NYC's Mercury Lounge has been around for ages--and it shows. But that doesn't take away from what's most important. The atmosphere. The way the sound moves through the room. It's a legendary venue for a reason.Ula Ruth didn't disappoint during their show there earlier this month, of course, kicking things off once again with one of their latest singles (and my current favorite), “Strung Out.” The standout moment was their David Bowie tribute, I have to say. They covered “Let’s Dance,” and they left an electric vibe in that room afterwards. It's not easy to pay homage to a talent like Bowie, but they sure as hell did it.
The guys were kind enough to take some time for a chat before their set, so we can get to know Ula Ruth a little better.PW: When and where did Ula Ruth begin?
Kevin: Nic was writing songs and playing with his brother, Lucas, on drums. They put an ad out for a bass player and I answered it. We started to develop somewhat of a sound, and then we put another ad out at SUNY Purchase for another guitar player, which is where we found Andrew.
Nic: What he's forgetting is that we made a normal ad, and then Kevin said, ‘I don't think this is gonna catch anyone's attention.’
Kevin: So, to flare it up, we put a cat in space with lasers coming out of its eyes.
Andrew: I saw it and I was like, ‘Whoa. These guys mean business.’
Nic: As soon as Andrew saw the ads up in school, he went and took all the other ones down. He didn't want anyone else to audition. And we're so glad hle did.PW: What was the inspiration behind Fever?
Nic: All four songs on the EP represent different emotions and different periods in our lives. Feelings we've all felt and things that have happened. When writing this, it felt like the culminating point where something is going to break. I would describe that, in my mind, like a fever; the highest temperature, the boiling point. The thing to note is that the producer, who we've worked with from the beginning, he was in a band called Fever. I feel like it describes all of the emotion, everything that went into this, and now the release.PW: If you were to describe it as a color--its sound and vibe--what color would you choose?
Andrew: Can we give you a spectrum of colors? Maybe black, dark purple, dark red.
Tom: I like dark red.
Kevin: The songs, they do speak that way. There's a colder side to it as well.
Andrew: There have been a couple of pictures that we've had the fortune of coming out and realizing, ‘Oh wow, this really works with the vibe of the music.’ And some of the artwork has been amazing. The new single, “Strung Out,” captured the vibe of it.
Nic: The spectrum of red and blue, I think. A fever, it is this hot and cold feeling, and mathematically--four songs on the record and the way you look at it with two and two; each track within its own right has a spectrum of the color.PW: What's your writing process usually like?
Kevin: Usually someone comes in with an idea. Other times, they come from us just trying new sounds out. A lot of times, Nic will come in with a melody or some chords. Or Andrew comes in with a lot of ideas for sounds and chord progressions. We all add our respective parts to that and build out from there.
Andrew: For this record, I think the oldest song we have on there is “Misery.” Nic had a chorus and a melody; he was just on the guitar. I don't think any of us thought it would go anywhere. I came in with a cool guitar part the next week and we immediately had the song.
Tom: We were in the middle of rehearsing, and he and I started fiddling around a little bit [with the verses]. We put it down for a little bit, and had several iterations of it, but that's a common thread. A lot of songs have had one or two or three full life cycles, and there's a lot of creative refreshment. A song will be written one way, and then a second completely different; it's not boredom, necessarily. It's a drive to make it sound the way it sounds in our heads.PW: Why did each of you choose the instrument you did (or to sing, in Nic’s case?)
Tom: I had raging ADHD when I was young, and just getting thrown out of class all the time. My dad was finally like, ‘I gotta fucking do something with this kid.’ My dad was a drummer; he played drums all throughout his 20s, so he had his old drum kit up in the attic, like, ‘Let me bring these downstairs for Junior and just give him something to make himself tired so the two of us can sleep at night.’ And it stuck, and I loved it. It just clicks with my wiring.
Kevin: I got into listening to music when I was around 15 or 16. I grew up in a musical family; my dad's a professional cello player. I never really had a huge interest in music until later on, and I started listening to classic rock, so my natural inkling was that I should learn how to play guitar. My sister had a small scale acoustic guitar from when she was a little kid with, like, three strings missing. I was like, ‘Wait a minute. The bass has less strings, that would be better.’ I asked my dad for a bass for Christmas, and he was really supportive.
Andrew: I was like three or four years old in the toy store with my dad, and I saw this toy acoustic guitar. I didn't really know what it was, I just wanted it so badly and I begged him. Later, in second grade, I went to Guitar Center and I wanted to get a real guitar. Fender made these starter packs--the guitar starter had a picture of a skateboard on it and the bass starter pack had a picture of a snowboarder on it. I was an avid skateboarder at the time, so I legitimately picked it based on that.
Tom: Clearly it was his true passion.
Nic: I was in a band in high school and I played piano; I did not sing. We had a singer and he decided that he didn't wanna play this full concert in front of the school, and we didn't have another singer. The other guys didn't wanna sing, and I had no idea that I could sing at all. I could've been tone deaf; I assumed I wasn't because I played the piano. I stepped up and did it. I don't think it was the greatest performance of my life, but it was tonally accurate. It happened literally by chance. I picked up electric and acoustic guitar because I couldn't take a piano to anywhere I wanted to play; I taught myself from what I knew about piano.PW: What are your favorite venues that you've played so far?
Tom: It used to be Cameo Gallery, now closed. That was my old favorite spot. Spike Hill, as well, a great venue that closed. This neighbourhood has a lot of great spots--Rockwood, Pianos, obviously Mercury Lounge.
Kevin: Arlene’s, Bowery Ballroom...
Nic: I'm gonna say Rough Trade, hands down.
Andrew: This place [Mercury] has the best sound.
Tom: Having played these venues for a long time, I think Mercury does actually have the best sound, other than Cameo.
Nic: We're not that old, but we've seen a lot of venues close. A place like the Mercury Lounge, you'd have to bulldoze me down [too], you know?PW: What do you want the crowd to feel once they’re leaving at the end of your show?
Tom: Emotionally uplifted, but also exhausted at the same time.
Andrew: ‘I wish there was more.’
Kevin: All the shows that I've been to, whether I walked away thinking either it was good or it was bad, I could always put my finger on what it was that was bad, but I couldn't put my finger on what made it great. It just felt good and it felt right. I want people to get the same thing from one of our shows--it just felt really good.
Andrew: The goal is always to be polarizing in some kind of way. We're so excited, we want the crowd to feel the same thing.PW: What are your top 5 goals as a band, either for this year or overall?
Nic: To play Bowery Ballroom! To go on an East Coast tour. We've done SXSW, but we want three or four showcases. Grammy? Just kidding.
Tom: The overarching thing is to make music that's impactful to your point. Make music that people listen to and they get something out of it. You want people to pop on your songs, your EP, and attach.PW: What's a song or album that you've had on repeat lately?
Tom: “Coming of Age” by Foster the People, off their latest record.
Andrew: Not related to the recent tragedy, but Hunky Dory by David Bowie. I don't even know why that one in particular, I just love it.
Nic: It just always is A Rush Of Blood To The Head by Coldplay.
Kevin: The last few months, I've revisited Ambient 1 by Brian Eno.Be on the lookout for Ula Ruth’s EP, Fever, later this year, and check out an acoustic of their newest single, “Nobody Lives Forever,” below. For more on the band, visit their official website.