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INTERVIEW: Ultras

Hi guys, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?

Working hard but good thank you! It’s Gav here, on my todd. Which is a Scottish term for being alone. 

Can you talk to us more about your latest single “Team Handed”?

I can give you a collection of trivia about it, yes!  The phrase ‘Team Handed’ means bringing back up to a fight. It’s produced by my old partner in Over the Wall, Ben Hillman, who also plays some lovely keys on there. There is a field recording I used at the beginning and end of the track (which there’s much more of on the album version) which comes from the Barras market in Glasgow. There’s a guest vocalist on there, the only one on the album, called Sean Cumming, who has made great music with the bands The John Knox Sex Club and Do The God Speak Esperanto? among others. It’s definitely a lot gentler than most of the record, and also stands out for not having a beat on there, but it’s been highlighted as a favourite by a lot of the people who have come to see us or had a peek of the album.

Did any event in particular inspire you to write this song?

I’m singing about three different characters across the song, with the third character being myself in the final chorus. There was a particularly nasty fight that I saw in my school days which is the subject of the second chorus, and the first is a bit of a composite of a few people that I’ve known and generally tried to avoid in my life.

Any plans to release a video for the single?

We have something in the pipeline, a very low budget but carefully crafted thing using archive footage.

The single comes off your new self-titled album – why naming the album after the band?

Well ULTRAS isn’t really a band in the traditional sense. It grew out of my solo stuff, but then you couldn’t call it a solo album either. The album was recorded with 6 producers and 9 musicians, more like the way that a rapper would approach a record, and we’ve had a  reasonably fluid line up for the live band too. So I like the idea that ULTRAS is a band, and this broader collective of producers, and an album, and kind of a solo thing too, with the word ULTRAS working as a kind of umbrella term for it all, like a gang rather than a band. Also, the lyrical themes in the album, this sense of trying to violently wrest back control of your life and find a sense of place in the world, also gets summed up quite neatly by the word.

How was the recording and writing process?

The songs were mainly written as a unit in what was actually quite a short space of time, but it was during a time that I was able to be a full time musician largely thanks to some of the work I was getting in theatre, and some Over the Wall songs which were used on TV. So working on them in a short but very focused burst meant that they had this common lyrical theme. I then got some support from Creative Scotland (formerly the Scottish Arts Council) so that I could pay the producers and musicians involved properly and we could take our time with the album, despite not having a record label lined up for it. The plan for recording was that I would spend a day re-arranging and messing about with the tune with the producer, then the next day getting the recording done, then continuing one song at a time like that, but it ended up being a hell of a lot more chaotic than that. But it was great fun, and everyone involved got stuck right into it. 

What role does Hip Hop play in your music?

Well there’s no rapping! I very much sing in my own voice, and I’m from a musical background which is very much DIY rock, or indie I suppose. But I’ve always loved hip-hop, and the influence comes out in the beats that I make, and more the overall approach to what I’m doing. Using a multi-producer approach, having each producer contributing beats to complement the songs, I’ve always wondered why there isn’t more of that in rock music, and I suppose it’s because in the world of the singer-songwriter this idea of the lone, authentic voice is seen as really important. So I wanted to combine that with the inventive and exciting stuff that can come about from collaborating with a range of people. And now that I’ve figured out how to pull it off I want to do it again!

Where did you find the inspiration for the songs and lyrics?

A lot of the album, it’s about a kind of everyday violence that I saw being glorified, and that was expected of all of us, when I was growing up. I couldn’t really cope with it, and it’s hung around with me, though I haven’t been in anything really approaching a violent situation for a long time. But there were people around me that seemed to revel and even thrive in it when I was younger. I think it says something about the situations that the people around me were in, and my relative comfort compared to theirs. And I think it extends to attitudes about war, and nations. At the moment I really recognise the culture that seems to follow around the Trump support, or union jack waving working class Brexit voters, who have this really fundamental core belief that they cannot back down on anything, ever. So every little bit of societal change is a threat, and it has this horrible effect of supremacism or ethnic nationalism, but I think it usually comes from a place of feeling like your back is against the wall all the time. I wanted to look right into the darkness of all of those feelings to try to understand them, at least the emotions involved even if I could never understand the political outcome, and I don’t think you’re left in any doubt about my politics in my songs. But the album is also funny at times!

Any plans to hit the road?

We’re doing album launch shows in Nottingham and Glasgow, which is where the two labels that have come together for the release are based, and then we’ll be dotting around the UK over the summer, check http://ULTRASband.com for the details.

What else is happening next in Ultras’ world?

There’s another single and video coming very soon, and we’ve got some alternate versions of the songs recorded with the live band, really different to the album versions, and an exciting remix to share too. One of those live band versions is the B-Side to Team Handed and you can stream and download that already. The album is out on 28th April on vinyl, download, and on all the streaming sites of course. So there’s lots of new music that we get to spring on folk in the next little while.

Listen here

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, play guitar, music geek, movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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