UCR Interview- Midge Ure of Ultravox

Midge Ure of Ultravox is currently making his way across North America with his Live + Electric Tour.  Ure is coming to The Complex in Salt Lake City on Monday January 16, 2017.  Prior to his stop here in town, I had the opportunity to interview him. I believe our conversation will be of interest to any New Wave, New Romantic, or Electro music fan. I split my time during this interview between mustering as much journalistic integrity I possess and just totally geeking out.  I’m a huge Ultravox fan, so this was an absolute delight for me.  I hope you enjoy the interview as much as I had conducting it.  

Utah Concert Review: Hello Mr. Ure.  Where might you be calling in from tonight?

Midge Ure: I’m in deepest darkest Germany today.  

UCR: Wow, well how’s the tour going so far?

MU: It’s been going really well.  It’s a kind of a three piece, mainly acoustic stuff I’ve been doing.  It’s a tour called “Something from Everything”. I’m trying to play something from every album that I’ve done since 1978. So I’m choosing songs from Ultravox right through to now.  So it’s been going incredibly well because a lot of the songs I have never performed live before.

UCR: When you tour the states early next year, will you be continuing with this type of show, or will you be playing with a full band?  

MU: No, we’ve already done the first leg of the US tour back in October.  We did the East Coast and up into Canada.  So we’re picking that back up again starting in Vancouver and working our way across the West Coast through Salt Lake City, and down to Texas and finishing up in Nashville.  This tour we’ll be using two American multi-instrumentalist musicians.  One of whom I’ve worked with before. It’s basically a three piece power trio, but using synthesizers as well.  So we’re trying to incorporate a bit of everything.    

UCR:  I recently read a tweet from you where you were expressing frustration that someone in the front row was doing a lot of texting while you were performing.  I have to say that this is something that drives me nuts!  I think it’s so disrespectful.  

MU: (Laughing) Yeah.

UCR:  You’ve been touring for decades now, aside from people using their smart phone during concerts, whether to text or to record some of the performance, what else has changed over that time for you?

MU: Although I was tweeting about the annoyance of technology and the way people use it, it’s not about me and my ego.  It’s not, ‘How dare they not listen to me!’.  It’s the fact that people will sit in theaters and in cinemas and they’ll look at their phones.  Some will even make phone calls!  And you think, that’s just not the right thing to do.  So, although I was moaning about technology, I think the big change is technology.  The fact that an artist or a band can sit on the computer and book their own flights, book their own car hire, and they can liaise with venues on the road.  And you can do it on the phone while you’re touring as well.   You don’t need a massive office. You don’t need a huge road crew. You have to know what you’re doing of course, but the level I’m doing America right now, I could not have done this twenty years ago.  I could not have gone out without a road crew, or without a tour manager, you know, no one there to kind of back you up.  You’d need that kind of infrastructure.  Now you don’t need that.  You can kind of just do it yourself.  

UCR: That reminds me of when OMD reunited back in, I think around 2007.  After a successful European tour, they wanted to come here to the states and tour.  Concert promoters wouldn’t advance the money to put the tour together.  I guess they didn’t think they had the audience in America anymore.  So OMD decided to put the tour together on their own.  And it was a huge success, and they’ve been touring here ever since.  So to speak to your point, it seems it is possible now to tour without relying on others.  The advancements in technology allowed you to do it on your own.  It that pretty much what you’re saying?  

MU: Absolutely.  I have to look back over the years with me, or with Ultravox or whatever, and I find a twenty-year hole or a twenty-year gap where when I stopped being with major labels. I seemed to lose all connection with the US and Canada.  As I did with Australia and New Zealand and Japan. I seemed to have lost this flow.  So I had no way to get back in again.  So like you say with OMD, people ask you, “Well, how much do you go out for?”  and you tell them, and they say “No, we haven’t heard from you in twenty years. Why would we pay you that kind of money? Everyone has forgotten about you.”   If you’re determined to do it like OMD were, and like I am, I mean, I’ve toured the states maybe three or four times the last few years because I chose to do it. I don’t need to do it. But I chose to do it because maybe there’s a chip on my shoulder saying ‘Why did Ultravox never happen in America?’. Even though I know the answer, it still kind of grinds a little bit.  So I choose to come out to America and do it on a much lower level than I would in Europe or anywhere else really.  

