Meanjin/Brisbane dream pop shoegaze quartet Ultra Material are getting set to finally play live in support of their Ep 3 which was released in May this year. It’s both energetic and dreamy at the same time; a powerful and lovely release. Gimmie caught up with drummer Matt Deasy.
How did you first find music?
MATT DEASY: My earliest memories of music are of listening to records on my Dad’s turntable stereo. I used to love sitting next to the player with headphones on listening to 7-inch singles. I guess it was my earliest exposure to the idea of DJ’ing as I was more taken by individual songs than listening to full length albums. I loved listening to the radio and watching The Rage Top 40 on a Saturday morning. I would attempt to tape songs from the Rage Top 40 onto my little portable cassette player, this of course resulted in a lot of shouts and breakfast table talk from family members in the background.
What was the first concert/gig you ever went to?
MD: My very first ‘live gig’ or more accurately ‘live band experience’ was on a trip to Bristol in the UK with with my Dad to when I was 14. My English cousin, (who I’d met for the very first time that trip and became the absolute coolest person in my world) took me to her boyfriend’s band rehearsal at a share house. They were a ska/skate punk band who went on to make a few waves locally and nationally. It was an inspiring first experience actually seeing how a band functions in their own environment. I also met them all afterwards and we were all both equally intrigued by each other geographically.
Who or what inspired you to make music yourself?
MD: I wanted to play drums from an early age. The only thing was that I didn’t have a drum kit, so I use to just tap on things and eventually started entertaining the other kids in my class by playing wipeout on the top of desktops or whatever other surface might create enough of a tone to get the class moving (this resulted in a lot of detention from memory). I’m not even sure how I learnt to play the wipe out, but I spent a lot of my childhood tapping out rhythms on any available surface I could find. The idea of making my own music came much later in high school when I bought an electric guitar from a friend and decided to start chipping away at that. I became fully engrossed in styles of music that were not popular with my peers at all, bands like Dinosaur Jr, Sonic Youth and the grittier side of the Seattle scene. Then after high school finished, I started making tapes of me just playing guitar. Slowly these formed the basis for the first songs I wrote which turned out to be the foundation of my first band.
What brought Ultra Material together?
MD: Sarah and I met Nick and Zuzana at a Do the Robot show (which was our previous band).
They were fans, so of course we immediately became friends. Nick and Zuz had been writing their own music under the name Monochrome and had just started a band with fellow architect friends Jonathan and Veronica Kopinski called Sunshine State. We all instantly hit it off, playing double bills together across Brisbane for a couple of years. After Sunshine State and Do The Robot dissolved in 2012 we decided to start a new project which quickly morphed into Ultra Material.
What draws you to making a combo of shoegaze and dream pop sound-wise?
MD: I think it’s the music that comes most naturally to us. All of our previous bands had at least some elements of shoegaze and dream pop to them and once we’d started Ultra Material those kinds of sounds became the main emphasis of the band. In a lot of ways dream pop and shoegaze is a mood to us, a constant and shared feeling we have about life in general and that obviously influences our song writing process quite a lot.
Ultra Material are known for really beautiful all-encompassing live shows; how has not being able to play live over the past few months affected you?
MD: It’s been a little tough as we had to cancel our EP launch show originally scheduled in May. Since Nick and Zuz had twin bubs last year we’ve had to become a bit more selective in what we take on, so we were already looking to only play 2 or 3 times a year before the shutdown happened. Our routine over the last few years has usually been to write and record within a few months followed by a couple of shows to promote the release then have a break for a while. It’s likely we’ll continue this way, but hopefully we can make the few shows we do play really worth it.
On your latest release Ep 3 there’s a bit of a garden/flower theme via the art and songs like ‘Marigold’; what inspired this?
MD: The idea for the ep artwork came from some polaroid photos Sarah and I took on our travels through Ireland and the UK last year. Our approach was to find a wild flower garden and use the polaroid camera to create a soft-focus look to the photographs, with Nick and Zuzi providing accompanying illustrations of native flora from their home garden. The four of us have been working on our own gardens over the last few years, and it’s another thing we bond over – we all live on main roads and it creates our own little sanctuaries. I think generally nature plays a big part in our artwork, and whether it’s planting some new natives or just daydreaming in the garden, it can be quite cathartic.
Can you tell us a bit about the recording process for Ep 3? We love how you layer sound!
MD: Our last two releases we’ve recorded with Marly Luske at Alchemix Studio in West End. I think Marly is a bit of a mind reader with translating what we want into reality and is always open to ideas and experimenting. He’s also a genius and whizz when it comes to editing and mixing as we keep a pretty tight schedule when it comes to recording. Generally, we try to have all the songs down beforehand so we can come in and record everything together in one room over a couple of days, and then record vocals and overdubs throughout the mixing process to create the layered sound. With Ep 3 we actually recorded in February 2019 but didn’t get back to mix it until the end of that year, so it was an opportunity to return after some time away with fresh ears and add additional layers.
We love the extra love and care that you always put into the packaging of your physical releases! EP 3 had a handmade screen-printed gatefold jacket with bonus fold out screen printed poster with two versions a white card and kraft version of the jacket; why is it important to you to give us something special? Can you tell us about the thought behind the latest packaging?
MD: My work at No.7 print House gives me the opportunity to be thinking about and planning physical releases, sometimes months before we’ve even written and recorded the songs. We’ve always approached each release as a new art project, and factoring our budget and time frames usually decides what physical format will be best suited to that particular release. All 4 of us have some kind of design background but we are pretty democratic about everyone having a chance to have creative input into a release – it helps that we all love each other’s work. Being able to build these super deluxe packages all in house, creating accompanying artwork for inserts or fold out posters, making each release something special and different from the last one, I think it’s all a natural extension of our music. We’d been dismissive of CDs for years in favour of vinyl or cassette, as they just seemed a more interesting physical product. But lately we’ve been getting back into CDs in the car (the only place any of us have CD players) so it was nice to change things up and with CDs being so compact and affordable it was just perfect for this release.
This year’s been a challenging year; what’s something important that you’ve learnt about creativity or making stuff in 2020?
MD: I felt some pressure to take advantage of the lockdown and subsequent quiet periods this year to focus on art, although having large amounts of downtime to work on art alone can have the opposite effect on me as far as productivity goes. I’m very much used to working within small pockets of time that become available in and around my regular work schedule. The downtime did however prove to be very handy for the actual making and construction side of art projects especially when it came to the screen printing. If we are ever to have another year or period like 2020, I only hope I’ll be better equipped to deal with the potential that comes with large amounts of downtime.
What’s something that’s really engaged you lately? What did you appreciate about it?
MD: Lately and especially during lockdown music by Roy Montgomery, Seefeel, Windy & Carl, Pink Moon by Nick Drake, Julee Cruise’s The Voice of Love, locals Mckisko and Ancient Channels’ new albums. These have all made up this year’s soundtrack and kept me company during the best and the worst of this year.
What’s next for Ultra Material? Have you been working on anything new? What can you tell us about it at this point?
MD: We have our second (and final) show this year on the 5th of December at The Cave Inn with Ancient Channels. Unfortunately, the show is only 30 capacity, so all tickets are sold but it will be a nice end to what was a really dark and insanely bizarre year. We’re also writing songs for what will most likely become our next EP, so I think that will be our main focus for the next few months.