While the Californian four-piece Ultra Q may not be new to the music scene, having created music under their former teen punk band Mt. Eddy, the alt-rock group rebranded in 2019. Leaving behind their adolescence, the quartet have entered their 20s with a more focused sound and direction, refreshed and anew as Ultra Q.
Fronted by lead singer and guitarist Jakob Armstrong – the youngest son of Green Day’s Billie Joe, the band also consists of bassist Kevin Judd, guitarist Enzo Malaspina, and drummer Chris Malaspina.
With a group name inspired by the classic Japanese sci-fi fantasy show, Ultra Q embodies an eclectic sound that is nostalgia-driven. Crafting a sweet blend of post punk and indie rock that draws on multiple influences from The Cure to The Strokes, the four-piece succeeds in making music that is still unique to them. This is most noticeable on their latest output, the bold ‘Get Yourself A Friend’ EP, released at the tail end of 2021.
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One track from their new record is the atmospheric ‘It’s Permanent’, which includes shifts in melodies that remain fast-paced and diverse. Best described as a sort of “gothic escapism”, the intro is reminiscent of a Working Men’s Club tune. When discussing a favourite memory from creating the song, Jakob recalled, “I remember when we first started working on 'It's Permanent' and we couldn't tell if the song was worth pursuing. We were sort of on the edge of making just total nonsense. In hindsight, it's probably my favourite song on the EP just because of how different and challenging it was for us.”
There is an addictive feel to Ultra Q, luring listeners in to their wonderful world. Perhaps the comfort of their music is, in part, down to the inspirations of the band that have helped navigate their own sound. Jakob reveals, “My favourite band of all time is The Cure. I think at this point, I definitely draw from them subconsciously, just because I've listened to so much of their music. At the time of making this EP, we were really into that first Interpol album, Bloc Party, and The Futureheads.”
Their first single from the new EP was the standout ‘Bowman’. A scratchy and shimmering guitar-led song, there is a sense of complete drum-filled urgency, along with its soaring chorus. Full of catchy lyrics and melodies, the electric track reintroduced the band to the world with a punch. In an age where it can seem we are more connected to our devices than the people around us, the group have described ‘Bowman’ as a song that romanticises online relationships. The name of the song is in reference to the character David Bowman from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Its accompanying Wes Anderson style video stars the actor and model Noah Urrea.
Not all the tracks on the EP are up-tempo, particularly the jangly pop track ‘Straight Jacket’. Veering towards a pleasant sound that would be a staple in a coming-of-age indie film soundtrack, it showcases the powerful vocals of Jakob over a soft, summery melody.
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Music videos can often be the missing puzzle, helping us have a better understanding of what a song is about or how it resonates with the artist and the listener. Jakob expresses how the visual side of Ultra Q is super important to them. “It's been really cool to watch the progression of our videos over the last few years, starting with the ‘Redwoood’ video that we made in my garage to the ‘Bowman’ video that was made with a whole crew. Videos are such a big part of our band, and it's been so fun to have the freedom to make whatever we want with this EP. The video for the title track ‘Get Yourself A Friend’ is by far the coolest thing we've ever made.”
Directed by Pennacky, crowned “Indie Japan’s most stylish music video director”, he was also behind the music videos for 88Rising x Marvel’s Shang-Chi soundtrack. The epic ‘Get Yourself A Friend’ video is based on a love for The Cure and a mutual adoration of the Ultraman sci-fi series.
Recently embarking on their first shows since 2019, Jakob confesses, “It's definitely a surreal experience. To be back at Bottom of the Hill in SF after so much time was strange. I think we all missed it so much that actually being there didn't feel real at all.” In response to playing shows outside of the U.S., the singer adds: “We've been wanting to play in the UK / EU for so long and I think we're finally going to be able to soon. Plans for playing out there are in the works.”
Some may be aware of the unreleased, fan favourite track ‘Gummy Burn’, which even prompted a petition to be made on change.org for its release. While a live version is available online, we had to bring up the song to Jakob. “Ohhh Gummy Burn. One day. We've actually tried recording that song multiple times, but it's just never turned out how we want it to. After a couple more tries, hopefully we'll have it out.”
‘Get Yourself A Friend’ is a collection of songs that touches on themes such as human connection, goodbyes, and ultimately, growing up. They have marked the EP as “a coming-of-age farewell” to youth, one which has been rushed and hurried by the constraints of the pandemic. Their latest record couldn’t have come out at a better time, and Ultra Q have proved there’s something we can all resonate to and enjoy in their music. Jakob adds: “I really hope fans of Ultra Q will see how much we've grown. At this point, we've been a band for nearly six years. Looking back on everything from ‘Mt. Eddy’ to the first Ultra Q EP, it's like we've grown up with a small community of fans. Kids who were 13 when we started our band are now in their second year of college. I think this era of our band is bittersweet. We're no longer kids anymore, but we have so much more to give.”
WHERE: Oakland, California
3 Songs: ‘Bowman’, ‘It’s Permanent’, ‘Some Dice’
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Words: Sahar Ghadirian
Photo Credit: Sali Aliyah Williams
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