The San Francisco bay area has long been an important outpost for Rickenbacker-wielding jangle pop acts and local rebels The Umbrellas preserve that pop classicism across their latest album Fairweather Friend. The sophomore effort balances the band's exuberant sonic attack of their live shows and chiming jolt of their sweeping pop sound with its rich blend of loud, layered guitars, fleshed-out arrangements, and sensitive, clear production. I had the pleasure to talk with the group collectively through email all about their earnest garage pop hymns, the inspirations behind their new album, and how it allowed them to become the band they've always aspired to be.
Paperface Zine: What's life been like lately for everyone in The Umbrellas? What have you been listening to, reading, or spending a lot of time doing?
The Umbrellas: The Umbrellas Things have been alright! Definitely busy as we adjust to life post record release, preparing (financially, mentally, physically) to leave the country for our UK/EU tour. We all work full-time, some of us have newer jobs. Morgan has been recording with her other projects, The Telephone Numbers and The Kitchenettes. In high school and college, Matt played in some bad experimental bands. Matt's prepping for a new release with his prog band, Magic Fig. Nick just joined a hardcore band and has been booking shows at the legendary Edinburgh Castle. Keith has been doing his 7-step skincare routine, drinking water, and trying to get eight hours of sleep every night.
Tell our readers a little about your backgrounds. Where did you grow up, what got you into playing in bands, and how exactly did you all meet and decide to form The Umbrellas? Also were you in any bands prior to The Umbrellas?
This is a fun one to answer, because three of us basically grew up in the same area in South OC, but didn't know each other until we met living in San Francisco, years later. Matt and Morgan are originally from San Clemente and Keith is from Mission Viejo. Nick is from Davis, which makes us all a big West-Coaster band. We're fortunate to have grown up in such beautiful areas, but they weren't the most musically-inspiring... so we each had to seek out our own ways to express that. Keith played in punk bands in high school, and later on joined GRMLN, with whom he toured the U.S. Morgan's dad plays bass so she grew up watching his cover band perform, and later found OC DIY, a music event space in Lake Forest where the Uni Boys would perform (she actually took photos of their old band). In high school and college, Matt played in some bad experimental bands. He then moved to the Bay Area and joined noise rock bands like Lil Dowager and Mansion. And then, of course, there was Discontinuous Innovations Inc., a tape label started by Nick in 2015 that gathered all of the crew (besides Morgan) to create noisy, angular punk bands like Toyota, Combo, Scantron, Landline, Wonder Bread, etc. The Umbrellas kind of blindsided the followers of that label in 2019, because we all decided to release the first Umbrellas five-song cassette, the Maritime EP, which was definitely a different genre from what was usually released. But the whole point of making a label is releasing music you want to release, so that's just what we did. Some people seem to think there are rules regarding the matter.
Who are some of your favorite bands to see in the San Francisco jangle pop scene at the moment? Cindy, Chime School, and The Now are some of my favorites in the Bay Area.
Morgan Stanley: Always a joy to see The Reds, Pinks, & Purples, especially with this lineup as Glenn [Donaldson] fronting on the vox. He really leans into that role and the whole band looks like they have so much fun together. That kind of chemistry is contagious! Also love the Mister Baby duo of Kati and Umbrella Nick on bass.
Nick Oka: April Magazine because it's a different and organic experience every time. Watching their set is like the musical equivalent of watching someone paint.
Matt Ferrera: The Kitchenettes and The Telephone Numbers because I love to watch my friends rock.
Keith Frerichs: Chime School, who are always super tight and well-rehearsed.
Have you ever had a run-in with any San Fran legends like Cyril Jordan of The Flamin' Groovies, Ron The Ripper of Crime, or Helios Creed of Chrome?
Since a few of us have worked at various venues and record stores, we've seen a lot of people come through, for sure. We recently met Cyril at the Cafe du Nord show we played with The Lemon Twigs back in December which was cool. He said he liked us. Morgan recently recorded with Alicia [Vanden Heuvel] of The Aislers Set, a legendary labelmate. V. Vale is a good friend of ours. Jello Biafra came to see us play once [laughs].
Congrats on the release of your sophomore LP Fairweather Friend! This is definitely one I've been anticipating especially following up the self-titled debut. What can you say about how it all came together and when/where was it recorded?
Thank you! We recorded it in Matt's garage in the Richmond District of San Francisco. We chose to self-record again because we like how much agency we have, and the process we've nailed down just works better for our schedules. We started recording right when we got back from our UK tour in November of 2022, and we finished in April 2023. Everyone would just schedule over text in the group chat and try to come record at Matt's when they could. Sometimes it'd just be two of us, sometimes it'd be the whole crew. The control room is in Matt's bedroom, attached by a snake that goes down two floors to the garage. It sounds crazy but it works! Some obstacles came up, like one of us had to move, and Morgan got in a bike accident in April and broke her elbow, so she couldn't play guitar on the last two tracks we recorded. But we got through it and knew we wanted to cap the record at ten songs, partially because we thought it was perfect that way, partially because we didn't really have much more to work with and just wanted to get it out.
