UberProAudio's freelance writer extraordinaire, Kevin Williams, ventured into Worcester Massachusetts' legendary Ralph's Rock Diner on a cold winter night to meet up with the guys from Ultra Violent Lights - an exciting alternative rock band that has been catching the ear of many as of late. Music gear and the band's debut album, Here In Filth are discussed in this exclusive interview.
It's 9:41 pm and 22 degrees in Worcester, MA and I'm huddled around my beer trying to make the best of the warm air the blowers in Ralph's Diner are throwing my way. That’s when Ultra Violent Lights take the stage. Ralph’s is a pretty well-known venue in Worcester and the surrounding scenes. It maintains a certain kind of charm in spite of (or perhaps because of) the hodgepodge, outdated décor and dingy, dimly lit atmosphere. Don’t be misled by the word “Diner” in the venue’s name; people don’t generally come here to eat. There are literally only 3 things on the menu: burgers, veggie burgers, and chili. All three are reportedly out of this world, but it’s more a matter of convenience and courtesy to the people who come here for the live music and the beer. And hey, it’s vegetarian friendly.
I’m here tonight to talk to the Brooklyn based trio Ultra Violent Lights about their live gear and the approach they took when recording their debut album, Here in Filth. Before they go on, Nick lets me hop onstage and check out what kind of gear they brought all the way from Newark, NJ where they had driven in from about an hour before I pulled in. The bass setup is an Ampeg SVT-AV. There’s an Orange County drum kit with all Zildjian K brass in the middle of the stage flanked on by a blonde Fender Bassman (I find out later it’s a ’59 reissue) and a Vox AC-30 that Adam will later tell me has Celestion Blue speakers in it. These are biamped using a standard Morley A/B switch. All the pedals going into the guitar rig are devoid of any labeling in an effort to hide what’s making some of the unique sounds they’re getting onstage. The bass rig has a Line 6 filter modeler hooked up to it along with a few other pedals whose names have been masked.
UVL opens their set with Adam on guitar and Nick playing bass for "Spiders Eat the Flies" but after "Buried at the Bottom of Silverlake," their third tune of the night, Nick and Adam trade string duties amidst a backdrop of amp feedback that seems to leave band and the growing audience un-phased. Nick grabs a Fender Jaguar and Robi launches into the intro for "Skin and Bones." The banter between Nick and Adam onstage is fun and lighthearted and we learn that Adam used to live in Framingham before they launch into "The Spell." I am the lucky recipient of a heartfelt dedication when UVL starts to play "Sleep Now" just for knowing what the purple pedal does. It's a Line 6 Filter Modeler that Adam is having a great time playing with. The second to last song is “Some Kind of Season” although there is a concerted effort by the crowd to get them to play something by Slayer. I was hoping for "Dead Skin Mask" but this tune has a pretty good hook so I'll take it. They close their set with "Thick as Thieves" at which point I was able to catch up with them for a bit.
UberProAudio: Your drum sound on the record is really, really clear but everything else is really raw. How did you guys make that work?
Nick:Like the final product, how did it come about?
UberProAudio: Yeah. How did you make it work?
Adam: Aaron Rubin was the one who helped record it and make it sound the way it did. He’d set up like a room mic for the drums. That was the key. Mic all the drums and then a room mic far away. So that made the drums sound all big and bad-ass and then everything else that we put on was raw and like, not sloppy but…
Nick:He captured sounds. It was more like, get all the takes down and then all the different effects were added.
Adam: Some of the stuff didn’t have effects on it ‘til the end. We spent hours messing around with pedals and effects just to tweak stuff but for the most part it was raw. clean bass, clean guitar and we knew that you just start with the drums being as big as possible and you’re crossing your fingers that by the end of it the drums aren’t all compressed and mixed down. The more you add on and the smaller and tinier it gets and you’re like, “Oh they sounded so good when I first heard them.”
UberProAudio: Robi what kind of drum kit did you play? Is it the same one you played live?
Robi: Actually it’s not me on the record. Completely different drum set, completely different player. These I built myself; I used to work at Orange County Drums. Now I just endorse their stuff and basically built my dream kit before I left L.A.