UCR: Ok, so I have to know then, what are the reasons Ultravox didn’t happen in America?  

MU:  It’s probably a variety of answers.  This is a pick and mix. You can throw just the answers in a big pot and mix them up and that’s the reason.  Initially, only the coasts really got Ultravox, at least as far as we were concerned.  I’m not sure Ultravox ever played Salt Lake City, I don’t think we were ever in Utah. As far as we were concerned, it was College radio.  College radio got Ultravox. When we arrived first in New York, we were interviewed by a newspaper and this guy says, this is in around 1978, and the guy says “You guys speak really good English.”  And being British, we’re like “Yeah”.  He says, “I thought you were Germans.”  I think he had us mixed up with Kraftwerk.  And that was part of the problem.  The majority of America didn’t understand us.  They didn’t get what it was.  The record label was distraught that the Vienna album had an eight-minute instrumental as the opening track.  And they didn’t get it because radio played Styx, Boston, and Foreigner.  Corporate middle of the road rock.  So there was no space for something like us.  We were like the very point of the ship, and we got broken off.  And the bit that came behind us, got in. So we kind of helped to pave the way for the Depeche Mode’s, and the Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark, and whoever to follow through.  That’s part of the reason.  The other part is when we toured America, which we did a few times, we could work our way up to performing places like the Avery Fisher Hall in New York, where they wouldn’t let amplifiers in there, but they let Ultravox in there because they saw Ultravox as art.  And we would play two to three thousand capacity theaters.  And then beyond that, the next step, the obvious step was to open for a bigger band. But we insisted on playing absolutely everything live.  There was nothing pre-programmed.  This was a logistical and technical nightmare because we didn’t have time to do a proper sound check.  So we stalemated at 3,000 capacity venues and we just kind of fell back and disappeared.  

UCR:  It must have been so frustrating to not have the necessary support from the media and your label when you had such a huge fan base everywhere else.  

MU: Of course I can see exactly where it all collapsed and fell apart.  Our record label didn’t understand us.  We were having number one records in the UK, and not seeing anything reciprocated in America. I can’t begin to tell you how hideously frustrating that was.  Ultravox would step off the plane to come and do a tour to promote an album, and the record company would say “Never mind guys, we’ll get them next time.” And I would say ‘Well, hold on, the album’s just come out.  How could it be dead in the water before we ever played a note?  How could this possibly be?’ It was because we were a square peg, and they were trying to push us into a round hole.  It just wasn’t going to happen.  They knew how to do Billy Idol, Pat Benatar and Huey Lewis and the News, and all that, but they had no idea what to do with us.  

UCR: Sometimes it’s amazing that these people are in the music business.  It would seem they rarely know what they’re doing.  

Other than maybe the size of the venues you perform in, what would you say makes a concert in America different than a concert overseas?

MU: You know what, there’s really not a massive difference I have to say. Audiences react similarly all over the world. There are subtle changes between audiences but American audiences tend to be a bit louder than European audiences.  Although, these days I supposed European audiences emulate American audiences with the shouting and screaming, whoopin’ and hollerin’ so maybe the UK and Europe audiences have caught up with how audiences react in American.  But there’s not a huge difference anymore.  I’m quite surprised at the level of reaction I get in America when I play what I think is probably quite obscure material.  The audience knows the songs!  The last time I played Salt Lake City was with the Retro Futura tour with Tom Bailey (Thompson Twins), Howard Jones, China Crisis, and I’m thinking well I haven’t been in Salt Lake City in ages, so no one is going to know me at all.  But I walk on stage and the whole place stands up and sang all my songs.  I was completely and utterly blown away.  So in my mind, my perception is, no one knows me except for hardcore fans that really get into the music and know my place in the chain, my little link in the chain.  When I was in Salt Lake I spoke to the audience afterward and I was signing stuff, and they said there was one radio station there that was a New Wave station and they played Ultravox and that type of music all the time, so they all knew the songs!  

