In the most imperfect and intriguing way, Ultra Q is a top notch, first class band. Delightfully haphazard and exceptionally sentimental, the way Jakob Armstrong sets out to make music with friends and bandmates Chris and Enzo Malaspina and Kevin Judd has led to underrated, but ever-evolving success.
Imagine this: You’re running through canyons as glittery tears fall from your eyes. It’s frustrating and nerve-wracking, but therapeutic in a way. A sizzling stream of electric guitars slice through tense air backed by drums that are too vivacious to even try to miss. The whole scene is a superbly cinematic response to modernity that captures you visually, but keep your attention with The Cure-esque musicality.
In a wonderful turn of events, you don’t have to imagine any of this, because it’s real. This is “Bowman,” the latest release from alternative genre-benders, Ultra Q. Their new single and it’s accompanied music video are, in essence, a multi-faceted soundtrack and mini movie that was clearly just as thoughtfully created as it will be thoughtfully observed by fans new and old.
While Ultra Q might seem like something new on your radar, we’ve been following the band for quite some time. In 2017, when the indie foursome was still under the moniker Mt. Eddy, we coined their debut album as one of our very favorites of the year, even going as far as to dub the band’s sound as one that “precedes their age” and felt inspired by the likes of “The Strokes, The White Stripes, The Replacements, The Buttertones, and more.”
Will their forthcoming, PUP-produced EP, Get Yourself A Friend, feel the same?
Yes and no.
In chatting with the band, we learned that evolution is inevitable. Sure, this isn’t a brand new idea, but what these four friends and bandmates did, without really trying, was cement the sights and sounds of their young adult lives into their previous releases. Who they were, what they were listening to, and how they were doing are all encapsulated in Mt. Eddy’s debut, Chroma, and Ultra Q’s subsequent releases, We’re Starting to Get Along and In a Cave in a Video Game.
Four years, a new name, and a new label (Hi, Royal Mountain Records!) later, we feel exactly the same way about this NorCal-based band. They are still crafting songs that feel ahead of their time, yet instead of them coming across as all too wise for a band in their early twenties, they are remarkably connected to the lives of their peers. Having honed their craft to make a bit more sense of what growing up in the digital age, as well as amid a pandemic, is truly like, their returning single, “Bowman,” enhances their relevant musical capabilities.
Even though frontman Jakob Armstrong admits to being a bit laidback with his lyricism (basing much of the fleeting narratives at hand on à la minute thoughts and emotions), they fit the bill for a young person coming of age. He, alongside Ultra Q, is simply approaching the creation of art with want rather than need.
Like much of Ultra Q’s catalog, this new single, “Bowman,” is coated in these fuzzy, hazy, yet intricately crafted guitar licks and truly vicious drum lines. For you guys, what comes first, the instrumentation or the lyrics?
Definitely instrumentation. That’s definitely where my head goes first whenever we start composing something. I think just in general I’m definitely more drawn towards the instrumentals of songs and the way that different things work together, as you said, like the drums and guitars. I think that definitely comes through in Ultra Q’s music. Also, I just prefer to have vocals in general a lot quieter than I think other bands do. It’s just a personal preference of mine, so I think you can definitely hear it on on our new song. I mean, I will say that as compared to the other Ultra Q stuff, this is definitely like the cleanest and most linear recording that we’ve ever had, which is really cool. I think it will be really interesting for people to hear us when this time around is not quite as low fidelity in its production and recording.
That is something I also noticed: that it’s a little bit more clear of a track and almost cinematic in it’s flow. It seems to go hand-in-hand with the video, too, which has visuals that kind of add another dimension to the softer vocals. The video fills this single out in a surprisingly robust way. Your friend Noah [Urrea], who’s also an artist, stars in it. I’m wondering now how much of a say in the creative and art departments you have, because everything Ultra Q has ever done feels really concise and authentic.
Absolutely, up until this our videos were just homemade things that I would make with Enzo. We would just have a camera and plan a day around it and then just make something. This was like our first time working with a director and a producer and having a crew to go out and do things with. I mean, I will say I was still very involved. I was on set and I was there and part of the process.
