Jenni of Ultrea
photo by M. Teubert Photography
Madison has long been a hotbed for cutting edge music dating back to the 70’s when Spooner, Punch, Speed Trap and Sun Blind Lion laid the framework for latter bands The Gomers, Killdozer, and Poopshovel to the present day. Within the last year, Lords of the Trident, Vermillion, Dos Males, Vanishing Kids and Pachinko have reinvigorated various segments of Madison’s local music scene regarding metal, punk and psych. Add Ultrea to that list of bands we need to talk about.
Formed in 2012, Ultrea is a female fronted Hard Rock/Metal band that plays an aggressive style of rock comparable to In This Moment, Killswitch Engage, Lacuna Coil, Stitched Up Heart and Skillet. Lead singer Jenni’s stage presence and vocal domination are both ferocious and punishing. And the band itself? Sharp as a surgeon’s scalpel. Intense? That’s an understatement.
If we go back to the beginning, how Ultrea came together, the band responds, “Woah! Taking it back to the old school! We’ve been creating music as Ultrea for six years now. Essentially, we all knew someone who had played in bands previously and the band was built with musical connections.
Our original line up was brought together by guitarist Greg Dellmann and former drummer Chris Swenson. Greg called upon bass player Jason Wepking from Sledgehammer Solution and Chris called upon Jenni Lecesse from previous metal and punk projects. Bryan Lawver came in very early on and took over as drum master and official “Band Dad” Chris replaced Jes Hana on guitar. This was essentially our first strong line up.
Throughout the progression of Ultrea we have always supported each member’s decision to depart from the band. When Chris left, Bryan brought in long time music friend Kyle Rattner who still makes occasional appearances on guitar. We’ve had dual guitars on-and-off. We even had duo vocalists for a short time. The most recent change to our lineup has been on bass: Jason unfortunately needed to step back. For the first time we opened up band auditions to the public and, lucky for us, someone who we had crossed paths with several times stepped up to the plate. Ricky Staley came aboard right at the end of 2017 & rounds out our current lineup. We are thrilled to move forward!”
But are they metal? Of course. Says the band, “We all definitely came together to blend all our pretty different influences. The metal is strong with us, yes, but Ultrea is a melting pot of genres that moonlights as a hard rock/metal band. Rock, Metal, Hardcore, Progressive Rock, Punk, 90’s alternative, Funk, Hip Hop. It all speaks to us. Angela Gossow of Arch Enemy was a huge inspiration initially for Jen to step into screaming vocals. “I thought, THIS… This chick is strong, powerful, and badass. If I’m going to do this, I want to carry that kind of strength” - Jen. Lemmy said, “Heavy metal is rock and roll, it’s just a different name.” Especially in metal.
It’s easy to tag songs and bands as fitting into certain packages but that can be so limiting. We all love metal, and more broadly rock and roll, so we embrace it but also want to make sure we’re not letting the label be any sort of ceiling or stop us from giving an idea due thought. In that same interview, Lemmy also said, “Rock and roll is supposed to be crazed joy and rebellion for no apparent reason…” Being socially conscious and rebellious is important, but we also don’t take ourselves too seriously because then you lose sight of the joy. One of the songs we play almost every night is called “F#ck That Sh!t” and it really kind of sums up that whole idea. Some of our influences come from what we’re listening to in that moment, whether it be new stuff or revisiting the stuff we’ve always loved. Generally, we’ve been influenced by a ton of musicians like Van Halen, Michael Jackson, Chicago, Tool, Metallica, Fear Factory, Slipknot, Hatebreed, As far as recent evolution is concerned, we’ve added Ricky to the mix, so he brings his approach and experiences to playing & the writing process.”
And then there’s the question of lyrics, and their razor sharp edge. “Lyrical inspiration comes from all of us. We talk about song concept and direction. Jenni typically pieces all the ideas together from conversations, texts, and experiences that we’ve all had or observed. The subject matter comes from everywhere; personally, community, and beyond. The thing or source that we want to address in every song is reality: real events and real emotions that speak to us and all humans” says the band collectively.”
Remember that edge I mentioned? It’s being socially conscious and not being afraid to take a political stand when called for. “There is so much negativity in our social atmosphere. Instead of falling into it we all see the opportunity to change that climate. We do our best to keep a strong and influential message. We have these voices and these hands we’re going to try and use them to make a difference in a positive way.”
