Despite having formed less than three years ago, Ultimate Painting just released its third album this past November. The band consists of James Hoare and Jack Cooper, formerly of the well-known UK-based indie bands Veronica Falls and Mazes, respectively. On Dusk, the band pushes its ’60s flavored, freewheeling compositions to a deeper level through engaging syncopated guitar lines, thoughtful lyrics and an unbridled recording approach. Pro Sound News spoke to guitarist and co-founder Hoare about vintage gear, bedroom recording and the importance of going with the flow.
ON BEING PROLIFIC:
I record everything in my flat, where I have a studio. With us, as soon as we’ve got a batch of songs together, we just go to my house in the way that other bands do demos. But we don’t demo, we just record. I’ve got a bunch of high-quality analog gear, and this enables us to record very quickly so we don’t have to book outside studios. Another aspect is that Jack and I share the songwriting equally and we play all the instruments on the records. Also, our style is easy going and we enjoy doing it, so there isn’t the tensions or arguing you often find in other bands.
ON STAYING IN THE MOMENT:
Actually, a lot of our songs just fade out, and that’s because we haven’t actually worked out an ending. I like working in that way, because what you are hearing is the moment the song was actually made. And also we haven’t taken it apart and infected it with Pro Tools. We will record a whole song very quickly, and in a way, it is all very honest. In a couple of hours, a song will be finished, and it’s all captured in the moment. This helps us because we don’t overthink the songs. On our last album for example, I didn’t demo a single song. The recordings represented the very first incarnation of each song. Occasionally you will record an entire song and then realize it needs another chorus or something. When that happens, you just have to re-record it all again but this is rare.
ON WORKING TO YOUR STRENGTHS:
I tend to write more on the downbeat, resulting in sometimes more melancholy tunes. And Jack tends to write the more upbeat driving tunes that would translate well live. He’s really good at bringing the really catchy, immediately upbeat stuff, and I’m good at doing the more introspective and melancholic, melodic stuff. This worked particularly well on the first couple records, where Jack was coming up with tunes like “Ultimate Painting” and me “Riverside”. Also, with Jack, if I put something forward, even if he is not 100 percent behind it, he will be open to the ideas and will then do something. Then he might say, ‘Wow, I actually really like this and I wasn’t so sure before.’ When I worked alongside Roxanne [Clifford, of Veronica Falls], we would sometimes work at something for a long time and it would be hard to get points across, or we’d be in a rehearsal studio for months fine tuning and tweaking. By the time we’d finally finished recording it, it would often be just like it was the first time we recorded it. That’s because the first thing you do is often the best thing.
ON VERONICA FALLS:
It frustrated me with Veronica Falls a lot, because I knew our songs were great, but we didn’t always record them in a way that I thought would benefit the band. For example, on our first record, we recorded the whole thing and then had to record it again because the recording had such little character. We had someone using a million mics and running hundreds of tracks in the box, and it came out unusable. So you can see the way I now work is kind of a reaction against that kind of thing.
I miss working with Roxanne and we always got along really well. But sometimes bands just run their course. I actually would like to work with her again, and to me, it seems quite likely we will because I really liked the results of what we did together. Also I miss playing in a band. If we did something, it would probably be much more fastidious and we wouldn’t be toiling in a studio for months perfecting everything. It would probably be more in the manner that I record with Jack, which would probably be good for the songs we’d have as well.
ON GOING ANALOG:
I work on an eight-track tape machine, so I have to bounce things together sometimes to free up space if there is more going on in the track. But this ultimately makes for a faster process because when you’ve come to the end, some of the things are already mixed and you aren’t fussing around with 30 different tracks and working out how to make everything fit together.
I really enjoy working with old analog gear, and am a firm believer that you don’t have to have many tools to make something great. Some studios have over a hundred microphones; I have maybe eight, but they are all really good and include vintage Neumanns, Coles, Sennheisers and others. When I listen to the record, I don’t feel like I’m missing anything. And when you don’t have something, you don’t miss it. I know you can make a good record on a computer, but because I own a lot of vintage gear and like the sound of records from the ’60s, I work well with this set up.
Jacques Sonyieux is a devout explorer of recording studios and the artists that occasionally inhabit them. Please send any tips or feedback to Jacques at: firstname.lastname@example.org.