In a way it was really cool to experience something where I just kind if gave someone music and then they just went for it. It was my first time just kind of stepping back and being like, “Alright, I just want to see someone get really passionate about this,” and the director will do that. There were actually two directors: Zoe Hazlett and Will Tooke. Together they just went crazy and they took a simple idea and really pushed it. Honestly, I remember when I saw the first cut and it just blew me away. It blew my brains away. I didn’t know what to think. I was like, “This is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.” I was super excited when I saw it, so it’s been really fun to kind of get to do that stuff where I feel more like a chess player as opposed to being on the board, which is really exciting.
I actually completely understand that. It’s always interesting to see someone else’s interpretation of your music. The sprinkling of the glitter tears and those little village figurines – it really made the song even more introspective than it was…. At least, that’s from my point of view Yours might be a little different because, of course, you created the song.
Yes, I agree. The visuals definitely add so much. It’s almost hard for me to imagine the song without the video now, you know? It’s this huge part of it for me.
Absolutely. You know, on that same note, the narrative of this song kind of talks about connection, or lack thereof because everyone has a different definition of what connection means in this digital era. For some, it’s genuine human interaction, but for others, it’s telecommunications through technology. Regardless, you delve into it in “Bowman.” What made this topic worthy of singing about? How did it come together?
What’s crazy about that is how most of this song was written over a year-and-a-half ago… like almost two years ago now. Lyrics, for me, I’m generally not super specific with. I am not super specific with what I like to write about. I don’t like to put a lot of thought into it, because most of them just start off as like little thoughts or like little poems that aren’t really meant to be anything. Then I’ll take pieces of these and put them together and just kind of make something out of it.
When I think about “Bowman” and I think about this song, I was definitely thinking about being my age, which is 22, and growing up with technology being such a big part of my life. It’s really hard now to not talk about COVID, but especially going through COVID and that feeling of being totally disconnected from people and from different relationships that I was having – whether it be friendships or otherwise – I realized how much I depended on technology. Let alone how much I depended on social media and all those things just for interaction and for a feeling of community, I guess, which it’s kind of depressing when you think about. This song was specifically leaning toward that realization during this time.
You make really solid points on the topic of these various online relationships nd whether they were predominantly online before or because of this time period. At our age, and within the digital age, the Internet is being used a million ways just to connect people, which is might be a benefit, but it also might not be.
Yeah. It’s almost like it’s too easy to feel connected, but also too easy to feel like it’s not substantial and it’s not real. I started to have a really unhealthy relationship with social media where it was just making me feel bad about myself for a long time. Actually, I think around the time I wrote this song, it was definitely when I started to step away from that a bit more and start to try and look for other things to be there for me.
There’s a weird dichotomy of the Internet being this great connector and yet being falsely fulfilling, that’s for sure, but it’s good to kind of get that breathing room and just reflect on the way media make you feel. I, too, think social media is something that a lot of people should take that break from like you did, and whether a good song comes out of it or not, that’s their prerogative. I’m happy that was what came from your break, though.
Well, thank you.
You’re welcome. You know, Jakob, one of the notes that I took while listening to this song was how reminded me of my favorite song by The Cure, which is “Push,” if you know that song.
Oh, yeah? That’s off a great album – The Head on the Door.
Yes! I love that album. Your “Bowman” gave me the same vibe as it’s “Push.” It has that same kind of eclectic and electric intro and outro that is just so mesmerizing. Speaking of these intros and outros, I love them on this new single, and I was just wondering about your inclusion of them, because it’s not a new thing for Ultra Q or even for Mt. Eddy. If anything, it’s a notable aspect of this band to have these in-depth and immersive soundscapes both before and after these subdued lyrics.
Just talking about The Cure, I mean, I could go on forever that on that, because they’re my favorite band of all time. Intros and stuff… it’s definitely something that we like to do. I think it really stunted as we were playing in high school and we were playing shows and really enjoying writing the different transitions between the songs during our live sets. That’s where that comes from. We like to surround songs with different things, but specifically in a live setting for sure. I think as we started getting into like the Ultra Q songs and stuff, it became like, “Ok, how can we make this more interesting?” We started Ultra Q entirely because we wanted to challenge ourselves more in writing things that were more interesting to us. It was because our tastes changed, too, but definitely because we were hoping to challenge ourselves with different parts of songwriting.
