UltreaRelentlessly Rocking and Forever Ascending
CD: Forever Ascending
Record Label: 301 Productionz
by Sal Serio
It’s an exciting time for the Madison-based rock band Ultrea. June 2015 marks the E.P. release of new music titled “Forever Ascending” as well as a video for the song “Through The Ashes”. The world premiere of the new E.P. was broadcast June 2 on maxinkradio.com as a part of The Jimmy K Show, and the release party will be Sat. June 20 at The Red Zone (Annex) with Minneapolis band Gabriel And The Apocalypse, Genotype, Growing, and more. Ultrea also is performing at some large Midwest festival dates. The band, or “family” as they say, is comprised of Jennifer Lecesse-vocals, Jason Wepking-bass, Kyle Rattner and Greg Dellmann-guitars, and Bryan Lawver-drums.
Max Ink’s resident metalhead and music critic Sal Serio sat down with Jenni and Kyle to talk about this whirlwind of activity, first asking how to describe their music to the uninitiated.
KYLE RATTNER: Usually when people ask me, “Oh, so you’re in a band, what do you guys play”, like… “what kind of genre are you”, I usually just tell them hard rock. When we write music, none of us are paying attention to what we’re trying to classify it as. It just comes out, whatever we’re feeling at the time.
JENNI LECESSE: We all have really diverse backgrounds and influences. We’re like medium metal [laughs], definitely harder than regular rock music… I don’t even know what you’d call it. I don’t like labels.
KR: We’re kind of a melting pot of different influences, and then when we all come together, in the center, that’s Ultrea. We’ve never really tried to stick in a certain genre. We write what we feel at the time, and what we’re going through, and I feel like that’s an honest way to write music.
JL: For us to be able to write that way, we have been able to skip genres a little bit, and play with some really heavy bands, [and] some more upbeat bands [which] creates more opportunity for us to get the message out.
KR: That makes it fun, to be able to play some shows with poppier bands, and also some really heavy death metal bands too. It’s kind of nice. I feel like we can jump the fence a little bit.
MAXIMUM INK: I get the impression that Ultrea is very not only tight musically, but also as friends that support one another.
KR: We are always in contact with each other. We have a thread where we’re talking with each other every day, and it can be from miniscule stuff about our daily lives, what we’re going through, work, home issues, whatever, shooting the shit and making fun of each other, and then the next minute we’ll be talking about show details, and studio information. It’s like our lifeline or something. It’s cool. I feel like this has been something unique with this band in particular out of any other project I’ve been in, in the last decade, is that it’s more of a family. Like, we’re in this together, and we’re intertwined. The communication doors are always open between us.
JL: Music is bigger than an individual. Even Ultrea is bigger than itself. Ultrea is like a state of being, and all are welcome in the “Ultrealien Nation”.
MI: I recently experienced your live show for the first time and was impressed with the energy the whole band exerted, how you got the audience involved, and on the song “In Your Face” when you all started moshing around each other!
JL: It’s super high energy. We’re all dripping with sweat afterward. It’s really intense. We try to get the crowd moving with us. There’s plenty of opportunity to interact. We just got some fancy new lights and foggers to add to the excitement of the show. A couple of our guys have wireless, so they’re like free-range musicians; they go out in to the crowd. The last time we played, our bassist Jason went in to entertain from the kitchen. [laughs] So, you just never know what’s going to happen! We like to pull other people up onstage if they know the song. If we play with other bands that we frequently play with, we’ll pull the other singer up to sing with us. So, each show is unique in that way, and we’d like to keep that going because it just makes for more fun.
KR: We have antics onstage sometimes, too. Like, if we’re having a really good time, and just kind of joking around. Either me, or Jason, will generally start spitting water around.
MI: What motivates you to perform that way? It seems like you want to project an uplifting message to your audience.
JL: We feel very strongly about trying to be encouraging, and trying to be positive. I feel that’s necessary for me as a human, as an individual, to live the way I feel is best for me. If people are encouraged by that, it makes me happy. As a band, we provide a very strong, passionate, tolerant, and charitable way to look at life, humanity, and community, and try to be the change that we want to see. When we get together before shows and do out little “hands in” rally, we say, “let’s be the change, let’s touch lives, let’s do this”. Sometimes I’ll pull up something on my phone [because] the outpouring of support we’ve gotten is so incredible. I’ll pull up a message from a fan and say, “look, this is from so-and-so, and they were at this show and this is how they say it made them feel. Let’s do right by this person”.
KR: And that’s usually what energizes the group before we play. This is a reminder what it took to travel where we’ve gotten [to], or whatever mood anyone is in that day, that brings us back to why we’re here, why we’re onstage. This is why we’re about to pour our hearts and souls out in front of a bunch of strangers. It’s kind of a nice way to start the show.
MI: Ultrea’s new 3-song EP “Forever Ascending” comes out this month. Why an EP instead of a full-length?
