Interview: Ultimate Painting Talks “Dusk”, Favourite Record Stores, and Politics

Ultimate Painting. (Photo: John Sturdy)

For the past two albums, London-based duo Jack Cooper and James Hoare of Ultimate Painting have been weaving their sounds together. With the duo’s new album, Dusk, set for release on September 30th via Trouble In Mind, they’ve added something new to the mix. Melissa Rigby joined the duo in the recording process for this album and brought some rhythmic, jazzy undertones to the table.

The duo came to when the two met on tour with their other bands, Mazes (Jack Cooper) and Veronica Falls (James Hoare) and they clicked so well that they decided to make their own project. On the band’s self-titled debut and sophomore (Green Lanes) albums we’re given a taste of Veronica Falls meets Mazes, but with this album, you really get to hear the two as a duo, completely intertwined musically.

In our new interview, James Hoare told us about the making of Dusk, why he tends to stay away from consuming himself with politics, his favourite record stores, and much more.

When you and Jack met on tour with your other bands Mazes and Veronica Falls, how did your musical partnership develop?

It was over three weeks, we just naturally over that time started talking about music, and by the end of that I remember saying by the end, “we should maybe think about doing some recording together and it seemed very natural. By the time the tour had ended a few weeks after that, I sent him a text and said “let’s do it.” Then it took a while after that, maybe a couple of months, because I was away again. We met up, started recording for fun, then we recorded our first record.

With your new album, Dusk, you recorded it in your flat and home studio. How did that environment impact the creative process?

We recorded all three records in the flat, but with this one we had a conscious effort. Together we decided we wanted to make something very sparse, so when we were recording we kept that in mind. Sometimes Jack would bring a song to me and I’d say “well maybe this wouldn’t work quite that well for what we’re doing,” and I’d play him a song and he’d [say] “let’s try another.” We had a clear vision in mind that we wanted to make something very simplistic. Recording in a flat works very well in that way, because we kept everything very quiet and very minimal. Everything fed together and it worked really well with the record we’ve just done.

So it translated how you were hoping for it to when you went into it?

Yeah, exactly. We didn’t have to push anything, it naturally just worked into what we’d spoken about before we recorded the record.

Melissa Rigby recorded drums on the album, and she brought with her some rhythmic elasticity, and jazzy undertones. What was it like working with someone beyond the duo of you and Jack?

It worked well with her because she’s… we initially wanted to work with her because she was such a good drummer and a good friend of both of ours. It worked well having someone outside of the duo adding something of their own and she’s a very creative drummer. We gave her direction, told her to be minimal, or go for this kind of approach, but it took some of the pressure off the two of us I think. We could just say “okay, do something along these lines for this track.” Not much direction and she would just inherently know what we wanted her to do. It alieved some of the pressure I guess. It made it really relaxed.

Do you think it changed the dynamic at all when you were in the studio to have female influence on the album?

Maybe. I think we’re both sensitive guys. We’re not very macho. It was nice having a female figure in the creative process. We both fed off of that. I’ve played in bands with women for some time and I’ve enjoyed having a female there, because I find that sometimes men can be… even if they don’t realize it, they can be a bit macho with their direction and their perception of things. I enjoy working with women, because it can give a kind of freshness. For years I’ve played in bands, since I was a teenager and working with a woman always gives you a different outlook and I think it helped the record. I think it gave us a relaxed element, we weren’t within our comfort zone, but we were comfortable at the same time.

How would you compare the creative process of the new album to 2015’s Green Lanes?

I think this one was far more easy going. The last record we recorded all in one go, in the space of a week or two everything had to be done. With this one, we met up with Mel and she’d come over to my flat. Before we’d record, we would always have a cup of coffee or tea and we’d sit down and say “okay, we want to do this, we’ll do that,” and that made her really relaxed too. It gave some of the ambience of the record, that’s where it grew from. It wouldn’t be like “okay, you’ve got to go in here for one week and record a record.” It was just like “come around.” Sometimes we wouldn’t even do that much recording. She’d record a track and we’d talk about it, then we’d go out and have lunch, or eat at my house. I definitely think having her on board gave it a kind of looseness that we both appreciate.

I’m sure that reflected on the sound too.

Yeah, I think so. We didn’t have the pressure of the second record, [where] we literally had to record all the drums and bass and the main part in one week. We did this record over the space of maybe two months, two and a half months. Just doing a bit here and there when we were all free. When you can tell someone else is enjoying themselves, it makes you enjoy yourself more. When we worked with her, we could see she was having a really good time. It all fed into our creative melting pot, where everyone seemed to be relaxed, but also focused.

The ongoing 2016 U.S. Presidential election has taken on a surreal quality to it. How do you keep from being disillusioned about politics?

I don’t know what to say about politics really, because we have a similar thing with the Brexit situation in Europe. At the same time, I don’t really know how much involvement I can take from it. Personally, I’m the kind of person who the surroundings impact quite greatly, so it’s not a good thing to do, but I bury my head in the sand. I can’t understand what’s going on. I know myself for agoraphobia, I don’t leave the house that much. When I read that kind of stuff in the press, I tend to retract and stay in my own world. I know it’s not a good thing, but I try to stand back from it, because I don’t know what I can do for the situation.

With your newest single Song For Brian Jones”, what kind of influence did the late Rolling Stones founder have on this song and the album as a whole?