This song specifically is by far the hardest song for us to play. I don’t know how Chris is able to play that drum part on “Bowman” or how we was able to do any of this for it, because in the demo it was just a drum machine. I was able to just program that kick skip the beginning and in the outro, but he was somehow able to play it when we recorded it. He just blew my mind. I believe we just really like to make things that are challenging and, while not necessarily trying to be different, it’s what we like to do. We don’t really stray away from something if it’s too hard. We just go, “Oh, that’s what we want to do? We’re going to do that or we’re going to find a way to do it.”
How commendable and versatile are you all? [Laughs] Like I said, the intro and outro of this song caught me so off guard and was the first thing I took note of. In the beginning you noted that instrumentation is a big part of Ultra Q’s process and this song proves that.
Oh, absolutely. For sure.
As California natives, it’s always surprised me how your music has never actually felt West Coast, if that makes any sense. When I think of the West Coast sound, I think of like Creedence [Clearwater Revival] and I think of Phantom Planet, both who are these wholeheartedly California groups in their own way. Ultra Q seems to take influence from more from East Coast bands, though, and different places and times in pop culture to really bring out this gritty, but at times vulnerable alternative rock sound. For you, where do you look to for influence? And is it different or similar to that of like Enzo, Chris, and Kevin?
Yeah, so in a really general way, we all definitely love bands like The Strokes and Interpol and Bloc Party. Specifically, we were listening to that first Bloc Party record a lot when we were writing a lot of these songs. The problem is, too, that our taste changes so much – I’m thinking about our last EP In a Cave in a Video Game. When we put that one out, I was listening to a lot of like hardcore, like Minor Threat, Bad Brains and the first Horrors record. That reflects in how I wrote a few hardcore songs and maybe that’s kind of just what we made because it was what we were into at the time. I think that is really exciting, but it’s also challenging for our fans because our catalog is so varied. That’s still really fun to us.
For this project, though, we were really kind of getting back to like guitar driven…. Well, at least our version of pop song. I kind of wrote this song for me and this was what I got when trying to write a pop song. This is my version of it [Laughs], but obviously that’s not totally how it turned out. That was kind of where my head was at, though.
Geographically, though. It definitely we draw a lot from the sounds on the East Coast, like early 2000s New York and like UK hits from Gang of Four. We listened to a lot of shoegaze like My Bloody Valentine, but even when an influence isn’t heard in our actual music, it’s definitely felt throughout it because that’s what we were into at the time, whether it be the attitude or the sound or a subject matter out of any of those things.
Of course. Following your career within the industry has allowed me to really listen to what you’ve been doing and dissect all the aspects of it. I remember on your last EP I was hearing influences from Rich Kids on LSD and Deep Purple thinking “Where did this come from? I was listening to [Mt Eddy’s] ]The Whale Song’ five minutes ago!” Personally, in this very oversaturated age of media, keeping people on their toes is important. With this upcoming album and it’s Strokes meets Cure vibe, you’re not only connecting yourself to the music, but it’s connecting to fans with various interests, which I think is riveting.
Of course. It’s definitely a goal of ours to not fall into the like nostalgia trap too much. We want to be a modern rock band, at least that’s part of our ethos. We want to try and make new things and be a modern band, but it is definitely special if someone can hear influences in our band, I’m just like, “Oh, that’s the coolest thing ever.” You know, if someone hears “Bowman” and thinks of “Push,” that’s amazing. That’s so cool and makes me so excited. I can’t believe that’s even possible – that’s just so cool for us.
That was the first note I took!
Awesome. Thank you so much. That’s like the highest compliment I could ever receive.
Well, you’re very welcome. You know, another note that I took is that lyrically, I heard a lot of Harry Styles in this, which is very random, I know. I find that you have that same flow of personal, but still conversational writing. It was found a lot on his first album, but also on this new song of yours. Thinking about pop and your take on pop with “Bowman,” I’m speculating that that’s a little too far pop for you.