JL: Everyone [asks] why we don’t just make an album. We have enough material to do an album, but the timing is more conducive to do EPs. We’re going to start doing a radio campaign, send out promo discs to radio stations, start getting some radio play, and we’re going to be playing a bunch of shows coming up, to promote the physical release which will be June 20th at The Red Zone. It seems that it’s smarter to keep getting music out to the people as quick as possible. The easiest way, most affordable way, and quickest way, is to do EPs. Get in, get them down on tracks, and then go back 6 to 8 months later and put some more in. So, that’s the plan. You keep it so current. As soon as it’s done you can record it, and then get it out.
KR: In the long run, you can be more productive as a band. You can put out more in the same amount of time than you could if you put out an entire album. We’re still possibly planning to go back in to the studio in Fall, depending on how things go.
JL: And you don’t have to take as much time off, because, as a band, if you’re not playing, you’re not making any more money.
KR: Also, you don’t have so much hinging on, like, one big record. It’s not like you blow your load on 10 or 11 songs and then that’s it, [where] you’ve got another year before you can write another full-length record. Instead, I feel it’s more efficient to do a couple songs at a time. That way, too, the songs are fresh as we go in to record them. One of these songs in particular on this record was really fresh when we recorded it.
JL: That [song] was “The Ascent”. We had just finalized it maybe three weeks prior to studio time, but we were like, we have to do this song. This song has to be on the EP, just because we all felt so strongly about it.
KR: That’s kind of the centerpiece of the record, for sure.
JL: I felt like we had to start with “Through The Ashes” because that’s kind of a darker, more angry, place to start, and on “The Ascent” it starts to build from that lowest point, in to “This Dream (Can’t Take It Away)”, which is like a “nothing’s going to bring me down” kind of song. Like, I’m going to do this… this is my dream.
KR: And I feel like that’s the common thread throughout our music. Of course it’s about persevering, that’s kind of our motto, and dealing with hard times in a positive way, and getting through them together. By whatever means necessary: family, friends, and for us, creating music together.
MI: The three songs on the new EP could all stand on their own merit, but the sequence really gives it an overall “total” statement, a conceptual experience.
KR: That’s what we were hoping to convey. We were hoping the three songs would really flow together well. Each song holds special meaning to us in it’s own way, but I think “The Ascent” in particular stands out because that song kind of took shape as we recorded it in the studio. It didn’t really fully come in to it’s own until after we had laid down the tracks, and tried to piece it all together. [We] tried some things out that worked, and figured out some other things that didn’t.
JL: We worked with Paul Schluter over at Megatone Studios on all the songs, and [on] this one in particular he took some liberties and [said], “well, what if we did this”, and put some effects on some different underlying layers that you wouldn’t necessarily notice until someone pointed it out. It was nice to have an outside opinion too, to keep the song fresh. We got to know [Paul] really well, and it was a really good balance for us. He would definitely make suggestions, [and] we’d keep it the way we were going to do it…
KR: He would also make some suggestions where we were like, why didn’t we think of that? He pretty much became a member of Ultrea while we were recording this, and we’re planning to go back to Megatone and work with him again, so, we’re really excited about that. It was a great experience.
MI: Your first EP was “Always Persevere”, released in 2013. Are there other releases?
JL: We [also] released a single in 2013 because we were going through a transition with members, and wanted to let everybody know we’re still here, still doing music. We weren’t going anywhere. So, we released a single called “No Good For Me”, and it’s available to download for free, at any time, on Reverbnation.com and we do sell physical copies, with artwork, at our shows, or on our Bandcamp website [where] we sell all of our stuff.
KR: Also, on that single, we threw in an acoustic recording of “Through The Ashes”, which is appearing on this record. It was in it’s early stages, and it worked out kind of cool, but I think that’s also something we want to dabble in more in the future, put out some more acoustic recordings because they’re fast, and easier, than going in and doing a full on production.
JL: That, and it really shows the diversity of where the music can go. We really like to write music that can speak to anyone, whether they like heavy music or softer music. We do a lot of our charity events [as] acoustic sets, because it’s a little more listener friendly and inviting. Because the thread and the lyrics tie through what we’re trying to say, and we don’t want to intimidate anybody with the music. So, we’ve melded this soft acoustic sound with the heavy guitars of our on-stage work, to really try to communicate to as many people as possible. That’s my dream, just to touch as many lives as possible.
MI: The word “Ultrea” means “always persevere”, correct?
JL: It is Latin, and it’s spelled completely different.
KR: [laughing] It was a mistake at first, wasn’t it?
JL: Greg says it was a mistake, but that’s the way I wrote it, too, ‘cause I don’t like to follow the rules. I wanted something that would be ours. The word “ultreya” is derived from a Latin word that means “always persevere”, the name of our first EP [and] like Kyle said, kind of our motto. So, we have taken the name and made it a movement. We definitely don’t want to force it on anybody, but we do hope people leave feeling motivated, feeling good about themselves. Feeling like no matter what situation comes their way, they can get through it, and if they need help, there will be help. We have a song that we haven’t yet recorded, called “Labyrinth”, and one of the lyrics is, “we will pick you up when you can go no further”, and that’s a staple for us too.
KR: That’s also our statement for music in general, and how we feel about music. Music has been there for all of us to pick us up when we can go no further.