Adam: But he plays our record like a champ.
Nick: He does.
UberProAudio: I would never have known.
Adam: We don’t really like to talk about it that much but yeah (points to Robi) you weren’t there but now you are.
Robi: I don’t know what [the drums] were.
UberProAudio: Who was the drummer?
Adam: Hayden Scott. He plays in the New Regime and Freeland or [something]. Freeland? Adam Freeland or whatever. He played on Ilan’s kit which was an OCP kit.
Nick: Ilan Rubin.
Adam: Aaron Rubin is our manager and his little brother is Ilan Rubin who was in Nine Inch Nails, New Regime. He’s like the prodigigal… prodigal? Prodigigal? (laughs)
Nick: Prodigal son? (laughs)
Adam: He’s like the most ripping drummer, guitar player, piano player. He was just in Nine Inch Nails before they broke up and now he’s back on [with] New Regime. He actually played on our first EP before Hayden Scott and now our next record will be with Robi.
UberProAudio: How do you guys figure out how the guitar and bass duties get split up?
Nick: Adam is the sound guru of this whole sitch. He kind of the leader of the ship.
Adam: I’ve only been doing it… I’ve only been playing bass and guitar for… It took me a long time to get good tones and what not, to know how to figure it out. But, when it comes down to who’s playing what it’s, “What’s easier to play and sing backups to?” For me, some of the shit to play and sing backups to is too ridiculous so you play the harder shit cuz he’s better at singing and playing than I am. So if it’s more technical I’ll be like, “Here you play that on bass and I’ll play guitar.” Or if there’s two many pedals. Like when you’re playing and you’ve got a delay and something else on and this distortion on and you’ve got to switch like three or four pedals at once and sing and play it’s too much. You’ve got to split up the duties.
UberProAudio: What’s the bass distortion? It’s completely bad ass.
Nick: I told you about this [note: Nick had told me earlier about Adams super-secrecy over what pedals he’s playing].
Adam:Here’s the deal. I’ve had a Sans-Amp pedal, a Sans-Amp rack, I’ve had the most expensive gear that you can possibly buy and it took me a long time to figure it out and I paint my pedals so nobody knows what it is.
UberProAudio: I did notice that.
Adam: Because it is the most simplest thing. And now that I’m older and I’m figuring shit out I’ll tell you what I use because even if you use what I use you’re not gonna be as good as me at it.
Adam:So the ODB-3…
Nick: You can’t polish a turd…
Adam: It’s a Boss bass pedal. It’s an overdrive pedal. It’s a yellow overdrive pedal. That this is better than the Big Muff, the Sans Amp, the rack Sans Amp, anything you can possibly get your hands on because it keeps the low end in there. That’s all it is. It’s the same distortion as everything else but it keeps the low end in there. And that’s the secret. Boss pedals, they’re easy to come by, everywhere’s got ‘em, and that ODB is… I don’t know… Old Dirty Bastard, ODB, that’s the perfect thing. I don’t know, it just works. And that’s what I use on the record too.
[The Boss ODB-3]
UberProAudio: Is that the same amp you recorded the record with?
Adam: It’s the same head but not the cabinet.
UberProAudio: I knew what [that pedal] was [on “Sleep Now”] right away.
Adam: Oh yeah that Line 6 purple pedal [the Filter Modeler] is the shit, it’s really how you tweak it and how you play it.
Nick:And everyone uses it for guitar.
Adam: They use it for guitar, I’ve used it for guitar but I’ll sit and tweak it and write the song with that. Like, I could never write a song and then add that pedal in, I have to write with that pedal. Because it’s so… it doesn’t ever do the same thing, well, it does do the same thing twice but it’s really… it’s picky. It’s weird. It’s a weird pedal, but it’s cool for noises.
[The Line 6 FM4]
UberProAudio: What are you doing with it on Sleep Now? Is it that random generator setting?
Adam: I couldn’t even tell you, I just mess with it and I save it ‘cause it’s got like four or five presets on it. So I just save like four or five presets and that tone, I don’t know, I wrote that song with that tone.