I would definitely say that I’m a huge fan of that first era of Harry Styles back then. I thought his debut was a great record. Man, that’s really cool, too. I mean, I wouldn’t say that I’ve ever really studied or like looked at his lyrics too much, but I did do a cover of one of his songs once a few months ago… the first song off that album, actually, “Meet Me In The Hallway.” I would say I’m pretty lazy when it comes to lyrics, though. I just kind of write and if it feels right then that’s kind of where it stays. I don’t worry too much about making sense or trying to get a point across. I write for fun and then if it’s really silly and it makes no sense, then that’s just what happened. Really, if it was just complete nonsense, then that’s cool with me, too. I’ll take it all as long as it feels right.
Right! You can always re-imagine it, as well, or simply let people take it as it is and create their own story out of it, which is a big part of artistic expression.
Yeah, absolutely. It’s definitely fun. I’m really happy with the way the lyrics on this whole project turned out. It’s definitely my strongest, I think, in my personal opinion. Looking at it as a body of work, it is definitely my favorite thing I’ve ever done.
Whoa and wow. That’s a big statement.
Oh yeah, absolutely. I have this horrible problem where as soon as I put out something, I hate it. It’s like I’ve worked on it, but I need it to get better. I’m not doing that here. I mean, we recorded this lie four or five months ago now and also a lot of these songs were written over a year ago, so if I still feel a strong attachment and am still proud of this, that’s a really good sign for me. Honestly, usually by this point I’m pretty over it and saying, “Oh God, scrap it.”
I am the same way with writing and it’s painful even in the proudest of moments!
This might have been like a year ago, but I remember the Ultra Q band account tweeting that there were like a slew of Ultra Q recordings and demos that had never been heard outside of the little bubble that is the band. I’m guessing, or am I assuming, that some of those songs are going to be heard or featured on this upcoming project?
Let’s see, because it’s kind of complicated answer to that. Like I said, a lot of these were written awhile ago and this project, Get Yourself A Friend, has six songs on it. It’s a mid-size…. Well, I’d say it’s like a long EP. Out of those six, four were written over a year ago. Two of them are written like six or seven months ago. It is crazy, though, because I have a bunch of demos from like when I was 16 through 20 that will probably never get out. It’s hard because even in the last probably eight months, I’ve got a folder with like 43 songs in it or something like that. Probably 99% of them will never turn into anything, but they’re there. There are definitely a lot that we’ve down and we definitely are going to be making more projects whenever we find something good that I have in the folder. We’ll just make a song out of that. I’m constantly making stuff, though, so it’s hard to say what’s going to be on what but, I can say that we definitely have a lot more projects planned, which is really cool.
You’re excited, I’m excited, and there’s a chance everyone else is excited, too. I also think that just the ability to look back at old stuff, whether it’s released or not, can be beneficial as almost a jumping off point for something new.
What’s really cool is that I still look back on the first two EPs and I’m so proud of those. You could stamp it on my grave that I am so proud of everything that we put out so far. I think it’s going to be this new one that will be a really cool opportunity for people to hold onto, though. If you listen up through our discography, it is going to be a really cool progression of both the songwriting and recording – and just like everything else we did for it. I feel like we really ground into this part of where our band is at right now.
Well that warms my heart. l hope everyone dives into everything Ultra Q this time around, whether it’s the VHS tape-style of the “redwoood” video or the updated cinematography and melody found in “Bowman.” That’s my hope for this era.
It’s tough because we’ve never been a band, even during Mt. Eddy, that does well on streaming. Up until COVID it always been our live shows where people come out and find our music. That’s always where we saw the most growth, so it’s been tough going through COVID and seeing not a lot of people listen yet, but maybe in the next few months more people will find us. New and old fans will find and enjoy the new projects soon. That’s what I’m hoping for, too.
“BOWMAN,” THE NEW SINGLE FROM ULTRA Q, IS OUT NOW! THEIR FORTHCOMING EP, GET YOURSELF A FRIEND, DROPS NOVEMBER 19!