Interview: Ultra Q’s Jakob Armstrong And Kevin Judd Reflect On Growing Older, Evolving, And Embracing Change On New EP

GID: It’s so interesting that it was written during that time and yet it resonates with what the entire world was going through. I found that a lot of records released last year have similar backgrounds. Songs with themes that resonate with 2020 yet were not written during or for that time.

JA: Yeah. I’m glad that came through. It was unintentional but very cool that it worked out that way and that people are finding something to like about it.

GID: As you mentioned, the new EP has songs on there that are about two years old. When it comes to working on new records, do you often look back at old songs and use them as either a jumping-off point to inspire a new song or to retool them?

JA: I’d say this was more than a stretch than usual because things have been so delayed due to COVID, but it happens. I go in my demo folder right now and I have 47 songs in there. Some of those were written in the last week, some of them were written in the last six months, some of them were written four years ago. We have so many songs that haven’t come out, at this point. Whether we use one part from them – that’s happened before where we take one part from an old demo and throw it in a new song. There really isn’t a rhyme or reason to it; it kind of comes together right before we record. We look at our laundry list of songs and pick whatever feels the best, whatever we’re most interested in. Oftentimes that can be the result of our music tastes changing too. Maybe at the time of recording, we’re really into Liar so we want to have songs that have that really tight staccato drum pattern and stuff like that, so some of the other songs get pushed away. It really depends on a few factors. I’d say it’s pretty sporadic the way it happens, but it does happen. We do reach back and grab old stuff all the time.

GID: One thing I really like about Ultra Q is the DIY aesthetic of the band, which especially comes out in the videos which are fuzzy, grainy like you’re watching them on VHS and feel like they’re recorded by a group of friends goofing around.

KJ: What you’re describing is exactly what our videos are. The “redwood” music video is the band and two of our friends in [Jakob’s] garage. That’s exactly what it is. Just hanging out and shooting stuff and clipping it all together to make a video.

JA: Music videos for us are such an important part of the band because we love to watch them. Watching videos is such a big part of the album experience, so it’s definitely something we’re always thinking about. Even with this where we had more of a budget to make videos, we got the chance to work with directors and stuff, it still all follows through. In a cool way, Ultra Q had already built up our own aesthetic based on our older videos. It was something you could look to and build off of. All those videos we made up until In a Cave in a Video Game were made in our garages. Some nights Kevin and I went out to a park dressed in suits and walked around in makeup and I just filmed him.

KJ: We were just dancing in the park trails by our house.

JA: Yeah! We’re not really trying to capture the DIY aesthetic. It’s just what our band was. We just did all that stuff ourselves. I’m glad [that aesthetic] came through though!

GID: Yeah, and I’m so thrilled to hear how you guys value music videos because it feels like they don’t carry as much weight anymore, especially in the post-MTV age. So, it’s great to hear that you guys do put thought into your videos, which definitely came out in the “Bowman” video.

JA: Oh yeah! (laughs) That video was a labor of love for Will Tooke and Zoe Hazlett, who directed it. I was on set that day and we all went out to a park north of Los Angeles. It was so fun having Noah [Urrea] in it. That whole experience was so fun. And it came out so well. I was so happy about it!

GID: In another interview, you mentioned how “Bowman” is difficult to play and how you guys like to challenge yourselves. With that in mind, what was the most challenging thing when it came to making this new EP?

JA: As far as playing live goes “Bowman” is the hardest song to play. It’s so difficult. The drumming on that song alone is ridiculous. That was the hardest part with recording it too. A lot of those demos were made with electronic drums, so we were able to do those kick drums, skips, and things that you hear. Crazy stuff was programmed in, but on the recording, Chris [Malaspina] played it live, which is crazy. I didn’t know that he had it in him to play that part! He’s got it down!

