Every single night of performance, a different member of Ann Arbor’s Ultraviolet Hippopotamus is required to write the band’s set list.
In fact, that person can’t repeat any songs from the last performance, or even any songs from the last time the band played in the area.
“This forces us to think of our sets and how they flow as another form of composition,” said guitarist Russell Olmsted.
Ultraviolet Hippo bills itself as “Michigan’s premiere improvisational progressive rock band.”
But UV Hippo, as they’re affectionately nicknamed by their fans, isn’t the typical jam band, even if they share some of the same musical influences.
Formed back in 2006 by singer/bass player Brian Samuels, UV Hippo has shifted its lineup over the years.
Each bandmate has a unique musical background and influences that range from the unexpected (Beethoven, Chick Corea) to jam-band standards like Phish, P-Funk, and Umphrey’s McGee.
“The beauty of music is that it has a limitless potential, no boundaries, and countless forms of expression,” Olmsted said. “So we try and choose not to stay in one style or genre for too long.”
Several albums in to their career, UV Hippo is doing their best to keep things a little off-balance, to keep their sound new and their fans guessing.
“In 2012, we released the concept EP ‘The Broomhilda Suite,’ about a witch who kidnaps a prince. Yes, we are nerds and have played a lot of videogames,” Olmsted laughed. “And then in October of last year, we released ‘Translate,’ another full-length, 10-song album.”
Both of these albums have won numerous awards around Michigan.
“We always want to push ourselves in new directions,” Olmsted said. “Music at its essence is expression of an idea, a feeling. When we write, record, or perform, we always try and keep that in mind. We try and ask ourselves, ‘What is the point of that musical progression? It may be cool, but does it need to be there?’”
Olmsted and his bandmates aren’t biting the hand that feeds them, though, and in fact are fans of jam bands themselves. But they personally want to have a purpose behind their own music.
“Don’t get me wrong,” he said, “there are plenty of songs that are just jams and allow us a free form of expression. But there are also a lot of pieces that have outlines. I can’t say we always achieve ‘purpose,’ but that is our goal.”
Another goal for Ultraviolet Hippopotamus is to keep sane during the busy summer festival season, because that’s when their particular brand of energetic, foot-moving tunes is in even higher demand.
“Festival season is always crazy,” Olmsted said. “Touring becomes much harder trying to get from one festival to the next. And then there is staying at the festivals with all those fans! It’s great though.”
Illinois’ Summer Camp festival, Colorado’s Groove Fest, and Ohio’s The Werkout are a few of the larger ones at which UV Hippo will be performing.
First, they’ll stop in Traverse City, where Olmsted says there will be plenty of audio surprises.
“Oh, we have a few tricks up our sleeves,” he said.
Ultraviolet Hippopotamus is performing at the InsideOut Gallery in Traverse City on May 2 and 3. For tickets and more, visit insideoutarttc.com; for more on the band, visit uvhippomusic.com.