter of what we gonna do here – Taylor was gonna try to sing there a little bit first but we figured if we get somebody that is gonna be mind-blowing, somebody that's a vocalist – Taylor would give it a shot, he has a great voice but he never sang in a band before like this. So it made sense to bring Brian in. I mean the songs are incredible, you've heard the three that we already had out, and he took the songs to the next level. That's where we stand right now. It's been a couple of years in the making and we're ready to release the whole record and we're very excited for everything that's happening with us right now.
When I listen to "Path Of 1000 Suns" I hear a lot of 60s and 70s influences like Jimi Hendrix, Sir Lord Baltimore, Lucifer's Friend or Led Zeppelin that are combined to make a very nice trip back into these days. What are the most influential records for the album?
Well, it's really just the music of the days back then. It is obvious that we wanna be our own style – you wanna write what comes out of you and like any other band you're gonna have influences and a good band or a good musician not just saying we're a good band or musician. I mean I hope we are but that's up to the fans and they decide that for the most part but you wanna do your own thing. Of course you wanna be influenced by whatever you love. It's funny because we played the music to friends and the few people that have heard more of the songs, everybody is always saying something different like you said "I've heard the Jimi Hendrix thing" and then somebody else mentions Lenny Krawitz…whatever. The newer song 'Gates Of Neptune' has some newer influences, a bit of Alice In Chains. It is good to hear because of all these bands, and you could probably name a hundred or two hundred bands that we would like and that would be influences to us of course and we were fans of while growing up and still are- it's all gonna be in there in a lot of ways. Black Sabbath of course and I'm sure we're gonna hear a ton more. I've heard my cousin said Montrose is in there…so it's awesome, it's good to hear that people are hearing different kinds of influences and bands. But we didn't just sit down and say "okay we're gonna write this song that sounds like this band and that song is just like that band". We're gonna do what we like to do and use our influences as a template and hopefully write some good songs which I really do think we have.
It is a pretty funny image that manifested in my head – some old-school death metal heads wearing 70s clothes. Are you going to play gigs wearing such stuff? In the video 'I, Human' at least Taylor does so…
Yeah, I mean it's interesting! We never talked about it too much. We wanted to make that video pretty 70s and I think we of course achieved that. So it was funny him wearing the baseball jersey t-shirt and everything. We'll see what happens, I don't know. We never really talked about it and I guess we'll just probably be ourselves in the most parts but obviously we don't wanna come across as being like a metal band. I mean we have that influence there, too. There are some very slight hints of some metal in some of the songs but I don't think we're gonna be up there looking full on death metal or anything of that nature. I'm sure we dress more appropriately for the times.
How are you going to distribute the album – is it via Taylor Nordbergs label?
I believe somebody else was helping us too but Taylor has been taking care of everything for the most parts. We did a digital deal with Blood Blast and we distribute it out on our own on Bandcamp so you can preorder this and there it's gonna be available and I think we just gonna do it ourselves for the most parts and maybe have a little distribution help throughout the world as well kind of how Inhuman Condition ended up working out with some help in different countries. But it is released on Taylors and Jeramie Klings label "Listenable Insanity Records".
Is the band more a project or a real band that will go touring?
It's both. It's obviously fun and I'm having a blast. For me this kind of music is kind of embedded in my psyche probably forever and all I listen to these days are bands from the 60s and the 70 and maybe the 80s a little bit. That's the music I'm more passionate about than anything. So of course when I'm playing these songs and I'm in a band like this it's completely different than I'm used to and I'm just really loving it. Sit back, groove out and play by feel, not have to think too much – it's an awesome feeling and I think we're all feeling the same way. So I look at it both ways. Obviously it's a side path because I'm in Cannibal and Taylor is busy with Deicide and the 38 other bands he's in (laughs). We are gonna have to work around some schedules here and see what happens but first and foremost have fun and if nothing happens around this and we put a record out, we can be very happy and fulfilled that we did it and made our mark.
The titles deal a lot with space and so do the lyrics too? Or is it more about some "experienced" stuff after consuming some consciousness-expansion substances?
Laughs. Well, it's funny because when you look at bands or you read some lyrics or read a title and you're going "what the heck does that have to do with any of the songs?". You know Led Zeppelin did that a lot and we were having fun with it. A song like 'Stump Sponge' for instance, I mean what has that to do with anything that we're talking about in the lyrics? Nothing. I remember I came over the title and I told those guys "hey it'll be great to call a song Stump Sponge! Taylor was like "oh my God, that's amazing! We'll call this song "Stomp Sponge"". Brian wrote the lyrics to it and if you listen to the music you can see that it is an outlaw, western thing and it has nothing to do with the title. We kinda like that - being vague and in a lot of ways. More than half of the titles we liked and were the working titles and turned into the final titles and 'Gathering At The Kuiper Belt', Vernon came up with, has nothing to do with space or anything of that nature. So we have no problem just kinda being off the wall and that way. It's just fun. Nothing has to be too serious. It did seem like we came up with some kind of space concepts earlier and when we were still not sure what we would be doing here – concept- wise or what we gonna be and it ended up being that way. So really nothing is gonna be off limits, I'm sure the next album that we write might have nothing to do with anything with these spacey lyrics or anything. It's cool because the band has no limitations to the songwriting, the subject matter and all that. That was another thing, just when I listened to all the 10 songs personally, they're all different. I really do believe we wrote ten different diverse songs that can stand on their own and collectively of course it's Umbilicus. That's the way we should be and we wanna be and the way we will be moving forward.
