The Core: Ryan Stasik
In a socially distanced interview on his screened-in porch, the Umphrey’s McGee bassist offers the lowdown on Doom Flamingo’s genesis, domestic life in South Carolina and dodging COVID-19 on the road.
Following the Lines Going South
In late 2012, my wife Mary Welch was pregnant with our first daughter. I’d been ready to leave Chicago because of the weather and because I didn’t have family there. There was talk of Nashville or Austin—Nashville being Music City and close to my wife’s family in Knoxville. Austin was land-locked and too hot. Our goal was to get close to the beach and we had family in Charleston, S.C., so I said, “It’s time to go.” She concurred, and we came down to Charleston in December 2012. We’ve been here ever since. But a few years ago, I said, “You know, I don’t have any friends.” [Umphrey’s percussionist] Andy [Farag] lived down here for a short period of time, so we’d play golf and hang out, but now he lives in Nashville. Our manager Vince Iwinski lives here and Al [Schnier] from moe. has a place down here, but I really needed to meet some musicians.
What really excited me about the scene here was the cross-pollination of genres, from hip-hop to funk to jazz. It was very encouraging and motivating to see that everybody knew each other and that they played together on different nights and jammed with each other without being competitive. So, when Umphrey’s came down here in 2018, I decided to do an aftershow. My original plan was to do The Omega Moos [Stasik’s 1970s and ‘80s cover project with members of Umphrey’s and The New Deal], but Jamie Shields didn’t want to fly down for a one-off. So we started to put together Doom Flamingo. I said, “We don’t know what it’s going to be, we don’t know who it’s going to be, but it’s super important for me to meet people in the scene and make friends. Music is my whole life, and I wanted it to be part of my life here at home, too.”
A Voice That Needs to Be Heard Globally
[Future Doom Flamingo saxophonist] Mike Quinn had played with us before and he knows everyone here, so he helped me put the band together. We got Kanika Moore on vocals; she’s so powerful. I played an Everyone Orchestra gig, and she showed up to it late with Mike. That’s the first time I actually met her, and we had already formed a band. [Laughs.] She comes from more of the gospel world so I thought, “Maybe I can be a vessel for people in the jamband scene or the Umphrey’s scene to discover her; she’s a voice that needs to be heard globally.”
We also got Thomas Kenney on guitar, Stu White on drums and Ross Bogan—who I had heard of because he was doing some avant-garde and outside-of-the-box stuff I was diggin’ in the ROBOTRIO—on keyboards. I call myself the old man in the band.
It all came together really fast, and we weren’t even sure what kind of band we were going to be at first. With me being on tour with Umphrey’s, we decided that I’d try to pull double duty and do a lot of after-shows so that we could be on the road, get some exposure and hang out together. I’d have to go from Umphrey’s soundcheck to Doom Flamingo soundcheck to dinner to the Umphrey’s gig to the Doom Flamingo gig. But through these guys, I’ve learned so much about Charleston. Before that, I didn’t really go out here—I’d use that energy with Umphrey’s and, when I got home, it was very much family time. Right after we moved, I had my first baby, which was a difficult birth, and then I was either home or back on the road. It wasn’t like, “Dad’s going out drinking.” It was hard to balance it all until our kids were a little older and we felt more comfortable bringing them around.
Not Another Dude Band
When we started, I wanted to call the band Doom and my wife laughed at me and said, “Don’t start another dude band like Umphrey’s. You need girls to come to your shows.” And, I was like, “I’m not starting a mellow band.” The next day, I was going to the bathroom and I thought, “I really like the name Flamingo.” It sticks in your head; you see flamingos everywhere, especially if you’re in Florida. We put the names together and got this Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde thing. We’ve got the dark side and the light side—the fun beachy side and the horror side. So, we decided that synth-wave dance music was going to be our niche. None of us had been in a synth-wave band before, but we all liked ‘80s culture and that vibe. I listen to that type of music a lot, especially while I’m driving around or riding my bike. It’s the futuristic ‘80s. Right before our first gig,we ended up going into the studio for two days and writing five songs. The chemistry was awesome. Kanika was putting pen to paper; we were collaborating really well. Ross had a few tunes that were already done—it’s amazing how much content that guy gives out. But we didn’t want to put those songs on our new Doom and Flamingo EPs because people had already heard them live and we wanted to stay relevant. The Doom EP shows our dark side, and we recently went into a studio— where we could still social distance—to finish up a couple of cuts for the Flamingo EP. It’s a yin and yang. Ross, in particular, likes really bad horror movies and really good ones too. We love the whole genre. I’m more a fan of the camp-y ones. A lot of those ‘70s, ‘80s or even ‘90s horror movies have wonderful soundtracks, full of synths. Some of these ideas are our fantasy for a good horror scene or movie script.
