Interview: Ultimate Painting

During downtime from their day jobs as part of Mazes and Veronica Falls, Jack Cooper and James Hoare found time to hatch plans, swap demos and swiftly deliver one of last years most addictive jams under the name Ultimate Painting. No slouches, they have a second album out shortly with a third partially in the can. They’re making it sound easy.

Deluxe: The last eighteen months must have flown past pretty quickly for you guys. As soon as you started jamming through ideas you must have known you were onto something pretty tight, but has Ultimate Painting surprised you as a project?

Jack: I don't think either of us were surprised as such. It's been refreshing that people have been so receptive and excited about it, because I don't think the good stuff always rises to the top, but yeah... it's been fairly straight forward. I think we both bring something to the band that maybe the other person doesn't... don't ask me what those things are and it's not completely tangible but it does feel pretty natural.

D: I dig that you’ve kept momentum going with a new record. Are you consciously now trying NOT to write any material?

James: We're starting on LP no. 3 shortly, we're just getting the songs together now. You need to make sure the standard is as high as it can be so its wise to be writing/re writing as much of the time as possible, or at least when inspiration comes.

D: What was the recording process this time around? Where did you tape it, how, with who?

James: It was recorded in my flat, on an Otari Mx5050 tape machine. Alll done on analog equipment, no computers or plug ins. The Otari is the same model of machine Nirvana used to record their first LP Bleach, that's basically why I purchased it. I recorded/produced it but we are both involved in the process and have input in all the various stages.

Jack: He records the thing, but we're both there the whole damn time. I certainly have some input as to the sonics but I'm punching below James when it comes to production. I would just complicate matters and the idea is for everything to be very simple. He's very good at what he does. As far as the performing goes, we split that down the middle really. Some of my songs I have pretty specific guitar lines for so I'll record both guitars but other than that it's 50/50 all the way... although slightly different on this record as I got kicked off the drum stool.

D: On your new LP, ‘The Ocean’ has a reprise version a track later in the sequencing. Reprises feel like a very conscious process in producing an album. Do you think that is indicative on your approach to ‘Green Lanes’ in general? Is it more considered?

Jack: No it's fairly considered... We try to make the whole thing sit cohesively. We canned a slow one of mine and I wrote something a little bit more uptempo as the record was feeling a little downbeat. I guess the reprises just tie the whole thing together and I suppose they're a way of embellishing a certain aspect of the parent song that we breezed over. The Ocean reprise came about because there was a variation on the chord change that James played that I thought was particularly interesting and I had an idea that'd work over it.

D: The LP still feels loose, were you at all anxious about losing the freewheelin’ vibe of the first album?

Jack: Yeah we were. It's hard to replicate the initial spark of anything but we're hoping to move fast enough to keep things from getting stale. But yeah... it's loose but that's a balancing act in itself.

D: Talking about themes… it seems a little more maudlin than your debut. Am I way off there?

Jack: No I think you're about right. I don't know why that is. If I did then it wouldn't be.

D: How was working with Bradley Kerl again? James, this is your flat yes? Does it seem weird to imagine your flat on the walls of record shops around the World? And Jack, Bradley created the Mazes ‘Better Ghosts’ sleeve too right?

James: It is my flat. I am very fond of my bedroom so I'm happy for a painting of it to be in record stores around the world.

Jack: Bradley's the best. A super talented guy. The first sleeve wasn't something we collaborated on really. We were really pleased when we found that particular painting but it was way more satisfying on this LP to have an idea and see someone as talented as Bradley see it though.

D: Trouble In Mind have mentioned Feelies in your press releases. Are you surprised that they aren’t cited more often? - On topic, who artistically has had an impact on you as a band and this record in particular?

James: The feelies are a great band. I guess there are similarities with the Lou Reed Ostrich guitar style that they adopted, so they are an influence. I tried to go for an Abbey Road feel on one song but it didn't quite work out. I guess classic bands. I did write a song that I thought sounded a bit like Mac Demarco but that didn't end up sounded anything like him in the end either, the track break, the chain is obviously Beatles influenced.

