It’s been a busy and frustrating couple of months for Ulrika Spacek. After supporting Sunflower Bean at The Stag’s Head in Hoxton, they were personally invited by Zachary Cole Smith to join DIIV on their European Tour. However, “urgent health issues” meant that DIIV had to bring the whole tour to an abrupt ending, leaving singer and lead guitarist Rhys Edwards, pondering what might have been. “We were just hitting a rhythm,” he says as he tucks his hair neatly behind his ears. “We were experimenting every night. Playing different set-lists and taking our songs in different directions.”
Tonight’s gig, the first the band have sold out in London, was the thing they’d been working towards: using the opportunity Smith had offered them to perfect their own live show. “We always had our eye on this show. We got seven [shows on the DIIV tour] and we should have had 24. So it was disappointing, in the end”. Not that they were ungrateful for the opportunity. “We were just having so much fun. There were a few times where we over-ran or had to cut things short. But we were just glad to be out on tour and playing, really.” Despite the disappointment of the sudden ending, Edwards seems somewhat pleased to be have wriggled free of that ‘support band’ slot.
For a band like this one, whose songs can sometimes grow exponentially into hypnotic jams that seem to have a life of their own, a short amount of time on stage can prove annoyingly restrictive. Edwards talks having to “play [up] to the audience” of the headline act and “doing your 25 minutes or half an hour and then getting off.” It’s easy to see his point. Ulrika Spacek place so much emphasis on constructing their own world and on creating an atmosphere that is all their own, it must be frustrating to be held by the clock. Tonight, though, as headliners of a sold out show, the stage belongs to them.
I mention being struck by how loud they were the first time I saw them live. Thanks, in part, to the power of drummer Callum Brown. “I’ve just got this vivid memory of the drums booming around the room. I mean, he hits them bloody hard! It was massive for me, that show. I felt after that I’d really witnessed something. That’s the thing about seeing Ulrika Spacek live. It’s stirring and engrossing at the time.” “Good, yeah,” he says, looking genuinely satisfied. “That’s definitely what we’re going for as a band. We want that impact.”
Despite the ferocity of their live show, their debut album (The Album Paranoia out now on Tough Love) is, at times, a delicate and tender piece of music akin to some of Deerhunter’s sweetest and most reflective moments. “I mean, that’s the intention. I want to be the type of band that when there’s a glimpse of Deerhunter, or someone else, and you think you’ve got it worked out, it goes somewhere else entirely.”
It’s a refreshing sentiment and one that is infinitely appealing as a music fan. Ulrika Spacek’s sound shares, among other things, the swagger of Daydream Nation era Sonic Youth, with the indie-eccentricity of Television and the evocative, melancholic melody of Radiohead.
So much of what made our first record great, I think, is that we didn’t over think it.
No art is entirely original. And while there are obvious reference points in their music, Ulrika Spacek stand amongst their contemporaries as a truly unique act. Edwards has spoken before about “wanting introduce our sound.” The first buzzing, crunching seconds of album opener ‘I Don’t Know’ is less polite ‘Hello,’ more ‘Here we are! Now here’s a smack in the face.’ Then comes more guitar, swathed in delay and reverb swirling around above Edwards’ haunting melody to dizzying effect. Quite the introduction!
I mention the first time I heard the record, sitting by myself with a whisky very late at night I thought ‘Shit! There’s really something going on here. This huge, fuzzy wave and then comes this lovely, delicate melody that takes you off somewhere else” Edwards nods and smiles, “Cool! Good. That’s what so great about our record, I think. It’s not just one thing the whole way through.”
Edwards strikes me as a quietly confident person. He believes in his band and what they’re trying to achieve. On discussing the making of the record he talks of the importance of experimentation and letting things breathe. Not worrying too much about this guitar part, or that one. “So much of what made our first record great, I think, is that we didn’t over think it. We’d sometimes write the first minute and have no clue where it’d go after. And I think because of that it’s quite a schizophrenic record, which works. I think.”
It does work. They’ve managed to craft an intriguing, complex and intricate sound that doesn’t come across overly cerebral and intellectual like they’re trying too hard. It’s an organic and spontaneous experience that’s at once familiar and foreign; like that feeling you get when you’re absolutely convinced that you’ve met someone before, but there’s no way in the world that you could have.
I point out that he’s twice referred to the album, their debut, as “great.” He shrugs, a wry smile tugs at the corners of his lips as he looks down at the table. In this post-Liam Gallagher world that we live in it’s almost taboo to talk up your own music in such a way. I’m of the opinion, though, that it’s important to demonstrate a certain level of confidence. After all, if you don’t believe in your art, no one else is going to. Edwards nods emphatically when I put this to him. “There’s this famous Kim Gordon line,” he tells me, “That goes: ‘People pay money to go and watch other people believe in themselves.”
It’s a typically succinct and insightful line from Gordon. After all, the people that are beginning to pour into The Waiting Room for tonight’s show haven’t paid to see a bunch of shrinking violets.
When the gig finally begins in earnest, it appears they have brought Gordon’s words with them. A full headline slot stretched out before them, they launch into the colossal Beta Male and, backed by their usual psychedelic visuals, the performance is as bombastic as it is tender.
Ulrika Spacek are a band that know exactly where they want to go. And with the recording of album number two well underway, I for one am very much looking forward to finding out where that might be.
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