Interview: Unmothered’s Joe Barnes on their new EP, the Austin metal scene, and Longhorns basketball

unmothered umbra interview

Austin-based trio Unmothered recently dropped their newest EP, U M B R A—a terrific, 12-minute slab of contemporary sludge. (Check out our full review here) And the band celebrated its release in style, supporting doom heavyweights Usnea and Ufomammut at Austin’s Red 7 during the latter’s first-ever North American tour. After digesting U M B R A, we put forth some questions for bassist Joe Barnes about Austin, their music and, of course, Texas Longhorns basketball. Here’s what he had to say:

I was hoping to begin by a little discussion of the Austin scene. First, Austin tends to be known for their glitzy-astral-pop-shoegaze-whatever-it’s-called nowadays as well as some emotionally invested indie rock. When I think of the climate, I think sludgy metal would be a perfect fit for Texas. What are your thoughts on the metal scene there and how do you guys feel you fit in?

Austin has one of the best metal scenes in the country, in my opinion. A lot of venues and especially festivals that “represent” Austin tend to showcase more of the…stuff that Austin seems to be known for, but the metal scene here is very alive and well. I frankly think we’re better off without the glitz and glamor of Austin City Limits, etc., anyway. There are so many great and inventive bands in this town that cover all parts of the metal spectrum and surprisingly, there is a huge sense of camaraderie here instead of the competitive nature found in many other scenes. As far as where we fit, there is not a definite spot for us because oftentimes we find ourselves as “the rock band at the metal show” or “the metal band at a rock show,” but we kinda like doing our own thing anyway and have come to be accepted by the scene for doing just that. Overall, I feel that we have been pretty warmly accepted even with those that don’t know what to make of what we’re doing (which is understandable).

To date, you guys have released two separate EPs, and U M B R A is getting some great looks from music writers and musicians. Do you guys have a bunch of material in your back pocket for an LP later this year, or will we have to wait a while?

We are currently working on a full length right now and already have a few songs in the works. Our intention at this point is to have it finished before the end of the year. We’re still writing right now, but are making plans to try to record in the fall, provided all of the material is in order.

Any plans to tour in support of U M B R A or is it straight back into the studio for you guys?

At this point we have shows in the works locally, and though we are not opposed to touring at all, nothing has been planned at the moment. Hopefully, schedules and funding provided, we can make some shows happen abroad as soon as possible.

There seems to be a heavy influence of both black metal and punk which drives the up-tempo rhythms of U M B R A. What are some of the different influences that you guys, as individuals, brought to the table for writing this EP?

I think the fact that all three of us come from such varied backgrounds is really a strength when writing songs. Matt Walker, for example, grew up in Columbus, and grew up listening to AmRep bands, noise rock, and indie bands. Matt Moulis grew up in the Baltimore/DC area and had more of a classic rock and DC punk upbringing, but is also quite a fan of jazz and the New Orleans sound. I myself grew up listening to all kinds of music but predominately listen to black metal, doom, punk, and AmRep bands. I think that the AmRep and punk influence just naturally comes to light because that is such common ground for all of us. The thing that I really appreciate about a typical Unmothered songwriting session is that there is no particular genre or style that we feel we have to conform to. We approach each new song like we are starting all over from scratch, and always have that exploratory “what if” mentality. I think it really pushes us to push each other to find our own particular sound that we can be happy with.

The new EP seems less raw and definitely more focused than your self-titled debut. What have you guys learned about songwriting that inspired the focus and consistency in U M B R A?

The main difference between the first EP and U M B R A is really the timeline of when the songs were written. Initially, Unmothered was a two-piece and a major portion of the first realease was written with that rawness and minimalism in mind. U M B R A is the first total representation of what the three of us can write together as a group, from the beginning to the final product. All three of us definitely had a part in the recording and making of the first release, but we had time to mature and grow comfortable with each other and what each person can bring to the table with this release.

It’s a real bitch to type the title of your EP. U M B R A. Did you guys do that on purpose just to screw with us?

Dude, tell me about it. I’ve had to type it a few times throughout this interview. Kidding aside, it’s really done that way because we appreciated the title format used in the movie Alien. It really stands out, demanding attention.

How did you guys first meet up with Crowquill Records? From what I’ve read, they seem to be an amazing label for artists to work with and they seem to be very supportive of growth. How much were they involved in the creation of the EP and how has your relationship with them been?

We first met BJ and Crowquill after we had done the initial recordings of U M B R A. We wanted to find the right outlet that would really fit for us and could really get behind what we wanted to do with our music. After talking with BJ, we knew we had found the right man and label. BJ has been incredibly professional, supportive, and has been a pleasure to work with every step of the way. Crowquill is a class act and we are happy to be a part of the family. We’d also like to very much thank Curtis with Dewar PR, who has been absolutely amazing in helping us promote this release.

We end on a lighter note: Shaka Smart has recently left VCU to coach Men’s Basketball at University of Texas. (Go Longhorns!) How do you see his raucous, defense first style of basketball (better known as HAVOC) playing out in the Longhorn state and are you excited about the new addition?

Being that I grew up in Texas and have been a Longhorn fan my entire life, I am more than comfortable with this question. I think that Shaka really brings a new and fresh mentality that is badly needed at Texas. The intense, nonstop press of HAVOC is extremely exciting to watch and proved to be very effective over Kansas a few years back in San Antonio, so I think it will translate very well in the Big XII. The thing that is especially exciting is having the chance to see what he can do with the immense talent pool that Texas has access to. No offense to VCU, but Texas really is a world class school that draws world class players, and I think Shaka is the right man to take charge. That being said, I do wish Rick Barnes well at Tennessee (with the exclusion of anytime they face us).

Many thanks to Joe for his time.

U M B R A is available now on Crowquill Records. For more information on Unmothered, visit the band’s Facebook page.

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