Review and Interview by Jamie Pelletier
On Thursday, January 14th, Mercury Lounge in Manhattan welcomed Ula Ruth back to its stage. Andrew LeCoche, Kevin Clymer, Nic James, and Luc James are the New York natives making up the indie, dark-pop group. Luc was unfortunately unable to make the show; luckily, Tom Cordell effortlessly held down the fort for Luc on the drums for the night’s performance.
Dressed in peacoats and entering through the center of the crowd, Ula Ruth instantly drew their fan’s attention. The show commenced with single “Strung Out.” LeCoche’s captivating guitar solo sent a wave of feels through the crowd. Bassist Kevin Clymer had the crowd head bobbin’ along with him while performing an unreleased track off Ula Ruth’s new EP Fever.
Following the Fever sample came a David Bowie cover as a tribute to the beloved music legend. The crowd smiled while holding their hearts and chanting the lyrics over the psychedelic guitar riffs to Bowie’s popular hit “Let’s Dance.”
Nic’s breathy vocal style bled with passion that was easily reciprocated from the crowd throughout their set list. The show’s conclusion snuck up faster than I expected I was so caught up in the smooth vocals and colorful guitar riffs. Yet I knew I wasn’t alone in that feeling as the crowd relentlessly begged for an encore.
We were able to catch up with the band before the show, hearing about everything from show rituals to their upcoming release Fever and what’s in store for 2016. Hear more of what they had to say below:
Your new EP Fever is debuting soon. Where does the name Fever stem from?
All the songs on the record were very much like a time bomb. There’s a lot of emotion in it, and there eventually needed to be a release of all the emotions. We feel like fever kind of describes that feeling of being sick in bed with all of the culminating aspects of being sick. The fever is the step right before the sickness breaks.
We started playing with the idea of emotional concepts. Our producer, who we’ve worked with from the start, was in a band in New York City called The Fever. His band was starting out during the time of the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s and The Strokes. We thought it was very cool that they were this very known band that was in the scene early on, but eventually just stopped and parted ways. Knowing that information while looking for a record title, we thought we could pay homage to the guy who’s like a fifth member of the band to us.
What changes does this album signify (if any) for the band’s career?
At first, we were just figuring out how to be a band and producing a lot of rock. Then, working with our producer, we [took another] look at the way we were writing songs and found something that worked really well for us and the EP. The more we play together, the more trust we have in each other to create the right sound for the band. We try to sound like the people we’re influenced by, then step back and think about what we naturally feel inclined to play.
I think when we first started we were trying to do what Kings of Leon did on Aha Shake Heartbreak. They were a huge influence, along with a lot of other similar bands such as the early Strokes, Genesis, Joy Division, and a handful of others. Then we started thinking of who influenced the people who influenced us. That’s what started to make us think of new approaches.
Do you have a favorite track? What makes it stand out to you more than the others?
Kevin – “Strung Out” is definitely one of our favorites. We’ve never written a song like that before. It’s the most unique sounding on the record. The approach we took while producing it was completely out of left field for us. I think that’s a song that’s pointing more in the direction of where we’re going as a band.
Nic – I think if we were on a label, they would have never let us release “Strung Out” as a single first, and I think that’s the beauty of it. I think that there are tracks on the record that, for a lack of better words, have stronger elements that are very clear. But nonetheless I think that “Strung Out” has a unique quality that exemplifies our new sound. Since we are introducing our new sound, “Strung Out” was the way to go.
Andrew – “Nobody Lives Forever,” which is being released this Tuesday. It’s exciting because it’s the first track we recorded for this record. I think it’s the first track that made us realize that we were going to end up with something wildly different than last time. To me, there’s an emotional intensity to it that is prevailing, even after we’ve recorded it. I just really love this song right now.
Cordell (Ula Ruth’s backup drummer) – “We Will Warn You”–there are children’s voices on it, a child’s choir actually. It’s not obnoxious. When you’re listening, it’s not like “ah, why did they chose this?” It’s very creatively done, so hats off to you guys.
Fever has definitely showcased a new sound for Ula Ruth. What are you most excited for fans to hear from the EP?
The second single “Misery,” which won’t be out for another month and a half or so (ironically, the week of Valentine’s Day), is pretty strong and a shared favorite of ours. It also has the most positive feedback from the people we’ve shown it to.
At the end of 2015, you’ve already dropped your newest single, “Strung Out.” How has the track been received?
