Shauna McLarnon is one half of the musical duo known as Ummagma. The other half, Ukrainian musician Alexander Kretov, also happens to be McLarnon’s husband.
How did Ummagma get its start?
We began as a couple first. When we met each other we expressed an interest in hearing each other’s work. It wasn’t really that serious, actually, I think we were just hitting on each other. But when we heard each other’s music we were sold from that moment. We started jamming. The development of our music and the development of our relationship happened at the same time. Ummagma is the marriage, although we didn’t call ourselves Ummagma until much later. We had been preparing music for years before we had a name for it.
You and Alex met in Moscow. How did you come to be there?
I had a big love affair with Russia and went back and forth for various reason. For example, I did my thesis and research on aboriginal development in Siberia. I finally found myself back in Canada looking for some opportunity to get back. Finally, I saw an advertisement in the Ottawa Citizen for a manager for a humanitarian aid project in Russia for the Canadian Red Cross. So, I went to Moscow and that’s where I met Alex. He’s from the Ukraine but he was in Russia working at the time. We met at a guitar concert. It was great.
How do split up the duties in the band?
Both do compositions and arrangements. I do lyrics and form the melodies for singing. Well, except when Alex is singing. He generally develops his own melodies. And he does all the instruments.
How did the new album ‘Frequency’ come about?
In 2012 we had accumulated a lot of material and we thought we either to put it out or give up on it. So put out two albums on the same day, just threw it up on the internet. The first one, ‘Ummagma’ represents our period from Moscow to Kiev when we were still naïve and without child. Then ‘Antigravity’ was the international transition and dealing a death in the family and a child in the family. This time around the album was a little bit more thought out. We had been through a lot because we were based in the Ukraine and as you know there is a war happening. We saw a lot that affected the whole country, including us. We decided we needed to leave the country, to come back to Canada and find a grounding. That’s where the connection is this new album, ‘Frequency’ – it was a search to re-establish an equilibrium in our lives that we felt we had lost through that nasty period of our life in the Ukraine during the war. The whole mood of that country totally went south. It does a number on you, all of your breathing, eating and sleeping. You come back to a place like Canada and you go “Oh my god, there is so much space” and no one is talking about the war or about politics in general. You start to take a load off and see things a lot differently. There is the possibility to do things without anything hanging over your head. So in this new record you get some joy, some peaceful meditative music. Basically escapist dreamery.
There are several versions of “Lama” on the new record.
Several years ago we cut space with some really notable musicians. We asked them they would remix our song “Lama”. And they did. One of them is Robin Guthrie of Cocteau Twins, and one them is Malcolm Holmes of Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark. Then Lights That Change is a band from Wales that we have been working with closely for about two years. They’re awesome. They did a remix as well. It was a bit of reaching into ourselves, a bit of reaching out to each other, and a bit of reaching out to like-minded artists.
What is “Lama” about?
“Lama” was about how circular our lives are. We end up doing the same things all the time. We try to break out of it but we can’t. Once in a blue moon you get this break out opportunity and you run with it. That’s what it’s about – everyone makes mistakes, and sometimes we make mistakes repeatedly, but when you see that moment grab it. In our case, we did and we moved on.
Why the name “Lama”?
It doesn’t mean anything other than to us. We used to go to a particular place for a walk with our daughter when she two or three years old. We were always drawing pictures in the snow and one time we drew a llama. It was just the working title for the song originally but it just stuck.