The only thing that I knew about Ultimate Painting before seeing them the first time was that Bill and Lisa Roe were putting out their record on their label Trouble in Mind and they were from England. There's yet to be a record on Trouble in Mind that I don't love so I took it as a sign and caught them at a free in-store in Permanent Records with local heroes Negative Scanner.
So, yeah, this is an interview that I did with Ultimate Painting. Read between the lines. Obviously they blew my face off. Bill had explained to me right before their performance that they were somewhat like later incarnations of the Velvet Underground or the Byrds, which to me meant stripped-down pop and that's what I got for the most part, but the spaces in between friendly chord changes and gentle vocals were filled by impressive guitar solos and psychedelic experimentation. At one point, James (who is also in Veronica Falls) bent down to crank his fuzz pedal before embarking on a distorted journey down Rad Times Lane. This duality is necessary to understanding Ultimate Painting: these dudes are not content with being a lullaby. It's like a mischievous baby-sitter rocking a child to sleep, but just as the eyes droop for their final descent to the land of nod, the baby-sitter shrieks, propelling the baby into the land of bad ass rock n' roll.
I picked up their self-titled debut, which is available as they tour around the U.S., but will also be available at your fine, local, independent record shop on October 28. It's an excellent slab of wax for both the music fan and the music historian. See 'em at CMJ if you're going to be in the area! You will not regret it!
The following interview with Jack (also of Mazes) deals a lot with music criticism's fixation with pushing things forward and how it's total bullshit. I strongly believe that there are no original thoughts. There is no original creation. There is no genesis. The only originality comes from synthesis. We weave together what we know and through this act of weaving, we come closer to creating something novel, except it isn't really novel. So why put an emphasis on creating something original when originality is actually a gathering process? Everyone knows Newton's laws - matter is neither created nor destroyed. The same train of thought applies to artistic endeavor.
Jordan Reyes: Saw you enjoying a crowd surf during White Fence’s set. How was that?
Jack Cooper: It was good – I was getting like bro’d around. You get to a certain status band-wise and then there are bros who go and I’ve just never been a mosh-pit kind of guy. It’s weird to me.
JR: It’s weird that it’s White Fence.
JC: I mean, they really play hard but I don’t understand…that’s why I crowdsurfed – because I just wanted to get out of there.
JR: So you’re in Mazes now still?
JC: Yeah, we released an album like six or eight weeks ago, but we’re not going to play out that much.
JR: Do you guys live near each other?
JC: Yeah we live really close together.
JR: What’s the reason for not playing together?
JC: Well, we have. We did like a two week tour after the record came out and we’ve had offers to do a European tour. I think we’re just a bit burnt out on it – we’ve been a band for nearly six years, which is quite a while. I guess the Beatles were a band for only ten or so years though.
JR: That’s a hard standard to live up to.
JC: That’s definitely true. Yeah, so we were burnt out a bit and I won’t go into it because it’s boring music industry stuff. There were just a few things that happened that took the fun out. We were in a position where we could question where we were. Do we continue? Do we split up? And the resounding answer was to just put it on ice for a bit.
JC: I think there’s a lot of bands who make a big deal about breaking up and have a big proclamation, but it’s like, who fucking cares? It’s just a band. I saw that with Thee Oh Sees and I was like “oh, that’s a downer,” but then they announced some shows. Or Frank Sinatra. How many times did he retire?
JR: Jay-Z does the same thing.
JC: Yeah, he does – it’s the oldest trick in the book.
JR: It works for a lot of people too.
JC: It doesn’t work for bands like Mazes though. If Mazes broke up it would just have been something people would shrug and say “another one bites the dust.”
JR: So how did Ultimate Painting come together?
JC: James and I made the record together. Mazes did a tour with Veronica Falls and James and I just really hit it off. I had known James for a while, but London is kind of weird – it’s a bit like New York – it’s very careerist. It seems like every band is really trying to “make it.” I lived in Manchester for a while where no one gave a fuck.
JR: Yeah, I guess Joy Division and Factory Records came out of there and that’s the least commercial stuff that eventually became commercial.
JC: Yeah, that’s kind of carried on with bands that I like in Manchester now. But those bands don’t sound anything like Joy Division now. Manchester’s almost a reaction against that kind of music now.
JR: Really? Well, I guess I know Stone Roses.
JC: Yeah, people get really sick of Joy Division and New Order.
JC: Anyway, me and James met and really hit it off. I guess Mazes is vaguely lo-fi punk. So Ultimate Painting came from that scene in London, more influenced by 90s American music.
