For years, the Indiana-based prog-jam band Umphrey’s McGee has earned a reputation not just as one of the most musically dexterous groups in the virtuoso-driven jam scene, but as one of the best cover bands on the planet. During their live shows, they nail songs by everyone from Radiohead to Funkadelic, sticking their landings with precision.
But on Halloween eight years ago, the band took their cover game even further and played a number of mashups, including the first one they ever worked through -- a blend of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall Pt. II” -- and started working these musical mixes, long a staple of DJs like Z-Trip, into their live shows. Now, with the imminent release of their new album Zonkey, on Nov. 11, the band has studio-fied these often-disparate concoctions with an album exclusively composed of mashup covers; including a couple of quotes from their originals thrown in for good measure.
“The idea initially was to do something with 'Thriller,' because it was Halloween,” guitarist and singer Brendan Bayliss told Billboard during a break from the band’s ceaseless touring schedule. “I think we did it in the key of D, and we were just vamping around with it. Once you start playing the 'Another Brick in the Wall' [hook], if you start just riffing on it, it just fit really easy. We have a policy that, before we say no to an idea, we should try it and listen to it first. Sometimes, like for that one, someone's playing Pink Floyd and I'll start singing Michael Jackson over it and then we'll try and figure out, 'Do we do a verse? Do we do a chorus? Is it even working?'"