The suspenseful synthesizer intro to Wume’s ‘Control’—the opener to the duo’s sophomore record “Maintain”—floats over the crowd at the band’s Metro Gallery record-release show. The room reeks of B.O., proof it’s packed tight. A large crowd isn’t surprising—it’s been awhile since the band has headlined a hometown show and, to quote a member of the audience, “‘woom-ay’ are really good.”
Sitting around a shady table in the park near the Washington Monument two days after the show, Al Schatz, who plays synthesizers, and drummer/vocalist April Camlin confirm that it’s not “woom-ay” or “voom” or “voom-ay” but “woom.” Wume was “Wumme” for about a year of touring after the band formed in 2010, but the duo says the double “m” made the name even more difficult for people to pronounce. “People were calling us ‘Wummy,’” Camlin explains, a panorama of buildings and blue sky reflected in her sunglasses. “But I’m sure that it’s actually pronounced ‘voom-ay’ in German.” (Google Translate says it “voom-ah.”)
The name comes from the rural German town Wümme, where krautrock band Faust recorded its early music. Schatz was drawn to the name when he stumbled across a compilation of songs from Faust’s early years titled “The Wümme Years.” And though the band is clearly influenced by krautrock, thanks to Camlin’s motorik drumming and Schatz’s layered synths, the name wasn’t intended to describe the band’s musical lineage.
“I think it was more just the idea of that situation that Faust was in when they made those recordings and it seems very idyllic to us, you know, having a cabin by a river and just waking up and recording all the time and writing music,” says Schatz. “That’s something that we fantasize about being able to do someday.”
Schatz and Camlin are often far from that kind of creative isolation. Until recently, Wume was based in Schatz’s native Chicago, where they kept busy: Schatz played in the experimental psych band Bird Names, while Camlin, a Wham City member, was up to an array of things including working as a full-time sewing assistant for artist Nick Cave and playing drums in a 20- to 25-person ’60s girl-group covers band.
Since relocating to Baltimore in 2013, the pair still have a lot going on. Camlin returned to her hometown to finish her BFA at MICA this past spring, and Schatz tours with Dan Deacon as his sound engineer. But in a way, Wume was able to realize their fantasy of creative autonomy with “Maintain,” though it happened in their Mount Vernon basement studio instead of a cabin.
“We’re kind of control freaks so it really allowed us to have this full autonomy with how we approached the sound and setting it up and recording it,” says Camlin. “We didn’t have to be on anyone else’s schedule.”
“I like wasting our own time. I’m all about it actually,” Schatz adds. “I’m like, ‘I could spend 100 hours doing this one thing and no one would ever know . . .’” There was also lighter pressure considering the band wasn’t actually planning on recording a finished album. They intended to record a demo and re-record the songs for a more polished album after the demo had been released.
“Before we made it, we named it ‘Basement WAVs,’ like WAV files. We were like, ‘In case it sucks it will be kind of a half-apology,’” says Schatz. But then they realized an album had taken shape. “Once we thought it sounded good it was like, ‘We should change the name,’” Schatz says.
The songs on “Maintain,” which are usually over five minutes, take their time to expand. They usually start with one piece of the song, like the playful synth intro of ‘Gold Leaf’ or the buoyant drum beat of ‘Ostinaut,’ and then slowly build on each cog, exchanging parts as necessary but often leaving the foundation that was established in the intro intact. Wume’s songs are obsessively repetitive in a way that’s trance-inducing without being trance-y or music that fades into the background.
At the Metro Gallery, Wume’s hypnotic abilities are in effect. No one in the crowd can really find a way to dance along, but no one can stop moving either. Most people just sway or move their whole bodies in a way that can’t be called dancing so much as trance-induced convulsions. A friend of mine says she keeps making herself look away from the Greg St. Pierre-designed projections behind the band to avoid actually getting hypnotized. But Camlin and Schatz don’t seem to worry about falling under their own spell. Their eyes are closed for most of the time they play, chins lifted. Schatz twists his head from side to side or swerves his neck back and forth; Camlin rains controlled, precise fury on her drum kit while wearing the serene expression of someone meditating. Cabin or no cabin, it looks like at least for the duration of this song, they’ve found some peace.