It’s been received well. We released it with a music video that our good friend Alex Pines did. The reaction has been good, but it is a very different song for us, which is why we decided to put it out first. Essentially, we wanted to give our listeners a taste of the new direction, and we think it’s done just that.
It is the first song on the new record, so we think when people hear the second track, they’ll think “oh, this makes sense.” It’s all part of the grand scheme, the master plan, so to speak.
Can you tell me about this “master plan”?
Mind control. We wanted to put out a single that was very different with a visual to accompany it, which our friend Alex had done for us. That’s when we released “Strung Out,” which featured actress Laura Hemmingway. We wanted it to be kind of out there and catch people off guard. Not a lot happens in the video until a lot happens, and that’s sort of the whole idea. We think it sets the stage for the whole record.
The next thing we want to do is kind of drop the next track that is so vastly different. Following that, we want to drop a video for “Misery” to show the band. People know what we look like from prior records, but we haven’t shown ourselves at all during this whole release for Fever. That will be the first video that actually shows the band.
Then we plan to release “Nobody Lives Forever.” We plan on making a much bigger, post-apocalyptic, Mad Max-type video, which will make sense when you hear the song. To define the record, we are trying to do this super post-apocalyptic, dark pop, outer space band record fro Brooklyn. That’s the master plan, yelp review format.
Where do the songwriting and recording processes usually take place? Do you think these locations influence your style and sound?
Kevin – We definitely have a process. Usually Nic or Andrew will bring in an idea for a song and we’ll build it up from there. Then, we’ll bring it to our producer Chris and break it down until it’s almost nothing, then build it back up again. We really beat it to death. It either dies or becomes something awesome.
One thing to say is some of the ideas come from me at like 3 o’clock in the morning on the piano by myself, and I think it’s pretty much the same for all of us. Then we come together and bring it to the studio. We went to Harkins Studios to put together the basic tracks with our producer. We find what we want to change or will add an interesting part that changes the entire way we look at the song.
Nic – In addition, Kevin spends more time working on the songs, while Andrew spends more time coming up with interesting sounds or background parts and textures. Even at the beginning of “Strung Out” there’s some kind of ambient intro which came from Andrew playing around with the pedals and looping them back into each other, which end up being this big, compelling sound. There are a bunch of our songs that are like that. “Strung Out” is a perfect example. We were playing it a completely different way. We considered doing something different with the drums and it totally changed the whole way we looked at the song. That was more of a studio on the fly kind of change, very exciting.
As for the place, it was a Victorian home. Greg Giorgio and Peter Katis have a studio there where The National recorded High Violet, and it’s definitely haunted. It’s kind of awesome, to be totally honest. There was this eeriness to everything we did especially when we came up with certain sounds, which we all thought was peculiar. It’s hard to explain, but we all liked it.
Many performers have pre- or post-performance rituals. Do you guys do anything specific before and/or after being on stage? When did this ritual start?
We get here so early, so we make sure we come together before we go on and focus on each other to bring it together. We believe in hugging before we go on stage, and sometimes sing “Last Christmas.” We think staying focused is a big thing. There’s a lot stuff to remember before entering the stage. It’s an intense focus for a relatively brief spurt of time, so we think the more we can do to mentally prepare for it, the better. Afterwards, it’s kind of like the fall down where we can unwind and relax.
We just take a breath at the end of the show because a lot happens on stage. We take a second with each other and just talk about how we each think it went. We are very critical of ourselves so we’ll go over everything while it’s still fresh in our minds. That’s the most important thing, just taking a breath and digesting everything that happened.
Being the first month in the New Year, do you have any visions, or New Year resolutions, for Ula Ruth this year? What goals do you wish to accomplish before the closure of 2016?
To reintroduce our band to the people who have been there and love us, who we are very thankful for, as well as open the door for new people that will hopefully love us as well.
We would love to keep up this particularly fruitful writing process. We also plan to continue rehearsing, keep pushing ourselves with writing more music, and try to step it up a bit this year by hopefully playing bigger shows with bigger crowds. We have our sights set on Bowery Ballroom, and we think we’ll hit that this year. It’s a big goal, for sure.
A few final words from Nic: Be interested, be interesting.
Ula Ruth has a lot to look forward to for the year to come. After the release of their third EP Fever, there is nowhere else to go but up for these guys. Keep an eye out for the videos that are being released in the coming months. With as much talent as ambition, I’m sure we can expect great things from Ula Ruth in the near future.