Interview: Ultra Q’s Jakob Armstrong And Kevin Judd Reflect On Growing Older, Evolving, And Embracing Change On New EP
Listening to Jakob Armstrong talk about the evolution of his band Ultra Q, accepting change, and saying goodbye to adolescence, it’s hard to believe he’s only 23. Armstrong, son of Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong, spent most of his teen years playing music with his friends, having launched the band as Mt. Eddy when he was 16. Though Armstrong and pals found minor success during that time, they ended the band, and regrouped as Ultra Q, setting their sights on something bigger.
With a new label behind them and a bold new EP, Get Yourself a Friend, that touches on human connection, getting older, and saying goodbye to the past, the significance of this period isn’t lost on Armstrong. While he admits that at the end of the day, Ultra Q are still four kids in a band, he’s eager to start this new journey both musically and personally.
Singer/guitarist Jakob Armstrong and bassist Kevin Judd chat with GENRE IS DEAD! about the new EP, how Ultra Q has grown over the years, and what lies ahead.
GENRE IS DEAD!: This next chapter of Ultra Q was ushered in with the single “Bowman,” which PUP’s Stefan Babcock worked on. He also helped arrange the title track. How did he come to be a part of the project?
Jakob Armstrong: Yeah! That was such a dream come true for us as a band. I remember when PUP put out their second record [The Dream is Over], we were all in high school and it was our anthem for so long. That whole situation came about because we signed to Royal Mountain Records around January last year, about a year ago, and PUP used to be on the label and is still really good friends with the guy who runs it, Menno Versteeg. He was like I’m gonna send these demos to Stefan and see if he’s interested in working on them and he was! Then next thing we knew I was on a Zoom call with him working on the songs. It was a total dream come true that we kind of stumbled into. It was one of the coolest experiences we’ve had so far as a band, so we’re very proud of that. Very excited about it!
GID: I was so excited when I saw that because I’m a huge PUP fan. The Dream is Over is absolutely stunning. That’s so awesome you guys got to work with him.
JA: We feel the same way! (laughs)
GID: The songs that we’ve heard from the EP are different than what we heard on last year’s EP, In A Cave In A Video Game, which was inspired by video games and had this pixelated retro sound with lots of electronic and synth elements. Here, we have a couple different things going on: jangly punk rock, moody post-punk, and high energy pop-rock. It’s like you guys are playing around with these sounds and putting them through the Ultra Q filter to expand your sound. What inspired the direction of this EP?
Kevin Judd: A lot of the songs on this EP are pretty old. We tried recording them in the past; they come from different eras of our band. I will say this culmination of songs are our favorite songs that we have made over the last couple of years. They’re each a little different, but we felt like they all worked together. We recorded those six songs together with a specific order in mind.
JA: I would say it really follows where our interests lie. Making the In a Cave in a Video Game EP, at that time we were really listening to Bad Brains and Minor Threat, so we wanted to make a pseudo-hardcore EP, but with some chiptune vibes to it. That was what we wanted to make at the time and that was what we were interested in. When I think about what bands we were listening to when making this EP, we were listening to that first Bloc Party record, we were listening to Futureheads, we were listening to some newer bands like Black Midi and IDLES. That’s kind of what we were into when we were making it with the exception of “It’s Permanent.” That one was in some ways complete nonsense, but also our favorite song on the EP because it’s just a goth rave song. We’re always down to make something. I don’t think there are any rules for us right now. We can do whatever we want and that’s what’s great about the label we’re on. They let us do whatever we want.
GID: I love that you mentioned having a specific order in mind for the songs because I feel that was something more artists put thought into when albums were more of a thing. Now, what’s popular are singles. It’s really refreshing to hear a new band putting thought into those details as someone who still loves listening to albums front to back.
KJ: That’s a requirement for us.
JA: Yeah! Both Kevin and I are such fans of albums; that’s something we’re so into. Our favorite bands, like New Order, have albums with like eight or nine songs and they’re perfectly put together. That’s what we love to do. I rarely save singles on my phone. I love to listen to albums. We keep that in mind because that’s a very important part of our band.
