New album – Glasto appearances – and now an interview with Ben at RPM it’s all happening for Ulysses at the moment check out this cheeky Interview on everything Ulysses.
The new album ‘On Safari’ is a bit of a monster, well-done sir! It has been getting a great response from fans and critics alike, are you surprised at all the positive feedback?
Relieved probably! I didn’t really have any expectation of how it would go down other than I knew people who already like us would have to get their heads around it as it’s a different animal than ‘Law And Order’ and I hoped they would eventually consider it as good, if not hopefully better. Every album we do is different though, we don’t write music to order, we just do what we do and if anyone whatsoever at all likes it, it’s a bonus!
I think I referenced everyone from Kiss and ELO to Supergrass and Super Furry Animals in my review. You have a lot of classic 60’s and 70’s influences going on but there’s a bit of disco and new wave going on, you seem to have branched out your sound more than ever this time?
We were listening to a lot of Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers anyway and then he died so were listening to them even more! The Cars we’ve always loved, just feeling the late 70s / turn of the 80s thing really, the English end too, Nick Lowe, Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson, etc. ‘Doctors And Nurses’ chorus popped in my head fairly fully formed, I heard it a bit more Grange Hill theme tune, we kept some of that but it also turned into a full-blown Disco smash, maybe I was listening to too much Bee Gees. I did personally stop worrying about being stuck in one or two styles and just did what I used to do which is just do whatever I want and not worry about it.
What song on the new album are you most proud of?
‘Calendar Street’ was a beast – I’m proud to have finally tamed it, I dreamed the Medieval intro and that helped finish it off. I think ‘Bad Tattoo’ is the best overall song in terms of songwriting and conciseness, although I felt uncomfortable with how ‘serious’ it was to begin with. ‘Situation Man’ is a personal victory/breakthrough, it’s a step in a different direction. We’re proud of all of them though really.
How do you approach songwriting?
Just things or a part of a song pop in my head to being with, fairly fully formed. I usually sing something into my phone or grab a guitar or piano and then figure it out and play that into my phone. Then I’ll bash out a rough demo of it where I can throw down some other ideas / parts at it. Takes a while to craft it into a final version, sometimes playing it with the band and doing a band demo of it is when it finally all comes together / Denny and Shane will put their stamp on it etc. There’s no real formula. Lyrics I find the hardest to finish, but I probably enjoy writing lyrics more these days so that’s getting easier.
Have you ever written a song, only to be told it was just a rip off of something else and then scrapped it?
Only by myself. Once when I presented a song to the band they all laughed, but then it turned out to be one of our best and most popular songs – who’s laughing now eh?
The weirdest is when you get a review saying a song sounds like a song by someone you’ve never even heard of.
Like many bands in today’s musical climate, am I right in saying Ulysses is not a full-time thing for you guys. Band members have full-time jobs and families to feed. In that respect, is touring and promoting a new album an easy thing to workaround for you?
It is difficult, but I feel we’ve got to a point where I consider us lucky – we can do the band fairly legitimately and with a degree of success but basically alongside our normal lives with families and jobs, etc – I’d say that was pretty cool really. I think there are too many models in music these days in my opinion, I don’t think you can be model for that corporate shit and be an edgy Punk musician, sorry. I blame Vice magazine, or maybe it’s not their fault, it’s just symptomatic. Music should be made by suburban weirdo outsiders, not rich kids who grew up seriously good looking.
Let’s talk about the fantastic cover art by Caitlin Mattisson. How did that come about?
We had Howlin Rain and friends in common on Instagram and I just immediately loved her work, so I sent her a message and we cut a deal. I wanted something celestial – turned out perfect! Would love to work with her again.
It looks like a page from an adult colouring book. Maybe a second pressing of the vinyl is in order, the cover on matt paper and some free crayons?
We’ve sold half of the vinyl already but alas all the money is going to into the big black hole of debt. Maybe if someone could stump up the money we could do a ‘Ulysses band members’ scratch n’ sniff version?
(review of the album: Here)
You recently played multiple sets at the Glastonbury festival. How was that experience?