Jack: I don't see too much of the Feelies on our records really. I love them but there's a momentum to their music that we don't really share. That's kind of the thing that defines them. I've been reteaching myself aspects of the guitar as well, trying to learn some different ways of playing, so I'd say that's been an influence. I've played for 20 years and got into some bad habits. I've been obsessed with the Grateful Dead for a few years. I'll never be as good as Jerry Garcia but the way Bob Weir plays guitar and the influence of McCoy Turner has been something I've actively tried to learn. Figuring out weird and sparser ways of playing chords. Why play five notes in a chord when you can play two.

D: Even more broadly, who are you listening to at the moment and who do you guys want to champion?

James: I've been listen to Air, Walkie Talkie and Moon Safari, but that’s not new to me, or something that needs championing I guess. New bands - the Twerps from Melbourne, Parquet Courts from New York, the new Young Husband record sounds very good. Its not out yet but that will definitely be one to watch out for. Grimm Grimm from London.

Jack: I've been really exploring jazz for the first time in my life. I've always been into the more well known things... Coltrane, Miles Davis etc but I've been delving pretty deep. The same with Joni Mitchell... something really clicked with her and I recently. A bunch of our friends in New York just did some recordings and I'm super into them... They're called WALL... tightly wound post punk kinda thing but it sounds fresh. And then there are some cool London bands who I always enjoy seeing; Feature, Primitive Parts and Blueprint Blue.

Talking specifically about record shops;

D: You are both London based, where do you frequent regularly and who is running a good shop right now?

James: Flashback Esssex Road and Crouch End are the probably the best. They get good things coming through and the people that work there all know their stuff and are cool. They have in stores regularly which are always enjoyable.

Jack: I only really go in Flashback and Rough Trade although I rarely buy anything unless I'm on tour. I tend to blow a load of money when I'm in America because it's easier to find a bargain.

D: We are very good friends with End of an Ear in Austin TX. Dan and I were texting whilst you played in store this year… which stores have treated you well on your travels? Which shops have impressed you and why?

James: I specifically wanted to play End of an Ear as i'd played there previously with Veronica Falls and liked it a lot. I know Timmy who works there, so we set the thing up. End of an Ear is particular good. Disc Union in Shibuya Tokyo impressed me greatly with its extensive range of original pressings and prices.I try and go to Blue Arrow records every time I'm in Cleveland as it's extremely reasonably priced and has interesting things. Big Love in Tokyo also is a great shop. Extremely well selected new releases of new underground bands.

Jack: I really like Weirdo Records in Boston, Blue Arrow in Cleveland and then the two Permanent Records in Chicago and LA.

D: Do you like in stores? Which have gone well and which… haven’t?

James: I like in stores a lot, the smaller ones are more fun, big places like Amoeba are ok to do too but they're more like a normal show and you get a better atmosphere in a tiny place. One place I would like to play is Drift Records. Hopefully that will happen soon.

Jack: I like going to the ones at Flashback in Islington... it's more of a street drinking type of scene which I'm behind. I remember seeing James playing with Veronica Falls there and getting them for the first time. They were a breath of fresh air.

D: Do you remember your earliest record store experiences? What did you purchase and where?

James: I remember it well. I purchased REM's debut EP 'Chronic Town' from Rare Records, underneath the Civic Hall in Totnes. I was ten I think. I used to go there regularly and was always highly excited just being in there. In those days, pre internet it was harder to gain information on bands. You had to just buy things and take a chance. As it happens that is still my favourite REM record.

Jack: Yeah the first 7" I owned was the Ghostbusters theme song and then I think the first album I owned (on cassette) was Michael Jackson's Bad. I think the first thing I bought with my own money... y'know money I'd earnt from a weekend job, were copies of 'With The Beatles' and 'Doggystyle' so that's where I was at.

D: Following on, I imagine that yours and mine will be quite intertwined James, but do you think that for the next generation of kids the raised awareness in record shops and the internet in particular have made it easier to discover new music? Are record shops doing an important job and has their role changed?

James: I think their role is as important as ever. It is easier to discover new music with the internet, but downloading an MP3 will never give you the same satisfaction as coming away from a record store with something special.

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