When asked about whether they feel obligated or not to take such a stand, “No, we don’t feel like we need to go this direction. It’s a part of who we are as people. We try to be transparent and let people interpret the lyrics for themselves. Art is always subjective. Even if you ask each band member about the “take-away” from the songs, we each have a different meaning behind the same songs. The most obvious example is with Ricky joining more recently, his interpretations of some of the earlier songs come from an entirely different perspective than when we wrote them. But even being in the same room when an idea comes together, we don’t all come at it from the same place.
We can have a song around a theme and even within that same theme we’ll have four different thoughts. With all of the different energies we put into a song, it’s hard to summarize the outcome. Things will hit you differently at different times, too. Sometimes a certain song just connects with you at that moment. It’s our job to make you feel something, but it’s not our job to decide what that feeling is: we just hope it’s a positive one.
There’s definitely a difference, to us anyway, but they are connected as everything is. Social issues surround us. It is hard not to be affected/inspired by your environment. Being socially conscious, to us, means being aware and recognizing that problems exist. It’s about bringing attention to situations. Politics has become very indoctrinating and that’s not what we’re looking to do. We’re not here to force feed people what to think-we just want to encourage others to think.”
And two topics of conversation that always come up – touring and making videos. Two huge feats for a band not signed. Ultrea fits this profile. And both endeavors already being addressed. “We want to do more videos! WE MISS YOU MTV! Our video “Through the Ashes” was locally produced by E Wadium Productions as one of her first handful of music videos. So we were able to produce it at a pretty affordable rate. Elizabeth has a great eye and strong vision.
We all sat down to brainstorm what this song represented. Rising though the ashes of the past to become who we decide to be. Not running away from life but persevering through each obstacle that sets in from of us. The fire within us all burning though each set back, each struggle. Saying goodbye to what was and welcoming what can be. We really hope others enjoy it as much as you did. It’s currently available on our YouTube channel to watch. And while we’re on this topic, I’d like to mention our recorded works as well. They’re available through our website www.ultreamusic.com and can be streamed on all major online platforms. The music has progressed from our debut EP Always Persevere, that was recorded, mixed and mastered ourselves in 2012; to our second EP Forever Ascending 2014; and our most recent The End of Illusion 2016.The latter two were both recorded at Megatone Studios in Madison, WI under the care of Paul Schluter (Last Crack).
We’re also in the thick of working on our first full length album! We are working with Eric Labrosse and Cherry Pit Studios as our sound continues to evolve. The finer details are being played pretty close to the chest right now. We’re very excited about it & have been so lucky to have the support from our fans that are making it possible. We recently wrapped a very successful Indiegogo campaign to fund the recording and release. That has allowed us to really get creative and put some thought into making an album experience, not just a mixtape of killer songs. That being said, the songs are pretty killer! We’ve been playing a few of the new tunes live, so if you can’t wait you can find some live videos on our Facebook page or catch one of the remaining shows we’ve got lined up this year. Everyone who donated to the campaign got a download of our new single “Fate,” so we’ve gotten a little feedback right away and it’s been really positive so far. Frankly, we can’t wait!”
The lifeblood of any band is gigging / touring, not just through the US Midwest but nationally. That means leaving jobs and families behind to hit the road but is this feasible to do? Says the band, “That’s the million-dollar question! Just kidding, it’s not that expensive, but honestly the feasibility aspect really comes down to funding most. We do all have families at home. Between the four of us we have 10 children. And we all work full time jobs to support our families. We are fortunate to have the encouragement and support of our families and extended family to keep the dream alive. We want to lead by example to never give up on your dreams, work hard, and achieve them. Anyone who has rock and roll as a full time job will tell you it’s difficult, but having responsibilities beyond the band just means we need to be a little more strategic in our moves. So those obligations can make scheduling long periods of time away hard. One of the things that bonds us so well is our shared understanding of how important family is.
The model of being a touring band has changed, too, with the advent of social media and streaming. We’re able to get our music out to every corner of the globe now, but it’s also a lot easier to watch a show on YouTube than it is to go to Ozzfest, you know? It’s not the same, obviously, because the experience of live music is truly irreplaceable but that seems to coincide with smaller music venues closing. Big arenas and festivals are great, but they’re so few and far between & a lot of the times the overhead for those shows is huge. If there isn’t a place for people to go catch a band on Friday night, it’s harder for the smaller acts and labels to create a sustainable touring schedule. In no way does this mean touring is off the table - we’re anxiously awaiting the plans falling into place. It’s just all about finding & seizing the right opportunity at the right time.”
Catch Ultrea Live…
10/12 Portage WI Petty Freddies
10/13 Bristol WI Acoustic; NV Corners
10/27 Ft. Atkinson,WI “Halloscream” Hijynx
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Ultrea 2018 Online:
Through The Ashes:
• Website • Facebook