U Totem was formed by members of two bands: drummer/composer David Kerman's 5UU's and bassist/composer James Grigsby's Motor Totemist Guild. These two groups were active in the Los Angeles area beginning in the early 1980s. The groups recorded their own albums before collaborating on the LPs Elements and Shapuno Zoo. In 1989 Kerman and Grigsby were invited to perform at the 2nd International Art Rock Festival in Frankfurt, Germany. They enlisted Motor Totemist Guild vocalist/flautist Emily Hay and 5UU's keyboardist Sanjay Kumar for the performance, and U Totem was officially born. Eric Johnson (bassoon/soprano saxophone) joined for the recording on the band's self-titled debut disc, and guitarist Steve Cade joined for the recording of Strange Attractors.
U Totem's rock music has many influences, including Renaissance polyphony, twelve-tone serialism and Indonesian gamelan. The band has performed with Laotian and Cambodian musicians and appeared with such diverse artists as The Penguin Cafe Orchestra, Bill Frisell and Wayne Horvitz, and Michael Nyman. ~ Jim Dorsch, Rovi