Q&A: Your Umbrella's Daniel Demosthenes on Spacy Sounds and Beautiful Songwriting

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Glimpses of the South Florida Scene​ is a column devoted to the artists thriving within Broward and Palm Beach counties featuring interviews with the folks making it happen. This week, Your Umbrella.

Your Umbrella is very good at being heartbreakingly sweet: bare-all lyrics, vocalist Daniel Demosthenes' rich voice -- even the kittens pictured at right. And sweetness makes for good pop -- even at its most sincere, its most acoustic, or (on the opposite end of the spectrum) its most bubblegummy, every song from the January 2011 release A Test for Your Heart, is addictive, impossible not to memorize and sing along (and if you don't, it's too easy to pretend Daniel is singing to you). Of course, there are the occasional changes and distortion that make things more complicated -- and lately, the band has been stretching beyond a sound that might inspire drawings of cats, incorporating more electronic elements to round out its heavily organic project. But it's those slowly strummed tales of loves lost that it does best, and we can still expect more of this in the future -- perhaps just with a punch that isn't so soft and cuddly.

Ahead of the band's show this evening with Luna Rex at Respectable Street, we talked to guitarist/vocalist Daniel Demosthenes about the last album, some new goals, and what's next...

New Times
From what I've gathered based on Courtney Hambright's write-up of Your Umbrella, a lot of your material has been in the works for many years. How did you get your start as a musician, and how did Your Umbrella come together?

Daniel Demosthenes: I've been playing music since I was a kid but never really picked up guitar until high school. Guitar felt like the best way for me to express myself musically so I stuck with it and wrote a ton of songs. As for Your Umbrella coming together, it was a natural progression. Everyone that's affiliated with the band lives on my street so we have always been skateboarding, playing music and hanging out. I started the project to see how my songs would sound with a full band. Douglas Anderson was the first collaborator, contributing drums and bass to help finish our first album A Test for Your Heart. When we finished the album, a lot of opportunities opened for us to play live and bring other people into the mix.

Who else have you been bringing into the mix? Now with more opportunities to play the music live and get some breathing room, is it changing your direction at all in terms of your sound?

Since Doogie's been out of state, the line-up has been Michael Taylor on drums, Lay Grullon on bass and me on guitar and vocals. Mike's been playing drums since he was really young so he has a lot of technical ability. Since Mike joined, a lot of songs have assumed upbeat, powerful arrangements. Lay has also added a new dimension because of his experience writing songs independent of this band. Before too long we want to throw up some links to download his first release, the Rice Beats Partner EP through the Your Umbrella Facebook page. Playing live did help me gain new perspectives as a writer. In the past I was mostly concerned with writing beautiful songs. Now that I've been playing live I'm a bit more inspired to make art that speaks to the audience directly while keeping the elements from the past that everyone enjoyed. I think the most important thing with writing, though, is to be spontaneous. Sometimes I'll stay up all night even when I have important things to do the next day if the creativity is flowing. We have all been growing as musicians and people through our experiences with the band and the new material we've been working on reflects that.

You released A Test For Your Heart a few months ago. Would you say the album is more representative of your previous focus on beautiful songwriting, or these new perspectives you've gained -- or a bit of both?

The focus of A Test for Your Heart was definitely beautiful songwriting. About 15 songs from our recording sessions did not make the cut because of hang-ups I had with them fitting the album. Now looking back, I think they were great songs and part of the story of my life at that time. When we play live, we usually throw a few of those songs on the set list because they are just as good as the other material we have.

I'm curious about the new tracks you're writing, and what you're hoping to do with those. Will they be on an EP?

As for the new material, Mike and I tracked drums for about six new songs during spring break. I will be done with school in a few days so I will be able to kick into high gear, finishing all of the new material we have. We were thinking about an EP at first, but now it feels more like an album has brewed. I was thinking about introducing some of the new sounds we have been exploring on this next release, but I haven't decided anything for sure at the moment. We are going to release all of new and old material this summer if everything works out as planned.

Can you say more about the "new sounds" you might introduce on the next release? Do you want this album to be taking a new direction from your old stuff entirely, or do you think you may include some of the songs that didn't make it ontoA Test for Your Heart?

A lot of the new songs I've been working on incorporate synthesizer and drum machines. It's a big change because on the first album we wanted an organic feel. We didn't use any digital equipment except the computer we recorded with, so the first album turned out very folk. Also, we wanted minimalistic arrangements before, but now I'm feeling more confident with adding lead guitar overdubs and vocal harmonies to some of the songs. I have been working on my voice since the first album, too, so that allows me to do a lot more things that I wasn't capable of before. The new album is going to have a few spacey parts to it. I think that we were playing it safe before but I wanted to make a few weird songs this time around. It's probably going to end up with half of the new album a progression from the first album, and the other half the best experiments from the last few months. A few of the older songs that fit the flow of this album probably will end up making the cut too.

Why do you think you're more willing to experiment now? Are you feeling more confident to do that since playing live, since that shifted things for you?

When I first started Your Umbrella I wanted to do something simple. I tried complex arrangements in the past and it kept falling apart because of difficulties with mixing. I knew I wanted to make a few songs that were drum, bass, guitar, and vocals with no overdubs. After working on A Test For Your Heart, I gained some valuable experience with recording and mixing so the possibilities really opened up for the project. I also finished making my home studio which allows me to tinker more. I really love music that has a solid foundation but allows for experimentation with arrangements and sounds. It was inevitable that I would start exploring new sounds as time went on. I don't want Your Umbrella to be labeled as a folk band or a grunge band or any specific type of band so I think it's good to explore.

You've been playing music since high school. In your opinion, how has the local scene changed?

From my experience, South Florida has always had a decent hardcore/ska scene. I have read articles in the past where journalists from national magazines made remarks that these are the only types of music that ever happen in South Florida. Now, I think blogs and the internet have been helping the rest of the world see that South Florida has a lot of talent, not just ska and hardcore music.

Also, a lot more people have been coming out to hear new music. Artists are going to have more opportunity and resources to make better art if there is support from an audience. ou can tell that everyone is super buzzed about all of the great things happening around here, but I think we are still in an embryonic state. It's important for everyone to be a community and support all of the new acts if we want things to keep moving upwards. It's a lot of work to listen to new music and understand where bands are coming from, but if you do, you may be able to grow with a band that blossoms into something great. I think a lot of people are finally starting to realize how great things could get if everyone continues to support each other.

What's next for Your Umbrella?

We really want to record some new material this summer. Our first album is no longer the best representation of what we are, so we want to capture the place we're at now. All of the songs are really cool to me and we're excited to do a few things that are different than what we'd been doing.

Our name is a symbol of a collective of diverse people, both the creators of the music and the audience. We want our music to be enjoyed by everyone no matter who they are. In addition, our shows are a positive place for anyone to come check us out. I like meeting new people who are interested in finding out about new music. We want our audience to see all of the things we do creatively and that being unique is what makes life awesome. I think deep down everyone wants to be accepted for what they do and who they are so they can blossom into something they think is great.

Download the old album at Your Umbrella's BandCamp page, and find out about upcoming shows on their Facebook page.

Your Umbrella. With Luna Rex. 10 p.m. Friday, June 17, at Respectable Street, 518 Clematis West Palm Beach. No cover; 18 and up. More info available on the Facebook event page.

Follow County Grind on Facebook and Twitter: @CountyGrind.

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