- Wed, 2012-09-05 16:12
Lacing saccharine melody across bold beats and unpredictable electronic inflections, the off-kilter pop music swirling through the mind of Laura Bettinson first caught our attention in the guise of her one-woman project Dimbleby & Capper. We chatted to her briefly, attended some spectacular live shows (all costumes and wide-eyed theatrics), invited her to create an I Like Music Guest Edit and followed her progress as she abandoned D&C and embarked on her latest musical musing, FEMME.
Not alone in our adoration, earlier this year it emerged that Laura had joined up with famed Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich and multi-instrumentalist / producer Joey Waronker to form new band Ultraísta. Named after a surrealist movement in Spanish literature, Laura's penchant for pop has been taken to woozy heights, forming their exquisite electronic daydreams into a self titled album due for release in October.
We sat down with Laura to find out more...
ILM: When did Ultraísta begin?
Laura: I met the guys in 2009. We started on ideas in the very early stages of meeting each other but then Nigel had so much going on, there was The King of Limbs, so we finished this off, really, in the last nine months.
ILM: How did you meet?
Laura: Nigel heard early, early, early Dimbleby & Capper stuff. Just my little demos. He came to a show that I did at the Old Queen's Head. I wouldn't have recognised him! I knew his management were coming down, so I saw her. Then this guy was standing behind her at the end of the show. He enjoyed it. That was good. So...we ended up working together!
ILM: So Nigel and Joey were looking for a new female artist?
Laura: They had an idea for a project and they eventually needed a muse to kick it all off. I think they'd tried a couple of different things and it hadn't really clicked. I don't really know that much, we haven't spoken about it. It just kind of happened and it worked....
ILM: How did they explain their initial vision for the project to you?
Laura: They'd been listening to a lot of really beat based music. They'd listened to the early, early demos of a girl called Rye Rye. A rapper that was just beat and vocal. I don't want to really say Diplo, but those kind of afro-beat rhythms, all beat based. Then they wanted, well, Nigel always said he wanted 'a Whigfield melody over the top of beat based music.' Which is kind of what I gravitate towards anyway; pop, not stupid pop, the pop you come back to. I was brought up in the 90's too, Whigfield was the first cassette I ever bought funnily enough, I must have been about seven or eight.
ILM: How would you describe the process of working with Nigel and Joey?
Laura: It was quite exciting for all of us in different ways. Nigel has done so much and has an immaculate reputation for all this amazing music but from what I know, he's never been as creative in the writing role as he has been in this project. It's been so collaborative, the whole thing. We're a band. It wasn't me coming and featuring on tracks that were written. We'd have a beat, I'd be riffing over it, then we might go back and reconstruct those ideas and completely change the song, put some music in it, put some chords in it. We were writing it as a band, which ultimately, I think has made for better music.
ILM: What's Nigel's studio like?
Laura: Amazing. Yeah. Amazing. Haha! It has everything you could think of. Joey and Nigel, they've both collected so much stuff! And it all has a story behind it. The way Nigel produces stuff is amazing. It's almost like a lost art. The breadth of knowledge they have, their ability to get the sound right before you put it in. I'm from a completely different world to that. I'm very much the Logic generation, being able to make music in your bedroom very quickly, moulding the sound in your laptop rather than with all this gear.
ILM: You've always produced your vocals with a very distinct style, how did you find working on them with Joey and Nigel?
Laura: The vocal performances Nigel got out of me were great. I wouldn't have achieved it with anyone else. Very different vocal sounds to the way I use them. I'm like, shove effects on! Whereas this is quite dry, there's not really any reverb on it, it's quite direct.
ILM: Where did the band name come from?
Laura: That was taken from a Spanish poetry movement. It was all cut up and quite surreal which worked with the way we made the music; add that bit, add that bit, keep the lyrics quite fluid and abstract.
ILM: Though we've heard Smalltalk and Static Light on your soundcloud page, Bad Insect is the first official single. How did that track come to be?
