Smalltalk: An Interview with Ultraísta's Laura Bettinson
Ultraísta are not exactly what one would consider a supergroup, but they do have their fair share of experience in the music world, mostly behind the scenes. Nigel Godrich is best known for his production work with Radiohead while drummer Joey Waronker has been one of the highest rated session men since he first laid down drums on Beck’s major label debut Mellow Gold. Godrich and Waronker first crossed paths in 1998 when recording Beck’s Mutations but it wouldn't be until they saw musician Laura Bettinson performing under the moniker Dimbleby & Capper in 2009 that they went ahead to form their own band.
While Godrich and Waronker would get in plenty of practice playing in Thom Yorke’s Atoms for Peace, they now have their own record fronted by Bettinson’s hypnotic vocals. We caught up with the singer to discuss the project and how it came to be as well as finding out about some of the elements that make up Ultraísta both musically and visually.
When you met Nigel Godrich and Joey Waronker, you were still performing as a solo artist. Can you tell me how those shows were and what it is you were doing live that essentially landed you this gig?
Laura Bettinson: Before I picked up electronics I was doing stuff with the piano, but then on getting to London I realized taking the piano around on the tube is not very practical. That’s when I started messing around loop stations. So I hadn’t been doing it for very long when I met Nigel and Joey. They just came to a little show of mine in a pub in East London. The loop kind of thing was interesting to them and fitted with the repetitive nature the guys were composing.
What was the process in between you guys first meeting and it becoming a real band?
When I met the guys, at no point was I under the impression that we were even going to make a record really, we were just making music for the sake of making music to see what we could do. It wasn't until really later on that we got to a point where we had ten ideas that seemed finished. There’s plenty more of it — there’s stacks and stacks of ideas.
Considering there was a long break between when you guys first played together and when you reconvened to record the album, did you ever worry that this project wouldn't come off?
Yeah, there were moments where I didn't think it was ever going to come out because people are busy and it’s hard because we live in different countries most of the time. But when you put that much energy into something… it would have been a real shame for it not to come out.
What would you say is the visual aesthetic style of Ultraísta conveyed by your videos and album art?
Nigel has all this vintage ‘80s video gear and he’s great at video stuff. We just wanted to come up with a simple idea with a striking enough image so when you hear the song you think of that. They really weren't meant to be music videos in the sense that people make music videos now, where they’re fucking full-blown movies. It wasn't even like we’re consciously against that, it’s just what we came up with.
Your press release says that the trio formed over a mutual love of Afrobeat, electronic and dance music, visual art and tequila. How does tequila fit into the story?
Joey really loves tequila… Tequila and red wine. We’d work really late and I wasn’t nearly used to that. So when it get to 2, 3 or 4 in the morning, we’d just have something to wake us up.
Besides music have you done anything else artistically?
Yeah, I mean for all my projects I’m always driving it visually. So I do bits of art direction a lot of the time even if it’s just the tripod and the clicker in my hands doing some sort of Cindy Sherman self-portrait stuff. And I really enjoy that, sometimes more than sitting down and writing music. It’s sort of like creating the character around the music you've just written. I’m lucky enough to be surrounded by a lot of friends that work in a lot of different medias. So some fashion people, photographers and accessories designers. I tend to pop up in all their shoots. Musically I've done composition for some short films and indie films and all sorts of weird shit to pay the bills.
Besides Cindy Sherman do you have any other figures that you consider to be an influence whether musically or visually?
Tim Walker the fashion photographer. Even people like David LaChapelle. I’m very impressed by it, this high production value, it not being real. People like Erwin Wurm, his art and sculpture I find amazing, really surrealist.
How about art movements. Is there a scene you really identify with?
There’s got to be an element of humor in everything I seem to touch and detaching things from reality for a bit and that’s why I like all the pop art stuff. The Andy Warhol and Edie Sedgewick stuff — very influential on me growing up.
Ultraísta's self-titled is now out on Temporary Residence. Check out the videos for "Our Song" and "Smalltalk" below