UCR: What was the first concert you attended?

MU: Now this is going to sound bizarre, but the first one I remember buying a ticket was for Black Sabbath, but they didn’t turn up.  On the bill was Family who were a 60’s and 70’s rock band and another band.  So I watched the other two bands. I went to see Black Sabbath because my brother bought their album and I was 15 and wanted to be cool.  

UCR: With touring a lot yourself I’m sure you don’t have time to see a lot of concerts, but is there any band that you would like to see or that you make a point to see.  

MU: I’d love to see Sigur Rós. They’re an Icelandic band well worth checking out.  Really interesting music.  But they don’t tour very often. The last person I saw that I deliberately went to see was Kate Bush.  But I was completing the circle because I saw her first shows she did in London back in 1978.  But yeah, if there is someone I really want to see I’ll make a concerted effort to go see them.  However,  I’m a bit over going to sticky carpeted clubs.  

UCR: Eliminating Live Aid from your options, because that I’m sure was its own incredible experience on its own, what is one of your concerts that stands out to this day?

MU: Yes, there was a very famous venue in Glasgow back in the 70’s and 80’s, called the Glasgow Apollo.  After the single Vienna was successful, therefore the album was successful, Ultravox played the Apollo for the first time.  I walked on to a roar I had never experienced before in my life!  There were 4,000 people screaming, just shouting their heads off because it was my home city. Walking on there and performing in the venue that I saw T-Rex and many other bands perform.  I saw them all on that stage, and to walk on that stage and receive that ovation, was an experience I’ll never ever forget.  And it never gets as good as that again.  It doesn’t matter where you play, how big the venue is, or how magnificent the event might be, that first time you feel that it’s the best time ever!  

UCR: Thank you, Mr. Ure.  I really appreciate you taking the time. It has truly been an honor.  I’m really looking forward to the show.  

MU: Hopefully you’ll hear a lot of things you’ll recognize.  I’ll be doing more Ultravox songs on this set than I ever have outside of Ultravox.  I think you’ll enjoy it.  It’s good fun.  

 

Click here to purchase tickets to Midge’s Live + Electric show.  Keep in mind this is a 21+ show.  Hope to see you there! 

www.midgeure.co.uk 

UCR Interview- Debra Fotheringham of The Lower Lights

debfoThis week I caught up with local solo artist, Debra Fotheringham. Along with her solo work, she sings with the Blue Heart Revue and The Lower Lights.  

Beginning December 5, the highly acclaimed The Lower Lights Christmas returns for the seventh year, with a six-show residency at Kingsbury Hall.  I really enjoyed speaking with Debra.  

Utah Concert Review: How did you get into Music?

Debra Fotheringham: I got into music when I was around 14. I had always loved music from a young age watching live shows, that it was something that I knew I wanted to do.  My dad was a musician at one point so I grew up listening to a lot of music. So it was part genetic, and part I just gravitated towards it at a young age.

UCR: How did The Lower Lights come together?  

DF: The central figure in the whole thing is Scott Wiley.  He owns June Audio recording studios.  And most of us know him from different projects and records he’s worked on. He was the central figure that called people and had people come in.  He and a few others had the idea to do a Hymns record with some of their friends.  And so they finally made it happen and Scott invited me to come and be a part of it, and then it
morphed into The Lower Lights.  It was supposed to just be an album we were recording, but then we started playing live shows and it turned into a thing.

lower-lights

UCR: So was it a love of the holidays or holiday music that started these concerts?  Because it seems like this has become the real focal point of the band.  Am I off on saying that, or does this seem to be the case?  

DF: No, I’d say that’s a fair assessment.  I can’t remember exactly how it started, but I think we were releasing an album around Christmas time and we just decided to make it a Christmas show.  I can’t remember if that’s how it started but at some point, we decided we should do a Christmas show because we had people asking us if we were going to do one.  We had a surprising turnout at the first one, so we just started doing it every year because it was so enjoyable.

