By Mallory Grider
On March 4 the band Uncle Sugar, a satirical play on the patriotic term “Uncle Sam”, is releasing its debut album, Hourglass. Spearheaded by Tufts Junior Greg Warns, and accompanied by hometown friends David Berry and drummer Kevin Parmley, Uncle Sugar is based out of the Pacific Northwest. The band’s sound is best characterized as a mashup of electro-synth pop and garage rock. Last week, I sat down with the frontman of Uncle Sugar in Hotung to discuss the new album.
Hourglass is accessible for both unseasoned and veteran listeners of low-fi, and the album proves an exciting entry-point for the young band. The combination of synthesizer, cigar box guitar –which Warns declares is “the secret weapon on [the album], as far as weird sounds”– and electronic drums create the album’s unusual, upbeat sound. In stark contrast stands the album’s melancholic, often biting, lyrics. In a metaphorical stab at the American Dream, Warns sings on the third track “The Better Change”, “Lady Liberty, everywhere it seems/Talk tough and end my dreams/Take me under your wing, put me under your spell/Shatter the wishing well”. Some of his other lyrics remark on his experience at Tufts. He admits, “People [at Tufts] are very different from where I grew up.”
Warns is a completely self-taught musician. He began playing music at age five when his dad brought home an electronic keyboard. At age 11, he got his first guitar. In high school, Warns was a part-time student at Olympic Community College through Washington’s Running Start program. At Olympic, Warns studied Music Theory and interacted with other student musicians. It was through his Music Theory and Jazz professor that Warns and his then-band, the Lights-Out Project, accessed the campus recording studio. Warns cites his time at Olympic and early interest in classic rock as formative influences in his music career; it was during this quasi-college experience that he realized he wanted to continue making music after high school.
Warns spoke of his intentions for college, “I came to Tufts with the idea of starting a band and having it be a primary focus.” Warns created “Shark Saddle” with fellow Jumbos during the fall of 2014. Over winter, he started writing and producing his own EPs. Though Warns says that Uncle Sugar is a complete departure from his previous band’s music, his interest in synthesizers, and bands like Tame Impala and MGMT, began during his time with Shark Saddle. It is through his interactions at Tufts that Warns was introduced to new music and learned how to best manage the dynamics of playing in a band. Warns also found support in areas extending outside the musical realm; the album cover of “Hourglass” was designed by Tufts students Francesca Kamio and Kyle V. Scott via a posting from Warns on the Class of 2018 Facebook page.
Warns spoke of his difficulties with the album, in particular the fifth track, “Sea of Noise.” The track “ was kind of a pain. I feel like I re-did the drums two or three times. I would go through these cycles of thinking everything is complete garbage. Sea of Noise had the most hours on it.” The track is a satisfying, angsty ballad that speaks to feelings of isolation. One could easily picture this song featured in a ‘90’s rom-com. A highlight for Warns is the title track, “Hourglass is cool in the fact in that I wrote it and recorded it in one day. I was talking to my dad at 8:30 in the morning over a cup of coffee, and in this horrible way, I interrupted him and said I had to go I just had an idea for this song.” The interruption led to a smooth opening track for the album.
The release of “Hourglass” foretells a promising future for Uncle Sugar. The band is planning to tour in the Northwest this summer and hopefully secure a contract from a recording label. On his post-graduation plans, Warns mused, “At Tufts, I feel like it’s not cool to be focused on something that’s a one-in-a-million shot, playing music professionally, but this is something we’re going to go after–playing music for the rest of our lives.”
Check out Uncle Sugar’s Soundcloud with three new singles out in anticipation of the album