KJ: We organize our demos in album format.
JA: Yeah! (laughs)
GID: Can we talk more about “It’s Permanent?” It’s my favorite from the EP so far, but that may be because it reminds me of early Cure. I’m talking like Faith and Seventeen Seconds. Even your vocals sound Robert Smith-esque. You’ve talked about how you’re a fan of the band in the past, so were they an influence at all on this record?
JA: Yes! Oh yeah! They’re definitely my favorite band ever and that’s so cool that the parts of The Cure you hear the most are those early records. My favorite records are Pornography, Faith, and Head on the Door; I love those records so much. We’re such big fans of that band almost to a fault. I know way too much about them at this point, almost to an obsessive level! I don’t know there’s something about that band I love. I love the variety they create. That they can go and create a record like Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, which is a certified pop record, and then also make something like Pornography, which is the darkest most goth record you can make. They’re an inspiration on so many levels, whether it be the songwriting and the variety or the sounds and their own experimentation. That’s an aspect of the band we really try to strive for and follow in a way.
GID: You really touched on what makes The Cure so special because every album feels different. They can go from weird, upbeat pop songs like “The Walk” and “Let’s Go to Bed” and have an album like Faith or Pornography that’s so bleak, depressing, and dark. Every Cure fan has a record that has touched them in some way whether it’s the album that made them a fan or one that came up at the right moment in their lives and spoke to them. Which Cure album made the greatest impact on you guys?
JA: I think for me personally the one that made the greatest impact was Pornography. Up until that point I had obviously heard the hit songs, “In Between Days” and “Friday I’m in Love;” all those classic songs. It wasn’t until I [stumbled upon the record] and thought wonder what album this is? The cover art looked very interesting to me, and I just clicked on it and wanted to listen to the whole thing. As soon as “One Hundred Years” kicks in, it’s like this is the gnarliest thing I’ve ever heard. It’s so depressing and so good!
For me personally, that was the one that had the biggest impact as far as its history and how the band was on the verge of breaking up on the tour that supported that record. Everything about it was so interesting. I love that record to death. That got me into Head on the Door and currently, I would say Disintegration is my favorite Cure record because it’s a masterpiece. It’s hard to beat Disintegration, but I would say that my personal breakthrough one was Pornography. What about you Kevin? I know you’re not a huge Cure fan.
KJ: I mean honestly my favorite Cure songs are the pop hits. Like you said I’m not nearly as big of a Cure fan as you, but if I’m sitting down to listen to a Cure album I’m definitely listening to Disintegration or Pornography even though my favorite Cure songs are “Close to Me” and “Boys Don’t Cry.”
JA: I love Seventeen Seconds a lot too! Honestly, it changes every day! (laughs)
GID: Going back to “Bowman,” you previously said the lyrics are about this romanticization of online relationships and how you’re more connected to technology than people. And this idea was really pushed to its limit last year where the entire world was forced to connect and have some sort of human interaction online. How did your experiences from lockdown play a role in the song at all?
JA: What’s interesting is that’s one of the songs that was written before the pandemic happened by about six months. That song was written in 2019, so one of the reasons why I chose to record it was because it felt relevant to me after the year we’ve had, really the two years we’ve had. Lyrics for me aren’t always the most important thing. I’m definitely one who enjoys atmosphere and instrumentals more, but I have no problem writing nonsense sometimes. I’m okay with sounding stupid in songs. But after those experiences, it felt like [the song] resonated more and it made me want to record it and work on it more. That’s one we worked on with Stefan, which was really cool. He really helped bring that altogether because it was kind of a mess of a song before that.
KJ: The song has kind of been beaten through. We tried it a few times and having a fresh head, especially one that knowledgeable about music, to come in and restructure it really gave it its final form in a great way.
JA: Yeah! So, it wasn’t necessarily that the song was inspired by the pandemic or lockdown, but I say it was definitely one that resonated the most as we were going through it because the lyrics in some places touched on that feeling and that situation.