Choosing a band name is serious business. Regardless of whether it's a play on words (The Beatles, Led Zeppelin), inscrutable (TheThe), based on an inside joke (Hootie and the Blowfish, Minus the Bear) unpronounceable (!!!) or scatological (Diarrhea Planet), it needs to somehow be meaningful to the people who will create and perform under it as a collective.
Local band Uintahs--comprised of lead guitarist, songwriter and vocalist Marcus Youngberg, his brother Malcolm Youngberg on drums, Marcus' high-school friend Patricio Torres III on bass, and Craigslist-find Perry Bentley on guitar--took its name from an expansive, beautiful mountain range and wilderness area in northern Utah. Uintahs' debut release Parts (2013)--and its frontman--are as layered as the rock that forms the band's namesake.
It was probably clear from an early age that 26-year-old Marcus Youngberg would become an accomplished musician. His younger brother Malcolm certainly knew it, and although Mormon, they didn't have an Osmond Family upbringing--they certainly didn't grow up playing music together. But Malcolm had long wanted to be part of this important side of his sibling's life, so in 2008, while Marcus was in Peru serving a mission, Malcolm taught himself to play drums.
"I got back and [Malcolm] said, 'I've been practicing. Can I play with you now?'" Marcus said, remembering.
The younger of the Youngbergs said his motivation for learning was not only so that he could play with his brother, but so that Marcus would have someone to play with as well. He wanted his older sibling's music to be heard beyond his bedroom walls.
"[He] had this crappy little MR8 recorder. He'd made a lot of songs on it but...," Malcolm said.
"[My brother] knew I needed a band," Marcus added.
After a few hits and misses with other players, the Youngbergs found kindred spirits in Torres and Bentley, though it was never a question of whose vision would guide Uintahs. Slightly built, bespectacled and with a shock of unruly hair, Marcus looks more like the cinematic archetype of a brainiac than a swaggering, guitar-wielding frontman. But his surprisingly raspy voice and emotional delivery is a study in the "don't judge a book by its cover" adage. And he's a self-proclaimed "perfectionist" who would rather put out nothing than something he considers subpar. So while the band is proud of Parts--and rightly so--finishing it was a lengthy process.
"It took a long time because we were deciding how we wanted to record it and who we wanted to do it with," Marcus said. "Then we decided we wanted to do it ourselves, so we took the time to buy the [recording] equipment and learn how to use it."
The result is 10 rich, spacious, orchestral tracks that sound at once unique and familiar, explained by Marcus' influences on each song, such as "Desperate Hours" taking cues from Kings of Leon and Beach House; and the spot-on harmonies in "Lonely Shores" emulating those by Fleet Foxes. A couple of members of the local music scene agreed.
Jason Ringelstetter, co-owner of Tonic Room Studios, described Uintahs' sound as "moody and spacey like Morphine," while longtime musician Matt Hopper (who also has a new release out, High Hopes) said, "Parts is a nice compliment to the fall season; the singer's voice and the album's overall warm production are akin to a nice heavy blanket for your ears. There is a sense of dreaminess here that harkens back to Radiohead's great OK Computer. There are moments over the course of this album where I found myself thinking, 'this sounds a lot like some previous songs' and indeed, most of the songs hover in 'subtle hook, far-away vocal distance' land, but I suppose maybe that's why they called it Parts. Maybe they were going for an overall sound/vibe on this record made of many similar, yet obviously different songs."
Hopper's take is especially interesting because the members of Uintahs don't agree on what their band's sound is. A lack of genre definition can allow for creative experimentation, but it can also lead to a band sounding unsure of itself or scattered.
"Scattered is a good thing, in my opinion," Marcus said. "[My bandmates] know when I'm listening to a new band because, all of a sudden, I make a song that kind of sounds like that band."
Each member of Uintahs, however, does have his own definition of what he thinks the band sounds like. Malcolm defines it as "cinematic reverb rock." Marcus thinks of it as "pop and Old West songs." Bentley is happy with a simple "indie rock" label, and though Torres said he'd call it "reverb rock mixed with indie rock," he wishes they could come to a consensus. Being undefined can be problematic, he said.
"Some people are like, 'Cool. This band can play all these different [sounds].' Other people hate that," Torres said. "They hear a song they love and they want the other songs to sound like it. But it's good to have range."
He added that regardless of how Uintahs' sound is defined--or not--it is Marcus' voice that anchors the band.
It is also Marcus who defines the direction the band will go, and the other three members are perfectly OK with that. In the hour or so they spent with Boise Weekly talking about themselves, their band and their debut release, each statement was punctuated by a sense of respect and awe for their dynamic frontman, the "brainchild of Uintahs."
And though Marcus was humbled by the sentiments of the men he considers his band of brothers (including his actual brother), he, too, is also fully cognizant of the blood, sweat and tears he put into this project.
"I put a lot of hard work into Parts," Marcus said. And it shows.