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Ugga Mugga: A journey back to the cradle

Tristan Jemsek takes his Peter Pan syndrome to the extreme

 by Megan Salisbury
 published on Thursday, August 24, 2006



The childhood fantasy world of Mr. Rogers and his fanciful puppet friends have reintroduced themselves in the songs of Phoenix-based band Ugga Mugga.

This folk-ish grunge band, started by 18-year-old Tristan Jemsek, has brought a new sound and story to the Phoenix music scene.

With the help of his childhood friends Daniel Striper Tiger and Lady Aberal, puppets from "Mister Rogers' Neigborhood," Jemsek named his band Ugga Mugga - the puppets' term for what is commonly called an "Eskimo kiss."

"When I was thinking about starting this solo project, I wanted to give it a name that was personal," Jemsek says. "I have a deep connection with Mr. Rogers."

The target audience for Ugga Mugga is the underdogs of society: "The shy, lonely kids," Jemsek says. "It seems that when you're a kid, the outgoing kids watch 'Sesame Street' and the shy kids watch Mr. Rogers. My music is for the shy kids."

And Ugga Mugga's sound has a childish lure that is meant to bring you home. "I try and keep the music as organic and real as possible," Jemsek says. "I try to keep it honest and sincere."

Jemsek has been playing in bands for more than three years. The first band he performed in was Haunted Cologne, where he performed with his younger brother Andrew Jemsek, 16. Altogether, Jemsek says he has been part of 20 other bands. But right now he only plays in four - Ugga Mugga, Haunted Cologne, The Invisible Teal and Cardiac Party.

Like his love of kids' television programs, Jemsek's passion for music also started in his childhood. "One of my oldest memories is watching Raffi [the children's musician and entertainer] playing guitar," Jemsek says.

His mother's piano lessons also helped Jemsek develop his love for music.

"My mom gave me piano lessons when I was 8, and I moved on to a professional teacher when I was 10," Jemsek adds. He still takes lessons today.

However, this man of many talents did not stop at the piano. Besides being a songwriter and singer for Ugga Mugga, Jemsek also plays the guitar, banjo, accordion, ukulele, drums and mandolin. But so far he has only incorporated the banjo and guitar into Ugga Mugga's melodies.

Ugga Mugga features two other band members, Todd Hoover and Ryan McDowell. Hoover, a close friend of Jemsek's, just wanted to jam one day. He came up with his own parts to add to Ugga Mugga's songs, Jemsek says. "He blew me away," Jemsek adds. "Ryan joined the band after we played the drums together at a record store."

Playing with his friends makes Ugga Mugga worth it, Jemsek says.

"I basically want this band to be about fun and friends," he adds. "It's not like I have an idea in my head. It's not like a nine-piece band - I'm just playing it by ear."

Reach the reporter at:

If you go:

Ugga Mugga at The Trunk Space

Thursday, Aug. 24.

1506 N.W. Grand Ave., Phoenix

8 p.m., $5


Although its name may make you feel like talking like a cave man, this new-age band is far from prehistoric. Categorized as folk/grunge, Ugga Mugga's sound is straightforward and natural. Todd Hoover's unallied guitar kneaded together with Ryan McDowell's murmuring drums gives the ideal background for Tristan Jemsek's velvety vocals. Jemsek's ghostly lyrics will make your feelings collide. The simple words of Ugga Mugga harshly relate to anyone who has ever felt left out, but caresses your soul like a mother's kiss. So if you're looking for a pristine sound that keeps it real, Ugga Mugga may be your home away from home. -Megan Salisbury

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