ULTRAS: Under the Influence
Gav Prentice of ULTRAS talks us through some of the influences that can be found on his debut self-titled album
To accompany a new mix from ULTRAS, full of influences on the album both musical and spoken, plus stuff that was cut, along with previously unreleased remixes, and exclusives from friends, we get the lowdown on the music that influenced ULTRAS self-titled debut. Listen to the mix and read about the album's influences below.
Darkstar – Cuts
[Foam Island, 2015]
An early idea I had for the album was to have it interspersed with spoken voices, interviews that I could conduct with people from across the central belt, all talking about how violence has affected them in various ways. It started feeling a bit laboured when the lyrics were all so explicitly about this anyway, so I dropped it, and when I heard Darkstar's Foam Island I could see that someone had taken a similar idea and done it to perfection already.
Their interviewees talk about their hopes and fears really candidly, and could just as easily be talking about Bathgate or Coatbridge as their native Huddersfield. Just plainly stating the truth without ideological rhetoric attached, even about something superficially dry like council cuts, can be really powerful when accompanied by the right music.
Kendrick Lamar – Momma
[To Pimp a Butterfly, 2015]
The album To Pimp a Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar is the single biggest influence on the ULTRAS album. People don't quite believe that when I tell them, it's not that I've suddenly put the guitar away and taken up rapping, but the way that Kendrick used multiple producers and musicians and created something with a central narrative and such a consistent sound, that was the goal.
One of the producers, Gal, even had an article from Sound on Sound magazine about the way that his engineers pulled it all together, which he scanned and sent to me so we could copy them. It was a touchstone for everything; the mixing process, the ordering of the tracks, and the layers of meaning in the lyrics, where he's dealing with the legacy of violence in his community that he struggles with his responsibility towards. I even tried to get my album mastered by the same guy in Hollywood, but my Creative Scotland award didn't quite stretch to it! Next time.
At my school hip-hop was pretty much the only thing that everyone was into to some degree. A lot of the kids I knew idolised the likes of 2Pac because of the whole 'thug life' ethos, which is easy to mock, but if you live in a scheme in central Scotland where you do a bit of dealing here and there, job prospects are bleak, and violence is the currency that it can often be, it's easy to see why that would speak to you a lot more than the kind of British rock music which would normally ignore these things.
Jeff Parker – Get Dressed
[The New Breed, 2016]
I've come to be quite comfortable with the fact that what I do well musically is basically guitars and beats, often with electronic beats informing the rhythm of the guitar parts. Jeff Parker (from Tortoise) has this solo album where he breaks that down to perfection, playing jazz guitar but presenting it in the context of hip-hop production. This tune could go on in a loop for hours and I'd be delighted. A great beat, a nice background sample and some improvised guitar on top, and you need absolutely nothing else.
Bert Jansch – Angie
[Bert Jansch, 1965]
One of my favourite guitarists of all time. He's probably known for intricacy and dynamics in his playing, but I've always thought he played with a real swagger. You can hear that come across in this recording, I can imagine them playing it in the back room of a smoky pub in Glasgow somewhere, the kind of places Bert would have started out playing. What's probably helping give that impression is that he's chucking blues into the folk tradition with no apparent concern about how anyone would feel about it, which is the correct way to proceed of course.
The Sensational Alex Harvey Band – Faith Healer
I don't know why more Scottish bands don't reference Alex Harvey as an influence, for me as a kid he was the first person I'd heard whose accent came through so strongly within rock rather than folk. So much attitude, a real sense that he didn't give a shit whatsoever, and this is 4 or 5 years before punk really came to be a movement, not that I think they were part of any kind of scene other than their own. And the way that the guitar floats over the top of the synth still sounds so urgent too.
In the mix I've paired this up with a beautiful poem by Jim Ferguson which testifies to the boost in self-image that Alex Harvey gave to young Scottish people at the time. He's a really important figure in the history of Scottish music; there should be a statue of him in George Square next to Burns.
J Dilla – Motor City 3 & 5
[Motor City, 2017]
J DIlla is known as a kind of virtuoso classic hip-hop producer, but I always think his production is rough around the edges in a really cool way, especially in a lot of the stuff released more recently that's just being discovered, it feels like you can hear him cracking onto the idea in the process of it, it's really DIY.
It feels like he's just chucking [elements] on top of each other that don't appear to make sense at first – that's certainly how I make beats, and it means you stumble upon odd rhythms that you didn't intend and that lead on to more and more ideas until you have a song. I feel like you can hear J Dilla going through that process here.
Wounded Knee – Freedom Come Aw Ye (Roots Version)
I worked on a theatre show for National Theatre of Scotland called RANTIN with the bold Wounded Knee – aka Drew Wright – a few years ago, along with Kieran Hurley and Julia Taudevin. In the process I learned a great deal about how to approach traditional music, which is essentially however the hell you want, but that it can be used incredibly powerfully if you know the history and meaning behind what you're doing. Drew's work is an embodiment of what Hamish Henderson (the author of this song) called 'the living tradition'.
This is an internationalist anthem in Scots, and Drew's joined here by singers from Senegal, Poland, Morocco, Ireland, and Philippines, and set it to an Augustus Pablo tune. It's his version we used in the show. To me, it sounds like the Scotland that we want and is just out of reach at the moment, but it's a much more recognisable Scotland than some shortbread tin myth from the past. It's angry and uplifting at the same time, and that's something that my music hopefully conveys too.