Another reason it became a thing with the band is due to the fact that there are so many people in the band that it can kind of be a logistical puzzle to get us all together and so when we have a set show like this, we’ll all be able to show up for it.  And the Christmas shows just happened to be what it turned into.

UCR: Did I hear that there were thirty or so members of this band?!

DF: (Laughs)  Yeah!  It changes depending on who shows up for each show.  It’s a pretty flexible lineup.  

UCR: So what is your role within this enormous band?  

DF: Within the band, I’m mostly just a singer.  I have arranged a couple tunes that we’ve done  but mostly it’s fun for me to just show up and sing, which is pressure off from doing my own stuff where I have to promote it all myself and write everything.  So it’s relaxing and fun to be part of a project where I just show up and sing and make music with friends.  

UCR:  So, what might people who have never see this show before, be in store for?

DF: Well, (laughing) there will be a lot of people on stage.  It’s a “get on your feet and clap” kind of thing.  There are parts of the show that are more rockin’ and parts of the show that are more contemplative.  We try to have something in it for everyone.  We make it non-denominational so everyone will feel welcome.  We just try to have a good time and celebrate the season.

UCR: This might be a difficult question, but, what is your favorite part of doing these concerts?  

DF: That is a hard question.  I think my favorite part is just being on stage with these people that I’m friends with who I love so much.  Getting to make music with them and sharing it with people that I’ve never met who are touched by it.  I’ve had some of the coolest experiences and heard some of the coolest experiences from people that share how they’ve been touched by the music.  That’s really made it special.  So that’s probably my favorite part, just the connection I get to make because of these shows.  

UCR:  Being a local artist, what is your favorite venue to play here in Utah?

DF:  That’s a difficult question.  I really liked playing the State Room.  I think my favorite venues are house concerts, to be honest.  Just playing at people’s houses for maybe fifty people.  I like it because they are there specifically to listen to you so it’s a special experience.  They’re not there to socialize but to listen to music.  Venues like that where that is the emphasis are my favorite.  Kingsbury Hall is like that.  People are there to come listen to music rather than socialize.  Of course, there is a place for that, but for me specifically, those are the venues are my favorite for me to play.    

UCR: What has been your favorite concert that you’ve attended?  

DF:  I just went to Americana Fest in Nashville.  I went to so many good concerts there that the whole experience was my favorite.  It was all day long, good show after good show.  It was sort of mind blowing.

UCR: Yeah I bet that was amazing.  Well, on a personal note, I’ve been wanting to see The Lower Lights Christmas shows for years and for one reason or another not been able to attend.  So I am very much looking forward to it this year.  

DF: Awesome.  I’m glad you can go. Hopefully, it’s a good time.

Debra is currently writing her next solo album that he anticipates being released sometime next year. You can find her previous solo work here www.debrafotheringham.com

You can also hear Debra with the band The Blue Heart Revue.  They recently released an album that Debra described as “Americana Covers”.  (Personal Note: Since this interview I have purchased this album, and have been listening to it on repeat.  I highly recommend it.)  To learn more about The Blue Heart Revue or to buy their album, click here.  

The  7th Annual Lower Lights Christmas concerts begin December 5th, with shows on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and two shows on Saturday.  Tickets are going fast and these shows are known to sell out, so be sure to get yours soon. Click here for tickets.  

Utah Concert Review will be attending the opening show on December 5th.  Look for our review of the show the following day.  

Interview: Cary Judd of the Vacationist

CJ_TVACUtah Concert Review recently caught up with Cary Judd, frontman of the Boise-based band The Vacationist. We discussed what got him into songwriting, technology, and The Vacationist.

Kevin Rolfe (Editor in Chief):
You have a lot of exciting things going on right now. But first, let’s rewind a little. When did you first begin writing songs and why?

Cary Judd:
I don’t think I ever really completed a song on my own till I was 16-17, but I wrote with bands I was in in high school as a guitarist and occasionally lyricist, though I was terrified to sing in front of anyone. I have vague memories of melodies and lyrics I would string together when I was 5 or 6 years old, though.