JL: We try not to preach about it too much. It depends on the show [and] the crowd reaction. Sometimes we’ll get up and say a few words about humanity, relying on each other, and knowing in your heart what you want to do going forward. We hope that people get that is one of the biggest reasons why we do what we do. We want to encourage people to move forward, move onward. That’s why… “always persevere” and “forever ascending”… ascending is moving forward to the next level, it’s not just going straight ahead and doing exactly the same thing you had been doing. It’s moving up, to better things.
KR: I feel like that motto, what we’re about and how we are, has really helped me, in particular, and all the members of the band, [to] get through some really tough times. When I joined the band I was going through a rough time in my life. Definitely the camaraderie and the music, and how everyone accepted me in to the family, helped me find my way through that dark time. It acted like a beacon of light.
JL: Kyle was meant to be in this band. I think he came in at exactly the perfect time, not only for him, but, for us. It’s inspiring to see how handled himself through that time, and for us to be able to be part of the positive effect that got him out of it.
KR: That’s just another layer of the depth that we have as a family together. It’s so great that, not only are we making great music together and we have this emotional and musical outlet that we can share together, but also this “family” camaraderie.
JL: Many times we’ve discussed that this is probably going to be the last band that we’ll ever be in. Like, we’ll all be in the same retirement home together when we’re old.
KR: [to Jenni] I remember when I auditioned for the band, and then when you guys accepted me and gave me the role, I remember saying, and still mean it to this day, that this is the band I’ve always wanted to be in. Like, ever since I started playing music, you guys have everything I’ve been looking for since the beginning. I just never thought I’d be able to find it, until now. It’s true.
MI: Please discuss your new video production.
KR: We’re shooting this video with a very talented videographer Elizabeth Wadium through E. Wadium Productions. They do great work.
JL: Half of it is shot already. We hired a really down-to-earth actress to play a role in the video. The song is “Through The Ashes”, which is the first song on the [new] EP. All of that filming is done and is in post-production. We’re doing our live parts Sunday [May 17].
KR: There’s definitely a theme in the video and in the song that we’re trying to convey. We’re trying to keep it very open-ended and relatable to anyone who views it, and listens to the song.
JL: Essentially “Through The Ashes” is about taking what life throws at you and rising above the negative. The video is this person taking elements of her past and burning them.
KR: We’re keeping in mind that we want to release the video around the time that the EP is done. We’re trying to do a big “reveal”.
JL: Because we did switch members and this is our first release with all the new members, and this is “the” band. So, we want to make a big deal out of it. We’re from Madison. We still live in Madison and work day jobs. Half of us have kids. But, this is our passion and our dream, and we want to make a statement that this is what we’re going for. This is our first professional video. There is a live video in the works too, that was taken at The Annex a few weeks ago, so we’ll release that one too, but this one is more stylized, and more storyline.
MI: And you’re playing a massive festival in Minneapolis on Saturday, June 6 with Ill Niño, Motograter, and a bunch more. What festival is that?
JL: I think it’s called Totally Fukn Awesome Fest [laughing]… it’s kind of an off date from the Civil Unrest Tour. Most of the bands from that tour are playing that festival, along with us, and then we’re bringing some of those bands to Madison.
MI: What cities do you typically gig in?
JL: Madison, Milwaukee, and certain surrounding areas. We’ve got some friends up in the Fox Cities. They play us on a station up north. We try to play out as much as possible. We’re trying to create a ripple, and this year our goal is to try to get out of state. Iowa… Minnesota… we played Illinois before, but we’re going to get in to bigger cities… Chicago. We’re going to be playing Minneapolis at [that] huge festival, and then Chicago and Des Moines, so that’s the goal, to get us out further and further.
MI: Do you have a core audience that comes to your shows when you’re on the road?
JL: Surprisingly, yeah. Even the towns we’ve never played in before, like we just played Lyndon Station, near The Dells… it’s a pretty small town, and the bar owner that had us play, was really nervous about the show, because he only does cover bands or country bands, and was nervous about bringing us in there. We played with two other bands, one was from the area, and one from Tomah, and he said it was the best night he’s ever had. He said he’s never seen that many people in his bar before, and that resonated with us, because we’ve played “around” that area, but word of mouth travels fast, and if people see it on a flyer, they’re like, “oh, we’re going to go to that show”. We had a ton of people come up and say, yeah, we came to see you guys, and that’s always super flattering, especially when we’re not the local band. We haven’t played Appleton since early 2014 maybe, then, the last time we got up to that area, in Kaukauna, we had people from the Appleton show, and that was great. It was really cool to see them.
KR: And for instance, Chelsea, one of our hardcore fans, has been traveling a lot to see us.
JL: She lives in La Crosse, and hadn’t seen us live. She found us on the Indiegogo website page, and has seen us 5 or 6 times now, and travels to come to our shows. She’s amazing. She’s really inspirational to us, to the point where we want to play more shows in her area so she doesn’t have to drive so far!
KR: It’s kind of hard to pick one specific area that’s stood out. It seems like lately no matter where we end up playing there [are] always a handful of people that have followed us there. Which is nice. It’s really reassuring.
JL: We try to be a universal band for [everyone]. No associations, no exclusions.