Creatives in profile: interview with The Ultra

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The Ultra. Photography by Mike Dodson/Vagabond Images.

In the latest of our ‘Creatives in profile’ interview series, it is an honour to introduce you to Joel Alexander and Paul Dogra – the duo behind independent rock/electronic band, The Ultra.

First founded in East London, The Ultra is a band that likes to experiment and create interesting emotive music that captures memorable hooks and melodies. To date, The Ultra have two EP’s and two videos out, as well as a write up in in the popular local magazine The E-list. They also have their debut EP ‘When The World Turns Out Its Lights’ signed to Platform Records and recently had their track ‘Universe In Two’ used on a trailer for a new computer game called ‘Die Young’.

You can check their music out here  and follow them on Twitter @UltrabandUK. We hope you enjoy this detailed interview…

INTERVIEWER

Tell me about yourselves, where you live and your background/lifestyle?

THE ULTRA

Joel:

We are Paul and Joel Aka ‘The Ultra’, and we met and started creating music after meeting through a musician’s site in London.

I am originally from all over the south of England as my parents liked to move around. Later I was actually living round the corner from Paul when we met, which was convenient. I now live with my partner in Copenhagen, Denmark and fly back regularly to work with Paul. My background has always involved singing in bands and writing lyrics.

Paul:

I am originally from London and studied in Brighton.  I currently reside in East London to be near my 5 yr old daughter who delightfully absorbs my time when I am not writing music.  My life revolves around my daughter and music – these are both what make me content and purposeful in life.

I have been in various bands over the years that were more guitar based and played many gigs in the late 90s and early 00s in London.  I have worked with other musicians over the years on a variety of projects, but more in the background.  There came a point in 2014 when I rediscovered dance and electro based music again, and so I started to write with this in mind, with the primary focus of forming a duo with a co-writer/singer.

INTERVIEWER

Is music your first love, or do you have another passion?

THE ULTRA

Joel:

I would probably say yes, as I have grown up listening and being very passionate about music, probably also due to my parents playing a wide range of music when I was a kid. I also enjoy travelling very much and – of course – spending time with my partner, Ida.

Paul:

Music has always been my passion and it is how I express my emotions and inner most thoughts.  I use music almost as a form of meditation – to help forget my worries and concerns.  My other passion would of course be my daughter, Orla, who I adore and is my absolute world!

INTERVIEWER

Who inspires you?

THE ULTRA

Joel:

I have been inspired by great bands from Depeche Mode to Pearl Jam, Peter Gabriel and Dire Straits. I am also inspired by people who have overcome great hardship.

Paul:

The main artist that inspires me musically and spiritually is Depeche Mode, also the U2 period 1991 – 2005.  I am also inspired to write music to enable my daughter in years to come to admire my creative side and be proud of what I achieved.  I guess its about wanting to leave a legacy of music for her.

INTERVIEWER

Who were your early teachers?

THE ULTRA

Joel:

I guess it was the music I listened to as a kid, Eddie Vedder was a great teacher from afar. I have worked with vocal coaches over the years too, some good, some not so good. When you find your true real voice it gets more straight forward.

Paul:

I am fan of U2 musically and lyrically.  Their songs taught me how to approach writing a song in terms of dynamics, textures, and creating atmosphere.  I was heavily influenced by the guitar style of The Edge to play a minimalist yet effective guitar sound.  Depeche Mode obviously too.

INTERVIEWER

How would you describe your current sound?

THE ULTRA

Joel:

I would say electronic with rock elements, experimental and atmospheric.

Paul:

I would say it is electro/alternative and experimental.  We like to challenge ourselves to create emotive and interesting music that hopefully captures people.

INTERVIEWER

As primarily a community of writers, we’re keen to learn about your creative songwriting process. How does a song usually develop – do you first start with the lyrics, melody, chord progression, or something else?

THE ULTRA

Joel:

Paul will normally send me over a melody idea and then I will start writing to that, after we have the rough lyrics and a guide vocal we will then build the track around that.

Paul:

It starts in various ways – sometimes a drum loop or beat I have found, or playing around with synth sounds – this then creates a mood with which to build upon.  I’ll then put down a basic template of chord progression and sounds. Then I will send this to Joel who will work on melody and lyrics.  When Joel feels he has a basic idea, we will record vocals and work out what does and doesn’t work. That will then provide a template to build upon with more sounds and instruments.

The exciting thing is that I wouldn’t have heard Joel’s ideas until he records a draft vocal – I always look forward to this.  As always, Joel will complement the music ideas I have so well.

INTERVIEWER

Do you have a favourite place or time that you like to write?

THE ULTRA

Joel:

Not really – when I sit down and decide to write. I generally get lost in the track so anytime works.

Paul:

I am at my most creative at night and like to write and lay ideas down then – usually with a glass or two of red wine!

INTERVIEWER

Where do your ideas for songs originate from?

THE ULTRA

Joel:

Current feelings I guess, also what may be happening in the world at the time or something I have seen recently that sticks with me.

Paul:

From a certain emotion, thought or mood I am in at that time – that could be about my personal life or something I have heard or read in the news.

INTERVIEWER

Does a certain emotion trigger your songwriting impulse?