But as far as recording goes, I think recording in a studio is something you have to learn how to do. It’s a skill you have to acquire because more often than not, you’ll end up leaving the studio and things don’t sound how you want. We’ve gone to recording studios many times and we failed many times or have not been happy with what we’ve made. Generally, the hardest part for us was learning how to get what we want out of something like this. I think this is the first time that we really got what we wanted out of [recording in a studio].

KJ: So, the way our songs come about is writing while recording a demo. Mostly Jakob records a demo as he writes. So, a lot of times our songs are fully formed in a demo. It’s weird thinking a song is done and then going to record it and realizing this isn’t quite as done as I thought it was. Out of the context of their original format, you discover the guitars or the drums or the bass might not be exactly what the song needs in this new form. I would say that was another thing that we dealt with on this EP. We get really attached to demos and our songs before they’re recorded which is a bad thing.

JA: A bad thing!

KJ: We’re working on it though!

GID: It’s interesting because the EP as a whole deals with growing up and changing as a person and looking back at old songs gives you the chance to reflect on who you were two years ago and who you are now. Looking at the band’s early days as Mt. Eddy to now, how would you say the band has evolved and grown over the past few years?

JA: I think we’ve grown in a lot of ways. Like you said this EP feels like a coming of age. It feels like the end of our youth in a way.

KJ: The beginning of a new chapter.

JA: Yeah! We’ve all been in a band together since I was 16. I’m 23 now. We’ve all grown up together and this really does feel like the last piece of our youth in a weird way. We’re adults now and we’re facing the world. And having this worldwide shared experience of the pandemic – we basically went a year without being a band. That changes everything. We used to practice every day and we used to always play shows, play around town and hang out all the time.

KJ: This worldwide shared chapter of our lives is definitely felt on a personal level to us as a band.

JA: And I think a lot of people who are our age are going through that exact same feeling and hopefully something will resonate with them on this EP. We’ll see!

GID: It does seem like a pretty significant EP for Ultra Q considering the themes, how it’s coming after a year of no shows, no rehearsals, nothing. This is the next chapter for Ultra Q and especially after last year, that has to be exciting.

JA: It’s been really exciting for us in so many ways. We’ve never had this many people listening to Ultra Q before. In an almost ironic, hilarious way, when Mt. Eddy broke up, it became the band that everyone liked to listen to as opposed to Ultra Q for the longest time. People would always want us to play Mt. Eddy songs and do that stuff again whereas we weren’t really interested in that anymore. It’s been really exciting to see people get excited about Ultra Q now. This is the first time we’re releasing music with a label, the first time we’ve been able to make videos with a budget, and the first time we’ll get to do a lot of things. There’s a lot of new opportunities for us. That also ties into that coming-of-age feeling of we’re still just four kids in a band but we’re also starting to become more than that, which is really cool. We’ve all been super excited, and it’s been a really cool experience so far!

GID: So with the EP on the way and signing with a record label, what’s next for the band? Is a full-length album on the way?

JA: Oh yeah! I’ve got a folder right now with 47 songs! We’re making an album, that’s for damn sure! Hopefully soon.

KJ: Yeah, we have some shows next week. Our first show ever, well it feels like our first show ever. Our first show back is next Wednesday in Los Angeles (Nov. 10) and we have some shows lined up in spring, which should be fine and then we want to go record an album. That’s something we want to do.

JA: It’s all in the works! We’ve been working on it for a long time, so hopefully, soon we can get in there and have it out to the world eventually because we’re really excited about our new songs.

Ultra Q’s new EP, Get Yourself a Friend, is now available. Stream/buy a copy here. Ultra Q will play Shaky Knees festival in Atlanta, Georgia next year. See the full lineup and get tickets here.

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Ashley Perez Hollingsworth

Ashley Perez is a freelance music journalist based in Chicago. Her work has appeared on AXS, The Crypt 1331, Chicago Innerview, New City, The Millions, and Reality-Comics. She also runs her own music blog at Radio Not Found. Some of her favorite bands include Nirvana, The Cure, Muse, Creeper, and Green Day.

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