We want to do an instrumental synthwave EP—maybe name some songs after different types of cars—and we have a graphic comic book coming out that we are actually characters in. The imagery’s awesome. We’ve also been doing one-ofa-kind eBay auctions for things like a vest, an army jacket, a jean jacket or a leather jacket that go along with each song.
“We Will Rock You”
Umphrey’s followed around the outbreak of the coronavirus on tour for a bit. We were in Seattle the day they announced that the first United States patient had it. Then, we went to Aspen, which became a hotspot, and those were our last gigs in March. When I came home, I went to see Sturgill Simpson here in Charleston and Sturgill had gotten it in Europe. It’s weird—right before everything got shut down, I went to see a Motet show and bought a tour T-shirt and it has 25 dates on there that never happened.
We were supposed to play Iceland this year so, on March 11, I flew to LA and was gonna fly out from there. I remember being outside our bus with [UM guitarist] Jake [Cinninger] and some of the crew, and saying, “I don’t know if things are looking good. Even if you’re an eternal optimist right now, saying, ‘We’re gonna be fine,’ I think shit’s shutting down.” I woke up the next day in San Diego and all of California had been closed. So I got on a plane that afternoon and came home and I’ve been home since. Everybody’s quarantined, everybody’s locked down. We’ve been talking a lot and Zooming. Doom Flamingo actually did a show at an empty venue [Charleston Pour House]. It was so awesome to play live music again; we still had the lights and the haze. It was actually so overwhelming that I forgot nobody was there. And Kanika just amazes me every time—she can command an empty room.
Besides Kris [Myers] and Andy— who are both in Nashville—nobody in Umphrey’s lives in the same town anymore so it has been harder for us to get together to film a live stream. [The group eventually did two full-band webcasts from Cinninger’s studio in June.] But I started teaching a lot of bass lessons online and doing different online hangouts, which are quite positive—even if you are not a bass player or a musician, we can still have a few drinks and shoot the shit. That’s important because we’re all missing live music. It’s good for me, too. It’s like therapy. I have a little studio off of our master bedroom upstairs—the adult section—that I try to keep the kids out of. And, the lessons have really helped me pick up the bass every day. If I wasn’t teaching and didn’t have that interface, I might be with my kids the whole time. I need to keep up my stamina.
When Umphrey’s was delving into this new interactive world as technology was changing, we talked a lot about accessibility. I thought it was cool as a teenager—or a pre-teen or even in my twenties—that rockstars were unreachable. I didn’t want to be able to meet Trent Reznor. I wanted the mystique. But when Umphrey’s started doing these special shows, we were trying to say, “Let’s make it about the fans and let’s interact with them.” Now, I love that there are platforms where you can talk to someone while they are working in their studio. They’re exploding everywhere because musicians are at home and they need to be supported.
Being at home with the kids—I’ll be honest, I’m not very good at teaching a six year old how to read. My patience is not good in that area. A few months ago, I would have bitched that daycare is so expensive and now, after being home, I’m like, “I don’t think we pay these teachers enough. Holy cow, schooling is not easy.” But I am pushing some music on the kids. I’m teaching them how to play “We Will Rock You;” I’m teaching my two-year-old demon, “You don’t beat the shit out of it— just be gentle.”
I finally got Ableton. Now, I’m able to record things and send them to Umphrey’s as well. I actually didn’t even know Jake and Brendan [Bayliss] did [the new Umphrey’s McGee song “Easter in Quarantine.”] I woke up that morning, and they were like, “New Umphrey’s tune.” Tim Lefebvre, my favorite bass player, hit me up and said, “Nice new tune, bro.” And, I went, “What are you talking about? I’m not even playing on it!” Jake does it all and he does it awesomely, and Brendan put down some vocals. I was like, “Sweet, I’m not on it, but I’ll call it Umphrey’s.” Jake can hammer out a record in a week. He’s been doing this stuff since he was eight years old—he’s so pro. It’s fun and amazing to watch him work. And Mike and I are in a punk band called Hazards. Our first gig was supposed to be in San Diego, and it got canceled. How punk-rock is it to have your only gig cancelled?
The music industry is probably gonna be the last industry to bounce back—at all levels. The only thing I know is that, when we are able to get back onstage, the energy from that first note is going to be fucking bonkers.
This article originally appeared in the July/August 2020 issue of Relix. For more features, interviews, album reviews and more subscribe below.