He- she- me- wumbo.
The quirky name fits the five lighthearted, comedic musicians. Inspired by a 2002 episode of the Nickelodeon TV show, “Spongebob Squarepants,” the band knew they’d found the perfect name when they formed in 2016. The group has an easygoing repertoire, exchanging jokes and comebacks among one another.
The band formed when vocalists Jake Heflin and Mitchell Mobley began writing songs together in high school. Once in college, Heflin invited keyboardist Tanner Yeldell, previously the bassist, to join the group in 2017, while Mobley recruited his classmate, Kevin McCabe, to man the drums. Zak Ocmand, the current bassist, was introduced when Yeldell moved away for a time. Nearly all of the members are University students or alumni.
“Whenever the name idea came up, it wasn’t questioned after that,” Heflin says. “Its only context is Spongebob Squarepants, and that’s a great kind of concept.” Mobley adds, “It seemed right, as a word. It just rolls off the tongue and it just doesn’t mean anything.”
After releasing its self-titled EP earlier this year and coming off a cross-country tour, Wumbo is steadily building its fanbase and local presence.
Self-described as “space indie-pop and jazz rock,” Wumbo’s music is a conglomeration of odd sounds and undertones that create a dreamy, ambient sound when fused together. This is what distinguishes Wumbo from other groups — how they blend sounds from their everyday lives into their music to generate contrast. Most recently, Heflin recorded his air-conditioning unit and strums from a banjo and is planning on fusing Morse Code sounds into songs.
Merging all of their styles was a challenge for the group at first, but they’ve worked to sound like one unit, Heflin says. Heflin and Mobley’s songwriting process is a collaborative effort with other band members. The duo starts out writing song lyrics and playing the guitar, layering their vocals around each other. Then, Ocmand devises a bass line and McCabe adds a drumbeat. Lastly, Yeldell adds Wumbo’s signature synth to the arrangements.
“Mitchell and I came together with these songs that we thought were nearly completed that we had made before, and we were like, ‘Okay, how do we play these live? How do we make it cohesive?’” Heflin says. “We’re trying on different instruments and songs … that was something we tried to work toward, and more recently it has been like it [evolved] out of that.”
The band is always experimenting with sound and tone, naturally and out of necessity. McCabe is a member of the LSU Tiger Band Drumline, so he can’t play shows on gamedays during football season. Although it wasn’t ideal, Wumbo performed enough shows acoustically that they became comfortable with the thinned band, rather than not play at all. Learning how to change their sound on demand has shaped their range, too.
“We’ll play with hand drums, shakers and things like that live if we’re really stripped back, and we’ve actually found we like that a lot,” Heflin says. “We’ve thrown those stripped back sounds into our recorded sounds.”
Heflin also does the band’s booking and planned its seven-city tour this summer. His double role is a balancing act, he says, but working directly with venues to schedule shows, meeting other bands and handling public relations means every step in the right direction is hard-earned. Now they’re a familiar name on the local music circuit and regulars at venues like Mid City Ballroom, The Varsity Theatre and Spanish Moon.
The five-track EP’s cover art is eye-catching. It has a retro vibe and warm tones, featuring plants, an older TV model and place settings on an orange tablecloth. Though they didn’t shoot the cover as an underlying reference to their music, there are several unintentional flora references in their songs, Mobley says.
“We wanted a nature shot but of something that obviously didn’t belong in nature, something weirdly out of place,” he says. “We thought the color palette was kind of odd. We thought it was interesting, and we liked it.”
Looking forward, Wumbo is in the process of recording a full-length album and booking more shows regionally.
“This is a big [expletive] country and I just wanna play music for them,” Ocmond says.