Doug MacGowan (guitar) and Emma Semple (vocals, violin) blend their instruments, vocals and styles for a sound that is timeless yet contemporary. With their album, I Fly With Swallows, they fill this soundscape with the themes of confinement, longing for freedom and the healing power of nature. Rising from the feelings we all faced during the pandemic, the album balances the line between concept and purely thematic. We had the chance to talk to mUmbo about the debut album, concepts, the creative process and so much more!
OSR: How did the two of you first meet?
mUmbo: We met on the UK folk and blues circuit after which we collaborated on writing music for various theatrical projects.
OSR: What made you decide to collaborate and form mUmbo?
mUmbo: We wanted a change from the music that we’d been playing for a number of years (folk, blues, rock, classical) and wanted to explore and compose music with greater space and atmospheric texture. The beginnings of mUmbo were lots of vibey improvisations.
OSR: Your music draws on a diverse range of influences, but did you know what sound you wanted when you started or has this evolved over time?
mUmbo: We wanted to create a mysterious sound palette achieved by the use of multi-layered, textured instrumentation. As with all music the element of progression and surprise is ever-present in the recording process. This project was no different, but ostensibly we did have a specific idea and vision we wanted to realise.
OSR: Your debut album I Fly with Swallows, came about during the pandemic. How do you feel this has been echoed in the themes and sound of the tracks?
mUmbo: The whole lockdown experience was one of a sense of constriction and claustrophobia. However, in the summer months, this took place amongst the beauty and heat of nature and in fact, nature seemed to be thriving much better than us. This curious juxtaposition was something that found its way into the lyrics, sound and recording process of the songs on the album.
OSR: The album brushes the line of concept albums, did you find it hard to achieve this?
mUmbo: Not really. We both have a professional background in the wider visual and performing arts and maybe our musical approach is influenced by that.
OSR: What was your creative process for the album? Did you start with the theme or a single track?
mUmbo: Whilst the album has a composite narrative and feel the songs almost wrote themselves one after the other in a very short space of time. The starting point of a lot of these songs was Emma experimenting with the bouzouki, which isn’t really her main instrument. To be honest, the album grew very organically and in an intuitive way.
OSR: What was the biggest challenge you faced recording the album during the pandemic?
mUmbo: As we don’t live near each other the lockdowns made the recording process extremely difficult and very frustrating. The album was physically recorded in the brief breaks between the various lockdowns.
OSR: Is there a track on the album that holds a special place in your heart?
mUmbo: We both like ‘Are These Halcyon Days?’ as it probably best sonically reflects what we were trying to create with this album.
OSR: What is the one thing you would like people to take away from listening to the album?
mUmbo: We feel and hope that it’s a sonically relaxed album and that anyone listening would enjoy the chilled vibe of that.
OSR: Why did you choose to release the music as an album and not individual singles?
mUmbo: The album in some ways is very retro in that it’s conceptual and takes its time to unfold as a whole listening experience; the songs having a thematic link rather than being individual, standalone tracks.
OSR: While gigs have not been possible, what is the one venue you would love to play?
mUmbo: Anywhere in the world that’s hot, doesn’t have Covid restrictions and that you can hug someone without wearing a mask!
OSR: What else can we expect from you in the next 12 months?
mUmbo: Right now we are finishing recording a single which we hope to release in the next couple of months and writing tracks to a follow-up album. We also write a lot of purely film instrumental music which we are continuing with alongside our other projects.