Laura: Bad Insect is one that came together really easy, really easy. You'll probably be able to hear it on the record. It's quite free that one. Basically we hadn't worked on anything for a few months. Then Nigel sent me just an instrumental track. I tried a few different things out at home. Then I got to the end of this evening and was just like, whatever, I'm just going to try this outrageous poppy, kind of 60's melody over the top. I thought he would hate it but I just sent it and the funny thing was, I'd done a load of other stuff thinking "he might be in to this, this might be alright." Then I got an email back saying "yeah, that Bad Insect thing, great! As it is!"
ILM: Everything I've read about Ultraísta is preceded by 'Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich...' Were you intimidated by his reputation?
Laura: Maybe if I was more of a Radiohead nerd. I just took it in my stride... You meet some people whose lives have grown to a Radiohead soundtrack. A lot of the really hardcore Radiohead fans seem to have come over to hear Ultraísta because they appreciate how much Nigel has been involved with Radiohead. I don't mind that! They're a weird bunch though, haha, they're really into it! So much so they'll actually tell you what is wrong with something rather than why they like it. They seem to be mostly male too.... We need to get more women on board, that's my job! Most of our fan base seems to be, pretty much, all male. I need to get the girls on board. Do some fashion press maybe.
ILM: Ultraísta has a strong visual identity, how did that form?
Laura: The visual side of it came so quickly. We've done basically a video for every song on the album, all in Nigel's studio. He had all this video gear! We had some very strong visual ideas. We're doing so much ourselves, it's important for us to do as much as we can ourselves. I'm not saying it shouldn't involve other people but it is important for us to get it as far as we can. We've taken all the photos too. It's really exciting for me, it's essentially what I've always done anyway, just an extension of that with another two people.
ILM: How are things going with FEMME at that moment?
Laura: That's basically been paying my bills! Just through sync stuff. It's been an eye opener for me. I've got stuff out there in Taiwan! And a lot of Addidas stuff, they've been really supportive and really like my music. I just think it's getting increasingly hard to make ends meet in this industry. You have to find creative ways of earning some money or keeping it ticking over so you can spend time concentrating on new stuff. It's hard...
ILM: Before FEMME you performed as Dimbleby & Capper. What inspired the name change?
Laura: With FEMME, I just started writing different music. And with the DIY thing you have to keep putting it out there. It was really good fun that whole project, I just felt like it had come to a natural end and the move was a natural progression. And again, I had a very clear vision for what FEMME should be. I wanted to mess around with what were considered masculine beats, more hip hoppy kind of urban beats I guess, but with quite feminine, 60's pop kind of melody and production. I've got a number of tracks for a FEMME album that I'd like to release next year.
ILM: But first the Ultraísta album. It's being released in the US on Oct 2nd and the UK on Nov 5th. Was there a reason it worked out that way round?
Laura: The right label came along at the right time, Temporary Residence, which I think is a great home for it. They have Explosions In The Sky on their roster and other obscure indie projects. It seemed like a logical place to be, plus they could move on it quickly. It was really important for us to get it out this year. For the UK it just took a long time to find where to put it. We've actually decided to do a distribution deal, so we'll basically do it ourselves on a little label we've set up called I Am Fortified. Which is good.
ILM: You have three live dates lined up for the end of October in the US too...
Laura: Yeah, we've just sold out our pre-order tickets for the LA show, which was great! Hopefully we'll play for the rest of the year. UK shows in November. They're confirmed. Then Paris as well. A few European places too. Maybe do some festivals if the opportunity arises. Perhaps Japan and Australia next year before the Atoms For Peace thing kicks off because both of the guys are in it.
ILM: Is this the beginning of a long future for Ultraísta?
Laura: Um...hopefully we'll make more music as long as time and stuff allows. Depends. If people love it we'll probably do a lot more, if they don't well.... I think they will like it! It seems to be going down well anyway. It sounds very different to what's out there at the moment, it doesn't reaalllly sound like anything I've heard in the indie world. People have said it sounds a little bit 90's retro in places, I wasn't adult enough then to be able to recognise it, but certainly, it doesn't sound like anything we've done before...