GUM Brings A Bold New Sound To Edmond

Many bands’ styles are easy to guess from their names – not so with GUM. Their music must be listened to first, and even then, it’s not easy to pigeonhole the Edmond quintet’s sound as simply one thing or another.

It’s garage rock, but there’s a piano. It definitely owes something to The Beatles, but there’s something current about it, as well. Lyrically, GUM strives for something like melodic storytelling, rather than just reciting words that rhyme.

The band, headed for the Wakarusa Music Festival in Arkansas in June, is made up of Joe Bello (vocals/guitar), Levi Bello (guitar), Taylor Dragoo (bass), John Baber (piano) and Sam Bray (drums). They’re all UCO students, except John, who attends classes at OU. GUM formed in November, but its members have been in a variety of other bands and have jammed with each other for years.

“Now that I’m a bit older, I understand what it takes,” Joe says. “After watching it all happen so many times, you get to asking, ‘What is it going to take for it all to come together?’”

The members say they have a better vision this time than they had with their earlier bands. They understand
that to be successful, they have to be patient with each other and commit to realistic goals, like scheduling
twice-weekly practice dates, trying hard to make the best music they can and keeping momentum without getting ahead of themselves.

GUM recorded a few songs for their Web site, www.myspace.com/gum08, in a premature stage of the band, just to get their music out there early. The songs are still available for free listening on the site, but since then, GUM has moved past those early forays and the band is hard at work on a full album that they hope to record in the fall. They burn 50-60 CDs of the older music to pass out for free at their shows. The audience snatches them up as fast as they can. “I think it’s important that we do things like that and just give it away,” Taylor says.

There are conflicting takes on the meaning of the band’s name, and it seems the true significance behind the moniker is a guarded GUM secret. But the genre ambiguity provided by such a name is the main
reason it works.

“It’s like sitting around a campfire, telling stories, and then it goes crazy with a guitar solo,” says Levi, trying to
explain their unique lyrical approach.

“We try to capture the sarcasm of a situation,” Joe says. “There’s not necessarily a music genre you can
associate it with.”

“It’s the funny side of something dark,” Sam says.

“Most of it’s stuff that really happened,” John says.

No matter how each member tries to explain it, the basic intent is to write songs that mean something, and do it in a way that the members can be happy with. “When I play a song, I want to feel good about it,” Sam says.

Joe and John do most of the writing, but everyone collaborates to mold each song into an artistic expression shared by all five of them.

“It’s always been a literal mode of expression. A lot of the songs I write have to do with things I’ve been through and things that are going on,” Joe says.

“Whenever I hear a song, ever since I was a little kid, I’ve wondered what makes it good,” John says. What he’s discovered is that the key to good songwriting is to be creative and restless enough to not just reach a stopping point and be finished with a song, but to put it aside and come back to it later.

“When John or I have a song, we bring it to the group and everyone has a different idea of how it should sound,” Joe says. “You’re kind of giving it away when you give it to the rest of the group.”

“You’ve got to be willing to just scrap it and start again,” John says.

GUM may be a new rock band, but the ambitious quintet are determined to make their unique brand of catchy, indie rock stand out in a scene already dominated by established, beloved musicians. GUM recently won the Wakarusa Winter Classic, a battle of the bands spanning 16 cities, with four bands competing against each other in each city. Their victory earned them a spot at Wakarusa, a respected four-day music festival. There, GUM will share a roster with notable acts like The Black Crowes, Les Claypool, Matisyahu, Cross Canadian Ragweed and Buckethead.

GUM surprised many when they took the top spot. “I don’t think they saw us coming. A lot of them have been playing for awhile and we’re this new band,” Joe says. “I think they were surprised at how many people we bring.”
“We’re confident about what we’re doing, but we’re not arrogant about the process,” Joe says. They’ve had some early success, but they’re not cocky. They realize that it’s hard work, and that success is going to be a struggle.
The members of GUM are thankful for the opportunity to play Wakarusa, and they’re excited about the future. “Hopefully, it’s just a stepping stone,” Joe says.

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