JC: First off, both James’ and my favorite band is the Beatles by a million miles. I consider myself an authority. I think I could enter a Beatles trivia contest with one hundred people and I reckon that I could beat ninety-nine of them, but James would be the one who wins it. He’s obsessed with the Beatles. I love them, but James is far and away above me.
JC: It’s come full circle now. I think in the 90s, people began to realize “Yeah, the Beatles are fucking awesome.” You know. The 60s happened and the Beatles were the biggest, most influential band ever and it took until the 90s for people to start talking about them in the same terms again. Even now, you still run across people who will say “Oh, Paul McCartney sucks,” and all I can think is “You’re a fucking moron.”
JR: Well, a lot of people are contrarian and want to prove that they’re original in their thought and it’s just like, “Dude, you’re wrong.”
JC: Every genre of music that is around now, and maybe there are exceptions, but at least in popular music, can be traced back to the Beatles. And that's not to say they weren't influenced by bands back then.
JR: But genius doesn’t require original thoughts, it requires original connections.
JC: Yeah, and processes.
JR: So you recorded this Ultimate Painting record on your own? Over the course of how long?
JC: Over the course of a couple of months where we’d meet up and hang out. Some days nothing would happen or one of us would be in a mood, but it was almost like…well, you must have had it, where you meet a friend for the first time, or a start in a relationship like a boy and a girl or a boy and a boy and you have that thing where it’s super intense when it starts. That’s how it was like with me and James when we started recording. As soon as we were friends, we started recording together. We were recording and figuring each other out. Best artistic experience I’ve had ever.
JR: Where’d you get the story on the back of the record?
JC: It’s a true story. In the mid 60s, there was a collective of artists who bought some land in the Colorado desert and it was the first commune in America, kind of post-beats but proto-hippy. They were like “Fuck this, let’s move” and they were all artists of a sort. Many have actually become very successful architects because they were very interested in that stream. They built geodesic domes where they lived.
JC: But they made a bunch of artwork as well and one that captured me was this piece of art called “The Ultimate Painting,” like the best painting ever. That’s just such a bold statement. Such a cool thing to proclaim. I actually wanted us to be called “The Ultimate Painting” because I think “Ultimate Painting” could be almost a sport.
JR: (laughs) Like extreme painting?
JC: Yeah, like extreme painting.
JR: I’d love to see that.
JC: Yeah, totally. But even if you search us online, as you do, there is that thing. There is competitive painting. I searched it and sure enough there are people that do competitive painting. That’s fucking insane.
JR: The best art is collaborative rather than combative in my opinion.
JC: Yeah, well, I think it becomes invalid if it’s for a commercial or competitive reason, I guess.
JR: I think purity is important in art.
JC: Yeah, I do too.
JR: What’s the story of that one song that’s almost spoken?
JC: Oh, yeah. It’s almost like half of it is stuff I just made up and half of it is stuff that I speculated that could happen. Like this one time I was in a bar and thought my drink had been spiked. So that’s a little bit about what it’s about. Some of it is about my friend Austin, who’s in that band Parquet Courts, who’s from Texas but has a very New York point of view. He’s embraced New York. I mean that in the most complimentary way possible.
JC: When I was over in February right before we recorded the Ultimate Painting record, I was hanging out with him and we’d go out drinking and it’s kind of about that.
JR: It reminds me a little bit of that Velvet Underground song “The Gift.”
JC: Yeah, I mean, it’s even almost the same chords as “What Goes On.” It’s like a Velvet Underground song pretty much. There’s this emphasis nowadays on being original. Journalists are the only – no offense to you, my friend – people who are preoccupied with pushing things forward or being innovative and it’s bullshit really.
JR: Total bullshit.
JC: It’s total bullshit! People will make a movie and it’ll be influenced or inspired by everything that’s come before it and all of a sudden over the last ten or fifteen years that seems to have become less valid. It’s complete bullshit. Everything you do is influenced by things that have come before. No one is influenced by the future or even the present. Everything is influenced by the past. And so to be more overt is to be less valid? That’s bullshit.
JC: So, doing a song, which is almost a Velvet Underground pastiche, like who cares?
JR: I just think it’s fun to make connections.
JC: Me too.
JR: If you like something, try it out. When music loses the fun, what’s the point?
JC: It seems like that’s something that people just expect though in music. No other art form is really as preoccupied with pushing things forward.
JR: I’d say literature is.
JC: Maybe, but that’s ridiculous. I mean, there are only so many words. There are obviously variances on stories, but there’s only so much you can do with a hero.
JR: I’ve often thought that a great thing to do for a book would have this massive heroic cycle story and then the hero gets hit by a car.
JC: Yeah, I agree. No one would read Catcher in the Rye, though, and say, “Oh, the angry young man is too influenced by Hamlet.” No one would say they’d disregard it because it had been done before.