Does the band name have a higher meaning?
I remember when Taylor came up with this we had the title track 'Umbilicus'. When we're writing a song, like I said, we always have a working title and Taylor said: "Hey, here's a song I wrote", he sent it over and called it "Umbilicus". He liked it but you have to ask Taylor. I don't know if he has a higher meaning behind it than that it's a cool word. We were toying around with names for the band for the longest time and we didn't know what to call it and then he came up with "umbilicus" as the name of the band and we decided for that. That's a word you don't hear very often, it's got a cool meaning I guess but either way, it's just a cool word and it kinda fits the style of the 70s.
(Taylor wrote to me about that: When I started jamming with Paul and Vern at the Cannibal spot, I noticed a little plant growing from the ceiling, and I dubbed it the umbilicus, because it was connecting our worlds together. It grew to the floor! I read the word while reading "It" actually; M.)
You are well-known as the drummer in Cannibal Corpse – how is it to play such stuff instead of fast, brutal death metal drums? Is it more passion for you?
Yeah, that's the passion. Like we talked earlier, I get no problem just sitting back, grooving out and playing simple stuff. To me, I'm playing the song. I listen to all these bands from the 60s and 70s and what catches me of some of these bands is not the drumming but it's the vocals and the song itself. A band that comes to mind and that I love is Bad Company and Simon Kirke, a great drummer. He's got great meters and great timing and everything like that but is he doing anything spectacular? Of course not but then it just fits the songs. The songs are amazing. Bad Company, every song they wrote, especially the Paul Rodgers era is what I listen to and his vocals is what carries it and Mick Ralphs wrote some great riffs and some great songs and the drums just gonna tie together and if he doesn't do any spectacular it doesn't matter. That is how I approached it – some songs on the record needed a little bit more like 'The Call' and there is a little bit more going on in there, the same with 'Gathering At The Kuiper Belt'. And there are songs like 'Gates Of Neptune' or 'Stump Sponge' where I just sit back and grooving out, nothing too flashy – I really have no problem doing that. Like I said I'm playing for the song, for the whole band and not playing for me as a drummer like where I feel "oh I'm not doing enough, I need to do more!". In Cannibal it got a little bit more intense in the last years and it was in the early years but still a lot of Cannibal has that thing going, too. There's a lot of Cannibal songs where I'm just sitting back and where it's more about the riffs and the rhythms. So I got no problem, having a lot of fun doing so, playing slower and I could play this stuff until I'm 90 (laughs). Blasting out with the Cannibal stuff, how much longer do we get – we'll see but a band like Umbilicus where it is fun to sit back and not have to worry about the physical aspect of it, that's fine.
Do you have any touring plans so far?
Well, like I said, it's tough. It's tough with Brian being up in Canada right now and he is actually unvaccinated. Canada is the worst country for travel and for restrictions. Hypothetically if he was in Florida or in the United States we would have probably played shows already and we'd definitely be planning and doing something upon the release of the record and we understand a little bit of the dilemma here. So as things lighten up and hopefully travel won't be restricted as much as it was, say coming from Canada and going back to Canada for him, and we're able to do something, it would be great because we all want to. And I think that's important as well as a band. But you never know…when the album comes out and you never know when you're getting an offer to do something here, something there…a festival or even a tour. I think we might wait that out for the time being. We want to and I think it would be so much fun.
Path Of 1000 Suns
- Ritual Death - Ritual Death - Dec 05
- Cult Of Eibon - Necronomical Mirror Divination - Dec 09
- Ceremonial Torture - Necronomical Mirror Divination - Dec 09
- Dehiscence - Colony - Dec 09
- Legendarium - Death's Hand In Yours - Dec 09
- Sacrilegion - From Which Nightmares Crawl - Dec 09
- Deathless Legacy - Mater Larvarum - Dec 09
- Гетьман - Чopнe Cepцe Black Heart - Dec 09
- Unchristian Christian - Sulphurfeast - Dec 09
- Maharaja - Aviarium - Dec 09
- Final Blast - The Return From Beyond - Dec 09
- Serenity - Memoria - Dec 09
- Sathanas - Psalm Satani - Dec 10
- Krvna - For Thine Is The Kingdom Of The Flesh - Dec 12
- Død Håp - Black Sun - Dec 15
- Arche - Transitions - Dec 16
- Hellish - The Dance Of The Four Elemental Serpents - Dec 16
- Coraxo - Luna - Dec 16
- Dødsengel - Bab Al On - Dec 16
- Kuolemanlaakso - Kuolleiden Laulu - Dec 16