IT’S a bit early in the year to be in full list-compiling mode but, after one listen of Ulrika Spacek’s debut release, The Album Paranoid, a landing point quickly opens up for the album to parachute into the list of best albums of 2016.
Featuring swirling, repetitive loops of Krautrock-esque distorted, fuzzy guitar and dreamy melodic harmonies, the London-based, Berlin-born five-piece have forged a sound reminiscent of the likes of Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine and even Radiohead, engineering in the process what is undoubtedly one of the surprise packages of the year.
Speaking to Tenement TV, singer/guitarist Rhys Williams describes the signature sound that is evident on their wonderfully diverse debut: “In some ways you’d call it experimental rock music and I like that because I like the ‘gnarliness’ of like rock and roll, whatever you want to call that but just to do things in a clever way, with production and arrangements. Something that you can’t put your finger on, something you almost can’t keep up with and not know where it’s going. I like the idea of hiding a pop song within loops and stuff like that rather than a pop song up front.”
It’s an album full of different textures and concepts, ranging from heavy, alt-pysch grunge to subdued soundscapes. For Rhys, it’s a combination that reflects fully their intentions as a band.
“Yeh it kind of changes, I mean what we wanted with the first album was it to really sound like a schizophrenic record that the moment that u think as a listener you’ve worked it out it goes somewhere you never expected it go. So that’s always been, that’s always the type of music we want to make.”
After causing a stir in the capital with their own ‘Oysterland’ curated concert/exhibitions, a European tour at the start of the year saw them find themselves among the music list billings on the continent, something Rhys found pleasantly surprising.
“When we did our first European tour in February we really enjoyed playing in Europe. People seem to get it so we can’t argue with that. France has actually been the place where we done the best. We did a few features/interviews there and it seems to have struck a chord with people. We did quite well in the indie charts there.”
However, the recent cancellation of their 21-date UK and European support slot with DIIV seven dates in, due to health issues on the part of the Brooklyn-based band is something that, although totally out of their hands, represents a frustration for Rhys and the band.
“The tour was all over the night after the Glasgow show although we didn’t know it at the time. We had done about seven dates so there was about two weeks to go and we were definitely looking forward to going over to Europe. It was a bit of a gutter. We really felt that we were hitting our stride to be honest. But DIIV weren’t having a good tour from the off.”
As for how Ulrika Spacek came about, Rhys fills us in on how he and guitarist Rhys Edwards formed the band one night in Berlin: “I was living there, we were old school friends and he came over to visit me. And even though we never talked about it before we just humanly broke that barrier of asking each other whether we should make some music and I moved back to London quite soon after.
“In fact Rhys had sub-let my room and took my job when I moved to Berlin so it seemed like it was destined to happen in some weird way. And then once we started everything kind of fell into place. We fleshed out the rest of the band with people we know and finished the record.”
The organic, natural quality suggested in the band’s formation was also present in the making of their music, another element that Rhys finds rewarding.
“It’s been very nice, especially in the sense that when me and Rhys started recording we didn’t necessarily think we were making an album we were just recording for the sake of making music together and when we knew things were starting to go well we still had this notion that we were going to form a band and re-record the whole thing. Then it just came to a point when we were just like ‘no, this is the record,” he says.
The press, especially based in France, have championed the band as a mix between Tame Impala and Radiohead, something Rhys isn’t quite sure is an honest representation of their sound.
“I wouldn’t say Tame Impala are a band that we would reference to be honest. I have listened to their first two albums. I was surprised by that. But they seem to be the band that people see that open the door with regards to psychedelic music. I mean with Radiohead we will always get that. They are a very important band for us and have been since each member of the band was like 13 or 14.They were really the band that opened the door to listening to other music you know.so I’m sure they are in our sound. Something very deep rooted.”
And as far as influences are concerned, a wide array of artists have inspired the band and their sound: “I think Television are a big one and just the type of guitar playing they have. I think Rhys has quite an interesting guitar style, it’s quite similar to like Graham Coxon in places so Television yeh, and I’d say Neil Young with his peculiar song writing. We’ve all been listening to him for years. Yo La Tengo are also a massive influence. We’ve always really loved how heavy they get in certain bits then also how delicate and subtle they can be so even through hi wouldn’t necessarily say that if u listened to our record it sounds like them, but they were certainly the blueprint for how we wanted our record to be.”
He then delves deeper into his lyricism to be found on the songs that make up ‘Album Paranoia’: “This record has been very much a stream of consciousness. The way we record it was very much a case of pressing record as we were writing the songs and the lyrics were also like that. It was certainly not something that I had waited 6 months with my notepad.
“Often singing gibberish and then the one line that I find out of it and then keeping that one line and then developing the rest of it over it. It’s all very much the intrusive thoughts I have in my head, the insecurities you know. And I think to be honest that’s not necessarily just going to be the first album I think I will always write like that.”
Setting up a home based studio – a former art gallery which they call ‘Ken ‘ – instead of going down a normal, studio based recording route has had a big influence on shaping their sound, one which saw them play “for hours and hours while we lost our minds” while recording the record, to the detriment of their housemates.
“It’s something that for the second album we are going to keep in many ways. We’ve just got better equipment now, we’ve just invested in some nice microphones and hopefully there will be a development in terms of production in that way but not necessarily the way we write the record,” Rhys says.
And with regards to the band’s self-curated Oysterland nights, it represented a conscious decision by the band to avoid the usual support slot circuit: “When we started playing lives shows we just wanted to do it on our terms, we didn’t want to come out and play on other peoples bills. We certainly wanted to come out all guns blazing in that sense. By curating the nights ourselves and having different things we just made a night that I would want to go to. Sometimes unless you do something yourself there’s never going to be something out there that’s perfect for you.
And their success has meant Rhys is looking to roll them out across the country: “We are going to carry on doing that. The aim is eventually to put on our own Oysterland shows in different cities where we have more control. That’s another thing Yo La Tengo do, they’ve always curated their own Hannukah bill which we always though was cool.”
Meanwhile, Rhys and the band are keen to get back over to the continent to play shows, in between being knuckled down in their home studio working on album number 2: “We are preparing to record the second album. We’ve got demos for it, just about 10 tracks and then we have a few festival appearances coming up. Doing that allows us to record the album during the week and on the weekend go and play different festivals.”