THE ULTRA

Joel:

Often feeling reflective, full of questions or if I really feel I need to get some words/emotions out.

Paul:

Yes, usually an emotion of sadness, hurt or doubt.  Certainly I know that Joel’s lyrics complement the basic mood I try to write from a music perspective.

INTERVIEWER

What do you think is the relationship between lyrics and poetry?

Paul:

Yes, I would say there is a relationship, but I do not know if Joel approaches his lyrics in this way.  My favourite lyricists are Bono and Martin Gore, who I feel have a sense of poetry in their writing.

Joel:

Lyrics are poetry to music.

INTERVIEWER

When putting together a new song, do you tend to work in long stretches, or short bursts?

THE ULTRA

Paul:

It depends on how creative I get when writing.  This can mean long bursts because I am determined to get a basic idea down.

Joel:

We spend a long time crafting the songs once we have the idea down, it is a nice process.

INTERVIEWER

When creating a new song, how do you maintain motivation through the whole process – from the initial idea, to writing the lyrics and music, playing, rehearsing, practising, editing, finally recording and then releasing to the public?

THE ULTRA

Paul:

This can depend on song the song(s) we are working on.  From my point of view, when I have an initial idea (and if it is really inspiring) then this will increase the motivation and workflow.  If I have an idea that I think is really good, I will want to get a very basic template down and then send to Joel for his thoughts and suggestions.  Joel will then work on his melodies and lyrics for the song.

When Joel feels that he has good ideas we will co-ordinate dates to record draft vocals in London.  Once these are completed this will motivate me to work more crafting the song with layers and sounds based on Joel’s melodies.  Once we are both satisfied, then we set a date for final recording of vocals.  We have a very dedicated and intense recording workflow.

I then spend much time editing the song which involves more dynamics and textures.  I know at times Joel can get frustrated as to why a song takes so long to have a final mix!  I guess I am in my element when I am mixing and editing away on a song – sometimes I do need Joel to say “come on mate, don’t over do the song now!”.  Setting deadlines is how we tend to motivate ourselves, which we discuss in detail.

Joel:

The belief in the songs and the excitement I get as they develop keeps me          motivated for sure! But, yes, as Paul says I think it is important to set deadlines as to not let the song stagnate.

INTERVIEWER

A number of songwriters have spoken about the power of music to change the world. In these turbulent political times, what role do you think music has to play in putting forward new ideas, or challenging existing ones?

THE ULTRA

Paul:

Certainly I would suggest that music is an ‘escapism’ from the reality of the turbulent times that surround us.  I guess music and lyrics can help define a mood, thought, or worry a person has and ‘hide away’ from the worries at that time.  Lyrics most definitely make a statement about the times we are in.

Joel:

Yes, I think you can get a strong message across through music and this has been done many times over the years. Whether the people who can actually do something listen is a different story.

INTERVIEWER

In Capitalist Realism, Mark Fisher speaks about the catch-22 situation some musicians find themselves in, where “a protest against MTV is the only thing guaranteed to get you airtime on MTV”. How do you perceive the relationship between new or independent music artists and the corporate music studio corporations and power structures?

THE ULTRA

Paul:

This really resonates with us, because we are independent and self-financing musicians.  The corporate music studios and power structures hold immense sway in getting music heard on radio stations and promoting artists. I think that there is a ‘battle’ against the independent artist and the big corporations for exposure and to make an impact.  Unfortunately, the independent artist does not have the same money or influence as the corporates, so this is so frustrating when all we want to do is ‘get our music heard’ and play decent music venues.

Joel:

It is difficult as an independent artist trying to get your work out there; but I think when things happen for you it is all the more rewarding. It is a shame there seems to be such a big divide these days. I can’t remember last time I heard a new experimental song in the charts. But then again I don’t listen to the charts often anymore.

INTERVIEWER

Do you feel any ethical responsibility as musicians and artists?

THE ULTRA

Paul:

Yes, in terms of honesty. In my personal life, I would like to think I am ethically responsible in my everyday life of how I treat people.  I am aware that I have a young daughter who will be on this planet for years to come and so from an environmental point of view and how to behave, I like to think I am ethical.

Joel:

Yes I do, I think how we as artists come across is very important and it is also important to stick to one’s beliefs.

INTERVIEWER

What are your thoughts on some of the general trends within the music industry? Is there anything in particular you see as being potentially future-defining?

THE ULTRA

Paul:

Certainly it is much easier to be able to ‘put your music out there’ for people to hear and watch, and the power of social media is clearly evident.  However, there unfortunately is still an element that the big-label players have the connections to elevate your music and contacts for air/video play.

Joel:

I think a shake up needs to happen sometime. Spotify is a big one where the artist has control of their music and can get it out there and earn money from it without needing support from a label.

INTERVIEWER

Could you tell us a little about some of the future projects you’re working on?

THE ULTRA

Paul:

We have a live performance video of our song Incognito in final editing at the moment, which we will then promote.  We are also working on new ideas and hoping to look towards targeted live performances with a drummer later in the year.

Joel:

Exactly what Paul said, we have loads of stuff coming up!

INTERVIEWER

Could you write us a story in 6 words?

THE ULTRA

Joel:

The world spun then went numb.

Paul:

This is impossible!

 

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