The last time we talked to you about Makeunder, we told you NPR featured them not once, but twice on All Songs Considered. Make that thrice, kinda — in addition to their previous appearances, a blog post about the band’s latest EP, Great Headless Blank, got blasted out to the nation last month on the NPR site.
But life goes on for Hamilton Ulmer, the man behind Makeunder. “The day to day is still pretty much the same,” he says. “I have the same struggles as anyone who wasn’t been on NPR. Writing new songs, figuring out what to do next…”
What happened before — long before — was Stravinsky. Ulmer grew up in a house of artists, and one day he came across the composer. “(I was) convinced that was what I wanted to do. If you saw me between the ages of 12 and 8, I would be carrying some manuscript paper with me.” But he wasn’t totally out of touch with pop culture — his parents also played a wide variety of pop music from their youth: Earth Wind and Fire, CSNY, and the like.
The array of influences came together as Makeunder, Oakland’s weirdest band in years — and that’s saying something for a town that prides itself on producing bands that operate outside established musical systems. Makeunder is a lilting, twisting venture into some of music’s freest forms, full of stops and starts and sometimes otherworldly sounds. It’s hard to tell sometimes whether it’s a calculated masterpiece or a stream-of-consciousness ramble — Ulmer insists it’s the latter. “(There’s this) assumption that there’s a vision,”he says with a bit of a laugh. He calls it “playful bumbling”: It’s all tinkering; experimenting. A prime example of this is caught on camera in our video short on the making of their last EP, Radiate, Satellite, where he can be seen jostling a casserole dish on a table, trying to find a good rhythm. “I put a small glass teapot in the dish and actually shattered the tea kettle. I slapped the table too hard and it shattered.”
In contrast to his gleeful approach to music, Great Headless Blank comes out of what most would consider great tragedy — the death of his father. It’s all laid out in the most recent NPR piece, and for anyone that hasn’t gone through anything similar, it comes as a bit of a shock to hear Ulmer discuss the minutiae; the utter banality that comes before and after the actual act of dying. But for those that have seen death’s effects, Great Headless Blank has already been a refreshingly frank record — fans have reached out to relate their own experiences. “I think that was the most striking thing about this record. (The) emails, Facebook messages I honestly had not anticipated.”
Painful though the process was, he doesn’t regret it. “It took me a really long time to begin writing songs about that period,” he says. “At first it left me feeling way more vulnerable. At the same time, that’s part of what being an artist is.”
Makeunder, Bells Atlas, Fell Runner
Leo’s Music Club
August 22, 2015
$8, 8pm (18+)