It was great thanks, probably not as glamorous as it sounds. We played 4 of the smaller stages, so it mostly working out how were going to get our gear from one stage to another etc! It was really lovely though, great people everywhere we went pretty much – one of the best. We also met Steve Frost from The Young Ones / Who’s Line Is it Anyway etc when we played the Theatre And Circus Backstage Stage – he was a total dude.
Who was the best artist you saw that weekend?
We clashed with The Cure which was the only band I really wanted to see alas. By fate, we shared a bill on the Acoustic Stage Backstage with Marla and David Celia, a Canadian / German acoustic duo/couple, and they were fantastic. Great to hang out with too and we’ve stayed in touch, hopefully, do something with them next year. And of course our good friends Magic Bus who were the perfect hippy festival band on the Croissant Neuf stage.
You have toured and shared stages with many bands over the years, who is the nicest musician you have met?
Hmm the nicest. Well apart from the above, Marc Ford was a big hero for me, he was great, very sarcastic though. We drank a lot! Scott Holiday from Rival Sons is a pal and top guy. Richard Thompson was lovely, he had sandals and socks on too. Probably the nicest was either Bobby Conn who I’m a huge fan of (the most humble should-be-a-massive-star mega-talent around) but we fell out as I don’t like cats, or Michael Tyack from Circulus who I don’t think gets enough credit for helping bring in this current wave of Medieval and Pagan influenced culture around at the moment. Oh and also Ed Bazalgette from The Vapors who not only is a magnificent guitar player, he is also a very lovely fella.
I have to say though that as far as I can remember everyone we’ve played with or met has generally been pretty lovely company. There’s a few who have been hard work but they probably have conditions etc.
We have a really wonderful network of DIY and indie label bands that we play with and are friends with and love. I would liken it to a modern version of CBGBs – its lots of disparate and stylistically quite different bands thrown together by basically all having very limited outlets / opportunities, but appreciating each others’ talents and weirdness. That’s what the ‘Indie’ scene is these days for me.
The worst celebrity encounter though was Barry Wom when me and Shane Ulysses went to see The Rutles play in Bristol a few years ago. We went to talk to him after the show about Patto the great 70s band he was in, and he literally just completely blanked us and turned around and carried on drinking his pint with a handle. Pretty cool though.
If you could have one of your heroes guest on your next album, who would you choose and what instrument would you get them to play?
It would have to be Paul McCartney and he’d be on drums, sorry Shane. Or maybe Lindsey Buckingham on whatever he wants, if he’s feeling better.
When people think of Luke Smyth, what do they most associate you as being?
Hairy, like Jeff Lynne crossed with Marc Bolan, like a bearded Marc Bolan basically. Possibly a bit of a weird pervert? You tell me!
RPM: What was your first guitar, and what song did you first learn on it?
LS: God… Um first guitar was my older brother’s I think, and I could play along to the melody of Beatles records by ear when I was about 5, which is kind of weird now I think about it.
What do you think was the best year for music in your lifetime?
I thoroughly enjoyed 1993 and 1995, but during 1997/98 I worked in an independent record shop and there was a phenomenal amount of good albums that came out in that period, Air, Spiritualized, Super Furry Animals, Pavement, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Supergrass, Beck, PJ Harvey, The Make Up, Massive Attack, Primal Scream, an endless list.
If you could have a billboard anywhere in the world, where would you have it and what would it say?
In the middle of the Sahara desert, and to quote The Heads “Everyone knows we got nowhere”.
If you could go back to your 20 year old self, what 3 pieces of advice would you give?
Oh just the usual: make love to as many women as possible, travel about a bit, and stop worrying about everything so much for God’s sake. There’s definitely a few people I would advise myself to avoid.
And finally, if you could have a drink with anyone, alive or dead, who would it be and what would you drink?
If it was a man I would share a drink of Peyote and magic mushroom tea with Paul McCartney, or if it was a lady I would share some kind of bedroom enhancing beverage with Winona Ryder, or maybe late ‘70s Dolly Parton, I’m not fussy.