I wrote that song after I read a book about Brian Jones. Through my whole life I’ve been a big fan of the early period of the Rolling Stones and late in life, I’ve realized I love what Brian Jones brought to the band. All the interesting instrumentation in the mid 60’s. I think he gave the band so much more than they gave him credit for. I find the members of the Rolling Stones fairly odious these days and I really don’t find any connection to Mick and Keith. Brian always gave them the magic in the mid 60’s and I find that after reading this book, it was so obvious that they’ve tried to write him out of history. I find that really depressing, because obviously he’s dead and he can’t speak for himself.

That song is written from the perspective of him after he was ejected from the Rolling Stones. It was just a little comment of mine, to remind myself of my beliefs. It’s written from his perspective before he died. I felt quite strongly with my… I wouldn’t say dislike, because that’s too strong of a word, but I appreciate what he did for that band and I find that he was written out of history very unjust. There was a film made about Keith Richards recently and his book and everybody tries to minimalize his impact on the band and it’s very gray. That song is just a little, tiny… I know I have no impact in the greater thing, but it’s a tiny reminder to people that he was a huge impact on that and not to forget it.

Do you think that will translate to the people who listen to it and hopefully spread some awareness about that fact?

Maybe. I don’t think they’d get it, but maybe they would. The lyrical content is kind of obscure, but maybe if they read something like this they might understand the lyrical aspect. It’s written from his point of view and maybe it’ll make a few people research more about what he did and what they did. So yeah, I think anything is positive. Psychic TV have a song about him, Godstar. It was completely different to this song, but it made people aware of what he did at the time. I think anything in the long run, I think people will listen to it and look at the lyrics and go “okay, this guy was doing this and maybe what Keith Richards and Mick Jagger say isn’t the whole truth.”

It kind of gets buried sometimes when you have those front men who have the spotlight and whatever they say goes. People tend to forget.

Yeah, I think part of it is the fact that he’s dead and I’d like to remind people that he was very much a driving force. Unfortunately, he’s not around and the people who are the current driving force want to forget him.

Since 2014, you and the other members of Veronica Falls have been involved in your own side-projects. What does 2017 and beyond hold for new music from Veronica Falls?

I don’t think anything at the moment, but I’m good friends with the main singer Roxanne, and when I was in LA recently I saw her and we were talking about doing music together right before she left. Now she lives in LA, so I wouldn’t write off the idea of her and I working together and we were doing the majority of the songwriting, so I think if we’re both living in the same place at some point, I think the two of us will work together again. As for the name Veronica Falls and what we were doing, I don’t know. It’s in hiatus.

Ultimate Painting (Photo: John Sturdy)

What’s your earliest music-related childhood memory? 

My earliest childhood music memory is probably listening to the White album that my dad was playing on the record player when I was very young. Maybe 3, 4, 5 years old. He used to play the White album a lot, on a 60’s record player. That’s my earliest introduction to music. I remember thinking when he played that record, “this is something I need to have with me all the time,” because it gave me so much pleasure. To this day it’s still my favourite record, I never grow tired of it. When we’re on tour I still listen to it all the time. It’s very relevant to the music we’re making now. I’m very in touch with my initial interest in music.

That’s wicked. Does he, or do you still have the actual record?

I do. I have four copies of the White album on LP, original press. I have his copy that I still listen to, I have a copy I bought when I was about 12 years old before eBay where you can buy things cheap, I have one Roxanne from Veronica Falls brought me with her boyfriend about five years ago, I have one I got from a record shop a few years ago, and I still listen to my dad’s copy.

Those records are pretty hard to get your hands on these days. They’re pretty expensive, even with eBay.

Yeah, they are. It’s gotten harder and harder. The last time I went to the states I noticed with eBay and discogs, it’s harder and harder to get original pressings of old records. The internet is great, it’s great to connect with people and have an awareness of your music, but it has a negative side of many things obviously. Selling records and also buying old records. It’s a lot harder to get the stuff… I’ve been collecting records since I was I think 10 or 11, really young, and the kinds of records I used to be able to get when I was a young teenager you couldn’t possibly get now.

I think that kind of brings a little bit of beauty back to it though, because even in this day and age where it’s ‘hip’ and ‘cool’ to get a record online, if you want an actual original record, you do still have to go to a store. You do still have to go on that hunt, go to a store in every city, and actually give a shit about looking for it to find something like that.

I totally agree. Whenever we’re on tour I try to do that. They’ll be certain stores in certain towns, like when I’m in Cleveland I know some shops, when I’m in LA there’s a few shops I’ll go to there. When I’m on tour I’ll make specific arrangements to visit certain cities early. I’ll be like “let’s leave the hotel really early so we can get there, we can go to this store.” That’s something I still like, even with the internet, there’s still the draw of the record shop and that you find the hidden gem searching for things.

Do you have any record shops in your mind that’ve stuck out over the years?

Cleveland, I really like this one shop under the Beachland Tavern, I really like that. There’s some more really commercial ones, I really like going to Academy in New York. There’s ones in Europe that I like. You have to make the time when you’re on tour. It’s quite hard work, but if you let people know you want to leave early in the morning and you want to go [somewhere], you can still do it.

Which songs would you put on your perfect pre-show playlist?

We don’t do that, but occasionally we’ve put stuff on and it does make me feel a lot more energized to hear certain music. I love to hear the Beatles or the Brian Jonestown Massacre. I’m a huge Brian Jonestown Massacre fan and the few times we’ve gone on when they’ve been playing, I always feel particularly excited to go on. So I think on this next tour, we’re going to start making our own playlists and taking them with us.

This interview can also be found on Aesthetic Magazine’s website.

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