Did you draw from any specific inspirations when making the record? Also as a follow up to this, did you have any goals in mind that you wanted to achieve compared to the making of the debut?
Oh, definitely. A lot of the songs had names like "FM (Field Mice song)" before they assumed their permanent name, "PM" in this case. The Shapiros, and more specifically Pam Berry, heavily inspired Morgan's vocals on "Echoes." McCarthy was a huge inspiration for "Say What You Mean". The Primitives were big for "Games." And so on. While these inspirations were majorly formative for getting the songs started, we of course want to make everything unique to our own sound, too. Our approach with recording this time around was to honor Keith's drumming abilities more, because people are always so shocked at how loud we play live. Keith is an amazingly melodic drummer, so we upped the drum mics and found new ways to record them. We also just felt more comfortable with our gear and would use certain guitars for solos that needed that extra twang or buzz. Basically, our ultimate goal was to more accurately capture our live sound and songwriting abilities, and show that we can be noisy and melodic, not just "cotton candy daydreamy poptastic twee".. as some rather lazy music journalists like to label us as.
Which song from the new record means the most to you (and why)?
KF: "Blue" because it's about my close friend who passed away in 2022.
MS: "Echoes" because I remember feeling really proud of my vocals, something I've always felt a little self conscious about here and there...
MF: "When You Find Out"... never mind. They all mean a lot to me and I can't decide!
NO: "Goodbye" because... good lyrics
I'd say my favorite track on the new album is "Gone." What can you tell me about the writing and arrangement for this one?
The reception of this song continues to surprise us! Honestly, there was a month or two in making the record where we almost canned this song. At first, some band members were worried about the reception of Matt's voice sung in a little bit higher of a register, and we couldn't find the right vocal arrangements/harmonies for the choruses. Obviously we're glad we worked on it and got it to a place where we liked it enough to release it, because it seems to be the favorite for a lot of people. We started realizing that when Mike [Schulman] and Stephen [Pietrzykowski] of the two labels who put F.F. out insisted that it was one of the singles. Matt made the original arrangement a while ago, like back during quarantine. A number of songs, almost half, are from around that time, which makes sense given all the free time we had. We workshopped it and worked on the lyrics together until it felt ready, but again, this song was put on the back burner for a while until we revisited it. So we're very glad you like it! Songwriting is funny in that way, you never know when a song will have its time.
Another one of my personal favorites here is "Toe The Line." I know you've admitted to the Pastels influence but I hear early Chills and Beat Happening within the song's galloping groove.
Thank you! We definitely love those bands too.
What were the inspirations behind the cover art? Very reminiscent of the Paisley Underground!
Morgan's other main hobby is analog/alternative visual art, and we've always tried to incorporate her stuff into our artwork. Nick is really good with graphic design (he makes a lot of flyers and cassette artwork), so the two of them collaborate often. We all wanted to have San Francisco imagery on the cover, so we asked everyone in the band to call out some spots in the city that were special to them, and when the roll of film was developed we decided on a few photos: Vesuvio Cafe, because it's the best and most historic bar in the city, the old clocks scattered around downtown because Keith walks by them and likes them, and the trolleys near the wharf, because well, classic San Francisco. The insert is an image of The Stowe Lake bridge which is featured a lot in the music video for "Echoes," which Morgan shot and directed on Super 8.
Your self-titled debut was one of our favorite releases in 2021 and I know it was on many people's year-end lists then. What are your thoughts looking back on it now since its release?
The S/T debut is super special to us. It reminds us that we can always get through whatever is going on in our personal lives and in the world, and we can create something together that represents who we are and what we love. Life was hard while that record was made; the world was falling apart, hearts were broken, housing situations were in transition, etc. But we at least had this outlet to make something and stay connected with each other. We've also grown so much as songwriters, friends, and touring musicians since then, so it's always fun to look back on that record and remember where we started.
What are you looking forward to the most taking the new album on the road beginning in March?
We're looking forward to making new friends who share similar interests, all over the world! Also looking forward to exploring new record stores, pubs, weird pit stops, vintage shops, DIY venues, landmarks, all that good stuff. It's truly the most fun part, getting to travel with your best friends because of something that feels so natural. Of course we'd make music either way, but getting to do this together is a huge bonus.
I see next month you'll be playing shows with the Softies and Meat Market. That's pretty stacked right there!
We're beyond pleased to have curated such a special lineup of bands for our record release show at the Rickshaw Stop. Feels too good to be true. We put together the last one, which was also at the Rickshaw, with the Reds Pinks and Purples, Blues Lawyer, and Healing Potpourri, and that was such a special one too. Thank you to the Rickshaw Stop for always supporting our endeavors. They rule.
Aside from playing live shows, what else is on the horizon for The Umbrellas?
More music, more collaborative songwriting, more recording, more memories, more friendship.
Fairweather Friend is out now on Slumberland and Tough Love Records.