Here at Wonderland, we listen to a lot of new music – but if there’s one way to grab our attention, it’s the words “produced by Nigel Godrich”. The genius Radiohead musicmaker doesn’t pick his musical projects lightly, so trust us: Ultraísta, his latest band, is pretty damn good.
Killer beats pound against dazzlingly, densely layered electronica – you wouldn’t expect any less of Godrich and fellow multi-instrumentalist Joey Waronker, who’s also worked with Thom Yorke’s supergroup Atoms For Peace. But the entire project is held together by the enchanting frontwoman Laura Bettinson, who started working with them while still at art school. We talk to Bettinson here.
You guys are named after a group of surrealist writers. Why the choice?
Nigel was reading a book of short stories by Jorge Luis Borges at the time of making the record. On reading up a bit more on Borges he discovered he was part of the Ultraíst movement in literature. This movement was forward looking, modern, futurist, colourful, energetic and quite abstract and surreal. All qualities we thought fed back into our music and visual aesthetic.
Could you tell us more about how all of you met? What were you doing before Ultraísta?
Nigel and Joey met years back when they were both working on Beck’s Mutations and even though they’ve worked with each other on countless records since, they’ve never sat down and created a project of their own. They started jamming with the loose aim of making organic, electronic dance music. They hit a point where they needed a singer to bring something else to the table. I was then introduced to the guys a few years ago through a friend. They came to see one of my solo shows, we hit it off and started to throw some ideas around.
What’s it like to work with such an established producers and musicians? Were you nervous?
I wasn’t nervous really. I knew I could only bring what I had to the project and it was either going to work or it wasn’t. Working with Nigel and Joey has been an amazing opportunity obviously and not one i’ve ever taken for granted and i’m very lucky to be in a project with such experienced and truly talented men.
You’ve only just graduated from art school and now you’re working with Thom Yorke’s producer. Do you ever have to pinch yourself?
It’s pretty neat. And a fun ride so far…
Was music always what you wanted to do?
Not always, before finishing school I was toying with the idea of staying to do my art foundation to study Fine Art but i thought if I don’t do music now, I probably won’t ever get the chance again. Sadly you don’t get that many 40+ year old female pop singers.
What was the songwriting process like?
A mashup. Some songs came very quickly. Bad Insect pretty much wrote itself. Other songs took a lot longer and were jigsawed together. It’s a very collaborative project, from the songwriting process to the visual content. We all muck in. We’ve done it together every step of the way.
What kind of music were you listening to while writing the album / what were your inspirations?
We spent a lot of time on YouTube. Artists like Talking Heads and Grace Jones were constant sources of inspiration along the way. I also discovered Sedmikrásky (Daisies), a 1966 art film by Věra Chytilováa, a Czech director. The film is so bizarre and fun, and fucked up. I sent it to Nigel and Joey straight away and we kept dipping in and out of it as we went. You’ve gotta get that movie in your lives right now.
Ultraísta’s self-titled debut is out now. The new single ‘Gold Dayzz’ is due on December 9th. www.ultraista.co.uk
Words: Zing Tsjeng