I think hearing “Sunday Bloody Sunday” caused some sort of neural connection, however old I was when that came out, that really made me start to think about writing.

KR:
Do you remember your first time singing in front of an audience?

CJ:
Yeah, it was at a coffee shop with my band Moz Eizley. We were a trio at the time and I had been writing a lot of songs. Our plan was to find an actual singer to be the singer. My endearingly spaced-out drummer decided to book us a show before that happened. I had been singing in practices so I was the default singer.

KR:
Those familiar with your music know you primarily as a solo artist. How would you describe The Vacationist? How is it different from your solo work?

CJ:
I would say it’s an extension of my solo work. I’m at the center of the songwriting, or at least the lyrics.

I think after a certain amount of time though you become bored with yourself and you have to rattle your own cage. After the first three albums, I started drifting towards pleasing people rather than making music I would actually listen too (i.e. the Trillions EP) and I very quickly found that I wasn’t really pleasing anyone.

I had bounced ideas off myself for about 10 years and was ready to bounce ideas off of someone who knew and understood things differently than me. I wanted to put as much into every note and sound wave as I had always put into lyrics and amplify the live presentation as well as create a visual experience.

KR:
Tell me about the other members of The Vacationist, Conor, and Sunnie. What is their contribution to the band?

CJ:
The dynamic of the band is something like this. I write and demo new songs whenever I’m at the studio and have free time. I show them to Conor and Sunnie and know immediately by their reactions if they’re making the cut. Conor comes in and does a lot with sound design as well as arranging and rearranging my initial demos. He also comes in with pieces of music that are laid out into verses, choruses, or other sections and plays them for me. I’ll get excited about certain pieces and start maniacally typing lyrics in reaction to his compositions. Then of course, there’s the other way I described above. The two of us get on the desk and start what is essentially a modern sound design/producer’s jam session.

I’ve learned so much in my collaborations with Conor. There are a lot of points on the new record where I designed sounds and played parts that were based on things he had taught me, or me asking myself, “what would Conor do here?”.

I need to learn new things to keep it fresh and collaborating with someone like him who understands sound waves on an elemental level blew the creative doors wide open again.

The sonic magic happens when the two of us are in a room together. The sonic landscape is the dividing point between “Cary Judd” and The Vacationist. It really doesn’t matter who plays what or designs a certain sound because I think there’s a certain respect between the two of us that we have faith in the other to fill in any blanks.

Several of the songs I had written and demoed out on my own and then when Conor and I had time together, he put the last few pieces in the puzzle.

A few of the songs, we created in a very stream of conscious way where we were both at the desk, one of us turning knobs to dial in a sound while the other was searching for a melody, then I go and sit behind him on the couch filling pages with words. The opening track, “The Sound”, to me is the quintessential Vacationist song in that it was created this way.

Introducing Sunnie’s input makes for a really cool wildcard. Her main function is to produce the live show with light design, but she was present in a lot of the sessions and though she’s not a veteran musician, she would find these little melodic movements that had this really cool naivety to them which to me is another theme of The Vacationist, finding wonder in a sound or line of words the way I did when I was a little kid and wanted so badly to understand what a song was “about”.

I think there are moments where some people think of it as, “Conor’s band” or as “Sunnie’s band”, depending on how they came to discover us. But when we perform live, I don’t think anyone in the room thinks of it as anything other than “a band”.

KR:
What can someone expect from one of The Vacationist’s live shows?

CJ:
My hope is that they will expect to be in some way amused, surprised, and changed. With the first album and on into the new album, there’s a certain air of innocent thinking. A lot of the message in the music is a sort of joyful view of the world that I hope will untangle the complexities that we as humans weave into a giant mess over the course of our lives.

It’s not some hippie-new-age rant, but more of a spirit of zooming out and looking at our world and existence with awe of what we know and wonder for what we don’t. Like a magic show might be for a young child.

“whoa, how’d you do that?!”

“magic…”

“…and a lot of computers.”

KR:
I’m a huge fan of Electronics and Technology in music. However, there are those out there that claim that Electronic music is not really music. TVAC uses quite a bit of both. What do you have to say in regards to the use of technology in your music?