UberProAudio: So you used the same bass head in the studio that you do live. Are you using the same amps guitar wise?
Nick: We used a bunch of guitar amps. We used an Orange when we recorded, we used a Mesa when we recorded.
Adam:We used the Bassman, I think too.
Nick: We used the Bassman that we have.
Adam: I used that weird Gibson.
Nick: We didn’t have the Vox [AC-30]. Did Ilan have the vox?
Adam: Ilan? No, he did not have a Vox, but we did know we wanted a Vox.
Nick: That was something that came later and then…
Adam: You’ve got to the the AC-30 with the Blue speakers in it. If you don’t get the Blue Celestials then you’re an idiot.
[Vox AC30 with Alnico Blues]
UberProAudio: Is that a ’59 Bassman?
Adam: Yeah but it’s a reissue but it’s got the original transistor in it. It’s an older one, it’s a 90 something but the guy I got it from he own this place called DML studios in San Diego and he had a bunch of old shit and he found the transistor and he put it in there and then he sold it to me for a ton of money but it’s got four tens in it. It’s such a ripping amp.
[Fender '59 Bassman]
UberProAudio: When you guys got the Vox were you trying to get something versatile enough to recreate all the amps that you used?
Nick: We just knew.
Adam:With anything that Brian May uses you can’t go wrong.
Nick: We googled it and then all of a sudden it was like one Vox for $1200 at this guitar store just outside of New York and it was like online ordering and I remember we were sitting there…
Adam: We maxed out credit cards trying to get it.
Nick: He was like, “You gotta get that amp.” And I was like, “Dude, I’ve got that much on a credit card.” And he said, “You gotta get it.” So we ordered it and it showed up like a week later and then that card was maxed out. I never paid that card.
Adam: We got bad credit but we got rippin’ gear.
UberProAudio: Did you guys or Aaron have a certain philosophy behind the sound of the record?
Adam: Yeah, live. Don’t do anything you wouldn’t do live. We basically did it as live as we could
Nick: We wanted to make a live sounding record.
UberProAudio: What’s the first song you guys wrote as a band for the record?
Adam: “Some Kind of Season” I think was the first song. The first three songs we did in LA were “The Spell,” “Some Kind of Season,” and “Martyr In Me”
UberProAudio: Who are some of your biggest writing and sound influences?
Adam: the Beatles I think were some of the best songwriters ever besides Nirvana. Kurt Cobain loved the Beatles. Afterdrive and Faith No More.
Nick:Adam comes up with music. He plays guitar like no one else. For me I really like post-punk 80’s bands like the Cure and Echo and the Bunnymen.
Adam: It’s a weird mix. I’ve never been in a band like this. I don’t do melody. He [Nick] comes up with melody. I hate writing words. I’ll come up with an idea chord wise and then we’ll move everything around. I’ll come up with a basic idea.
Nick: Sometimes you sing stuff and certain words will stick but this is the first time I’ve ever played with anybody or wrote with anybody where you consider what both people are going through as opposed to just you. I want it to be about our experience as a band. It was pretty fast to find out but [Adam and I] are super-similar.
Adam: I always want to use the word “we” instead of “I.”
UberProAudio: What’s Aaron’s history with the band?
Adam: Aaron was in a band called Denver Harbor that used to tour with my [old] band. The only two people on that tour that hung out together was him and I. Him and I (points to Nick) are like best friends, we’re brothers.
Nick: I would say brothers over best friends.
UberProAudio: You gotta have that family dynamic.
Nick: Yeah, this wasn’t something that came together on Craigslist or like, “Hey you gotta meet my friend who plays drums.”
UberProAudio: What’s on the horizon for you guys? What’s next?
Adam: Take over the world and tour our faces off and hopefully people will notice that we’re a kick ass band. We’re basically going to play in front of nobody for as long as it takes.
You can check out their tour schedule and any other info about UVL on their website at ultraviolentlights.com or visit them on myspace or facebook .
Interview by Kevin Williams . Kevin is a film composer and performing musician in the Providence, RI area.
Checkout the Collage of Music Gear Rig pictures Kevin took at the show: