Though the Georgia-based outfit Universal Sigh has certainly found a comfortable home on the jam-band circuit — the quatet’s four live Bandcamp releases provide powerful testimony to their estimable long-form improvisational chops — don’t mistake them for just another band of burnouts. The Sigh’s approach to composition has more in common with ’70s prog and fusion and with neo jazz-rock outfits like Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe than it does with Trey and Jerry.
What’s more, singer-bassist Austin Parker’s hip-hop- and modern R&B-inflected vocals stand apart from the desultory wheezing of most jam-band frontmen, grounding Universal firmly in the realm of song-oriented rock ‘n’ roll. “It’s true that a lot of jam bands really don’t have good stand-alone singers,” says Universal Sigh drummer Pace Maynard. “Austin is pretty exceptional, especially for that scene.
“He has a naturally emotive way of singing that stirs something inside the listener. The first time we heard him, it was like, oh, wow, you should come and do that for us all of the time.”
Universal Sigh comprises four Georgia boys who coalesced around Athens and the University of Georgia about five years ago. Maynard says they all shared a love of classic rock in the vein of Zeppelin and Floyd, and classic prog in the vein of Yes and Crimson. Their tastes grew collectively to encompass Phish and the festival scene, and neo-jazz rockers like Snarky Puppy.
But even as the scope of their influences expanded to include more technically inclined musicians, Maynard says the band never lost sight of elements like groove and song. “I like prog, but I prefer the groovier prog,” he says. “I like to couch groovy, head-bobbing music inside more complicated structures.
“A lot of prog seems technical for the sake of being technical. It’s music for musicians. I like some of that music, but ultimately I’m more inclined to put on something that gets my head nodding. We try to achieve that balance between musicianship and groove in our songs. For that reason, we get a lot of fans who come up and say, ‘I don’t like jam bands, but I like you guys.'”
Though Universal Sigh has the four lengthy live releases on Bandcamp, and a slew more available at Archive.org, Maynard says they released their first “proper” studio record, “Atoms & Void,” in 2016 in order to “be legitimate in the eyes of the industry, and make our agent’s job a little easier.
“Our songs are constantly evolving, and you need ‘finished’ songs when you record,” Maynard says. “That made it difficult for us. Next time, we’ll concentrate on having a collection of songs, rather than whatever we have that’s ‘done.’ We’re happy with how ‘Atoms’ turned out, but next time we want to put out something that’s a better snapshot of the most pristine version of who we are.”
Universal Sigh will play Preservation Pub Saturday, Aug. 19 at 10 p.m.