CJ:
I don’t think the role technology plays in this band can be overstated. I know it’s common for some people to think of technology as a “cheat”.

The Beatles took criticism for multitrack recording. They weren’t all in the same room playing their songs at the same time, but rather overdubbing and layering piece by piece.

This is now the standard.

Then in the last 20 years, you hear people that don’t really know what they’re talking about, criticize synthetic instruments or “auto tuning”. These are tools to create new layers in my opinion. For me, and I’ve talked at length with Conor and Sunnie about this, if it’s a sound, it’s music.

So much of what we do is definitely dependent on the technology we have access to. I don’t have the slightest bit of remorse or shame in saying that. I have made a lot of samples we use in TVAC by recording sounds I hear when I’m out & about with my iPhone. Conor and I have even set blocks of “recording time” aside to walk around with microphones or handheld recorders, just looking for a literal pattern in the chaos that we can manipulate and make a sound we’ve never heard. A lot of the synths we make from vocal samples of the three of us talking, humming, screaming etc and I think that gives us our sound.

I don’t think people realize that technology is the one thing that makes us human. To interpret our world around us, scramble it into something new, and then simulate a future in our imaginations is its own miracle.

Imagine if Mozart was born before the invention of the instruments he composed on and for, what amazing and wonderful things would humanity have never seen?
I guarantee you if he were alive now, he’d be composing on a seaboard surrounded by computers and modern instruments.

Human’s cheated the first time a cave man figured out he could eat better if he sharpened a rock and put it on the end of a stick he could hunt with. Imagine the first tribe that actually cooked the meat they hunted by making a spark and starting a fire, huge cheaters.

Technology is the most human thing we possess.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o_aNMjbieWk&feature=youtu.be

KR:
You’re about to release your 2nd album “Prime Colours/ Bright Numbers”. When do we get to hear it and what can you tell us about it?

CJ:
it’s a very happy album

KR:
So you’re not only in TVAC, you’re also running your own studio. I want to call it a recording studio, but it’s much more than that. Isn’t it?

CJ:
Anymore it’s a multimedia studio. We aren’t experts in everything, but we are fanatically curious, so we’re learning new ways to manipulate sight/sound/photography/video every day. We’ve all worked together on photo and video projects on our own and together and have learned a lot. We have at least 4 music videos in the works to coincide with songs on the new album, possibly more.

KR:
It is unknown to many outside the region, that there is a really strong music scene here along the Rocky Mountains. Why do you think that is?

CJ:
The part of the Rockies I’m familiar with is mostly Boise and Utah. I would attribute the growing scene in Boise to Eric Guilbert of Finn Riggins. He started up Treefort four or five years ago and I think that’s been the seedling that’s grown into a bustling scene here. As for Utah, I think Corry Fox, his venue, The Velour as well as events that have spun off from there. Both those guys are incredibly talented. In both cases you have an individual who saw a lack, set a goal and started taking steps that grew into amazing scenes in both places.

In Boise, there’s been a great scene for a long time. When I was living in Wyoming and would come through while on tour I always felt very welcomed, which is part of why I ended up here. Back then I was an outsider, so it’s hard to say where it was pre-Treefort (Music Festival in Boise), but every year Treefort seems to get better. I’m sure there was a learning curve the first year or two, but as a musician and observer, it seems to have this really beautiful combination of bringing in outside/national talent and weaving the local artists into the fabric of the festival. It’s exposed a lot of locals to great artists that live here.

My favorite thing that I’ve heard every time I’ve played Treefort in different bands is, “what, you guys are from Boise? I had no idea!”.

KR:
You have some very devoted fans in this state. Can the great people of Utah expect to see TVAC performing here live soon?

CJ:
Yes, we will come down to do a show when the album comes out. Utah Valley, specifically Velour has been my default home venue even though I’ve never lived there. I wouldn’t miss the chance to play these songs for the amazing people that have supported me for so long!

To hear music, see videos, and to receive updates on The Vacationist tour dates as well as the release of “Prime Colours/ Bright Numbers”, click here!