Last month, Umphrey’s McGee celebrated 20 years as a band with a career-spanning show at the Beacon Theatre in New York. The week prior, the band gave fans an early birthday present by releasing its 11th studio album, “it’s not us.”
For singer-guitarist Brendan Bayliss, the 20-year milestone marks more than just the passage of time.
“It’s very surreal,” says Bayliss, an Annapolis native. “At the same time, it also feels very legitimate to me because I don’t know many people who do anything for 20 years. It feels kinda justified — all of our efforts and blind faith.”
Despite the album’s name, “it’s not us” plays like an 11-song sampler of the six-piece jam band’s varied styles: There’s synthesizer-infused dance pop, heavy metal riffs, acoustic balladry, proggy rock and jazzy interludes. Part of that diversity is inherent in the group’s genre-defying sound; part of it is a reflection of the way they approached recording.
“We went in with a massive pile of half-finished ideas or old songs we’d never gotten to, so we went in with the mission of, Let’s get as much done as we possibly can and figure it out later,” Bayliss says. “We didn’t really talk about it. The best ones will float to the top.”
Umphrey’s McGee has endured not with radio hits or best-selling albums but by finding a niche and changing with the times. The band built a dedicated following across the country thanks to ever-changing setlists, spot-on cover songs, yearly destination concerts and fan-friendly innovations. In the early 2000s, Umphrey’s McGee was one of the first bands to pioneer direct-to-CD live recordings, burning CDs of shows right after they were over. The group became an early adopter of Twitter, sending out setlists live during shows; started a record label, Nothing Too Fancy Music, in 2014; and even experimented with virtual reality for a music video.
“We started in 1998 and when I graduated from Notre Dame [that year] I had an email address but I had probably used it three times,” Bayliss says, adding that the group’s tech savvy may have just been a result of the internet evolving as they did.
In recent years, as three band members became parents, they’ve changed up their touring priorities, setting a schedule where they go out on the road for only four days at a time, so they can fly home and be with their families the rest of the week. (The group headlines The Anthem for the first time with the Marcus King Band on Thursday.)
“It’s way more expensive, but it’s way more livable and manageable and it sets it up for another 20 years,” Bayliss says. “The burnout factor significantly decreases when you see the light at the end of the tunnel every week. We just had a month off in November and when we all met up for shows, we were happy to see each other and get out and not have to get up at 6 a.m. and change a diaper. By doing it sporadically and trimming the unnecessary nights, I don’t see why we wouldn’t want to keep doing it.”
The Anthem, 901 Wharf St. SW; Thu., 7:30 p.m., $35-$55.