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INTERVIEW: Ulrich Ellison

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

Hi, we are doing great, currently driving to do a show in Verviers, Belgium tonight. Glad to have a chance to catch up with you!

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

As we all know, there is a lot happening in the United States right now. Due to my special circumstances – I have been living in Austin TX for 10 years but  was born and raised in the beautiful European country of Austria – I live in 2 cultures and get to look at it from the inside and outside. The whole world is concerned about Donald Trump’s decision-making. I am not a political person but I deeply care about community and where our society is going. Because of this it was impossible for me to ignore the election of Trump as the leader of this country, a thing that seemed unthinkable to me, to have a guy with zero skills in foreign policy, international diplomacy  and knowledge of the US constitution be the president of the most powerful nation in the world. It still is unthinkable and “America” is my way of coping with it. I love this country for its endless opportunities and I hate for it to become a shallow, self-absorbed culture of “me first”. The recent showings of discriminating women, transgender people, people of muslim faith and racism towards people of color affect me deeply.

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

This song was originally called “Samaritan” and was about a fake Samaritan, a woman who is really only interested in making herself richer pretending to help others. The music was completely finished and had an angry, rebellious mood. That’s when Trump was elected president and I felt the need to give this song a bigger scope and story. I completely rewrote the lyrics and already had the storyline of the music video in mind. The video stages a beauty contest of different stereotypes – a drag queen, a redneck with an AR-15, etc. – run by a sleazy promoter with no manners. “Miss America” presents herself as a cocaine-snorting, curvy blonde bimbo who eventually turns into a native warrior princess after being groped by Mr. promoter guy. The real “Miss America” then knocks him out for a happy ending.

How was the film experience?

Everybody was super professional on set. We shot the whole video in one day, so everything was pretty accurately planned. It was amazing to see native  actress and artist Lauren J. Reed transform from a platinum blonde in high heels into a native warrior princess. It was equally great to see the character of Darnell Schlump played by Austin photography artist Todd V. Wolfson come to life. The first time he met with “Miss America” was just so hilarious, I’m glad I got it all on camera! There are moments that can’t be planned that turn out to be some of the best moments in a video like this. Spontaneity and fun helped us to get the results I was looking for.

Why naming the album after this track in particular?

We had a band discussion about this. It takes some balls to provoke. There is a part of me that just cares about the music, but then there is the other part of me being an activist.  After all I’m the one that has to sing and act these songs live. The one thing I definitely didn’t want to achieve was to add to the disparity but instead make people think a little bit while being entertained with a good laugh. It just seemed that once the single was finished that all the other tracks fell into place and the whole concept of a rock-oriented, rebellious A-side complimented by a more soulful, spiritual B-side was born. The final track “Land Of The Free” was written much earlier, so with this concept everything suddenly made sense. I’m very happy about the outcome and we have also gotten great feedback from both reviewers and fans.

How was the recording and writing process?

We recorded at our production space in North Austin. I had most of the songs completely finished by then. There was a few arrangement ideas we were still experimenting with. My producer friend  Maciek Dabek flew in from Austria and became a big part in overseeing production and adding invaluable input. The whole album was tracked live within 4 days. Afterwards we overdubbed vocals and add-ons. From the 17 songs we tracked 13 ended up being on the final album. Most of the tracks were then mixed by Dabiek in his studio back in Austria, 2 track by producer Rob Jacobs out of LA (Shakira, Eagles, U2), and 3 songs by myself.

What role does Austin play in your music?

Since the first second I set foot into Austin I was influenced by its immense musical canvas. Austin is one of these cities that still live and breathe live music. Clubs like the Saxon Pub or the Roost have been instrumental in the development of our band’s sound. My guitar playing was heavily shaped by paying my dues as a sideman with numerous Austin artists. In the first three years I played with over 10 bands at the same time, up to 250 shows a year. That left an eternal mark in my musicianship. I’m a firm believer in “doing” and that the hours you put into something will undoubtedly transform you and the world around you.

How has your upbringing influence your writing?

When you grow up in such a pristine surrounding like the picturesque Austrian Alps it will surely have a profound effect on you. As a kid I spend a lot of time outdoors hiking, climbing and exploring nature, and those images can be felt in my music until today. I studied piano at the conservatory at an early age – more involuntarily because my mum wanted it I might add – and this also had a deep effect onto my musical development. I sometimes think I’m trying to play the guitar like a piano and enjoy wide voicings, contrast in range and a more sustained, spacious sound.

Any plans to hit the road? What else is happening next in Ulrich Ellison and Tribe’s world?

We are currently still on tour in Europe promoting “America” and a second release, a “Best Of Ulrich Ellison” – compilation by NY-based label Grooveyard Records. We will finish the tour by the end of September and will have played over 60 shows in 9 countries by the end of it. On September 30 we will hit Austin with a big Homecoming show. Then I’ll be ready for some well-needed rest!

Thanks for having us!

Ulrich Ellison and Tribe


About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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