Tucked away in the small courtyard of Café A, the former Récollets convent in Paris, we interviewed Rhys Edwards and Rhys Williams of the group Ulrika Spacek. After the release of The Album Paranoia (early 2016) the London-based quintuple are set to release their 2nd album Modern English Decoration, June 2 on Tough Love Records. As with their 1st album, they wrote and recorded the 2nd album in their house, a creative space where their videos, photos and works of art come to life.
Introduce the members of Ulrika Spacek.
Rhys Williams : I play guitar.
Rhys Edwards : I play guitar and sing.
We also play with Joseph Stone, a multi-instrumentalist, guitar player, Callum Brown a drummer and Ben White, bass. We’re all from Redding in England, except Callum who is from Luton, and we currently live in London.
How did you all come to meet each other to form Ulrika Spacek?
Rhys E: We met in London, though Rhys, Joseph, Ben and I have known each other for many years. The band was formed in Berlin, but put together in London.
Rhys and I started writing and we formed the band out of friendship, really. We’ve been playing together for about three years before our first album came out, in 2016.
Where does the name Ulrika Spacek come from and how do you pronounce it?
Rhys W: We say it : « uhl-ree-kah spay-seck » !
Rhys E: We came up with the name the night we decided to form the band. We were talking about sort of ridiculous names… it’s a mix between Ulrika Meinhof and Sissy Spacek. Weirdly though because Sissy Spacek is actually pronounced « spa-tcheck ». Our friend in Stockholm took offense that we mispronounced it.
How would you describe your music?
Rhys E: Interesting guitar music.
What is the concept of Oysterland?
Rhys W: It’s a concept that we put on in London at a music venue called the Victoria, which is not far from our house. We curate the bands, artists, and have exhibitions as well.
Rhys E: When we started the band, we wanted to organise our own concerts, so our first gigs were in that setting.
We could make the room look the way we wanted, so that when people walked in, it would look like somewhere they’ve never seen before, though they’ve probably been there many times. We would turn the lights off and use our own projections, strobe lighting, and just having the walls filled with photography exhibitions or video installations. The last one we did was more of a performance where we had heartbeat monitors on us while we played and there were lightbulbs in the room that flashed every time our heartbeat went. So the faster the song, the more intense the light became. It’s different every time.
When we will have enough money, or the capability, we want to organise the same events in different cities. Paris would probably be the place where we would be able to do it next.
The album Modern English Decoration comes out June 2 2017 on Tough Love Records. In what context was this album composed and recorded?
Rhys W: Very much like the first, in our living room (laughs). We live in a former art gallery called KEN, in East London. Three of us live there. It’s our house and recording studio.
What does the album title Modern English Decoration signify?
Rhys E: Quite early, we wanted the album to be characterised by quieter, decorative lead guitar sounds. It’s a play on words with an interior design thing. We wanted it to almost be like what the caption would be if you were trying to sell our living room, because it doesn’t look like a normal living room. It’s a mess really, there’s lots of things. Many people have lived in that house so random things get left behind.
What’s the strangest thing you found in the house?
Rhys E: One time we found a camping set that we ended up using for the music video that comes out soon. You just never know, when you open up a box, what you’re going to find.
Rhys W: By the way, whose mannequin is it ? Is it yours?
Rhys E: I bought the mannequin from the charity shop around the corner.
Is it kind of like a squat?
Rhys E: It’s very much a Victorian London house. But I think London will be characterised in the future of that kind of commune living because you’re forced to live with other people in very close quarters. We could be kicked out in one week, we have no contract or anything, so it’s a very precarious situation, but it definitely works for us and the band. We get to make records in our house which is great.
How would you say the sound on Modern English Decoration differs from The Album Paranoia?
Rhys E: I think there is quite a lot of decorative guitar, it makes the album sound almost a bit « ornamental »… lot’s of intertwining guitars.
I would say it’s a more open record in the sense that on the album’s sleeve, there’s going to be the lyrics because we want it to be more approachable. For us, we’re just really happy to have two records now that have a different flow and different characteristics, and that’s exciting to us.
Rhys W: Generally there’s more thought put into it.
Are there any common themes?
Rhys E: I think the lyrics are very much about the thoughts that I’ve had while sitting in the living room… on my own, while there’s a party going on, or whether it’s 5am, the period of the night when it starts getting a bit weird. In terms of themes… self-awareness taken too far to a point that it becomes a burden, alienation of people around you, worrying that you’re worrying too much, and I guess there’s aspects of love in there.
We read that the song « Full of Men » was written at a very important moment and that it characterises the album, can you explain in what sense?
Rhys E: That’s an example of that kind of decorative lead guitar we talked about, it seemed to just characterise the record. When we wrote that song we knew that it differed from the first album, and it’s important to note that on the tracklisting it comes at a time where it kind of goes down a bit then it kind of goes somewhere else.
Who would you say are your main influences? Musical or nonmusical?
Rhys W: We were listening a lot to a Canadian band called «Women» while recording the album. Hard to search for, but very good, they’re no longer with us.
Rhys E: Aesthetically, Ray Johnson and Bridget Riley are influences for how the record looked, our posters, and live visuals.
Yórgos Lánthimos, the Greek director who did the film Dogtooth (Canine in French) and The Lobster, has been a reference for a lot of our music videos. He’s quite underlying and dark… and just turns something that is so normal into something strange and surreal. In our music videos, we’ve been playing with that feeling of being unsettling, but normal and real.
What have you been listening to lately?
Rhys E: I’ve listened to a lot of Portishead this past year, which I never listened to before… and BEAK>, Geoff Barrow’s new band.
Rhys W: Recently, i’ve listened to Duster, a 90s American post-rock band. Slint as well.
Any plans for 2017?
Rhys E: As soon as the album comes out, we’re going to play festivals over the summer.We’re looking forward to playing the OFF festival in Poland, Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland, and Rock en Seine in Paris. Then, in the fall, we’re going to do a UK and Europe tour.