Ulrika Spacek are one of the most innovative bands to come out of the UK's shoegaze and psych rock scene in recent years. Formed in 2014 by Rhys Edwards (guitar/vocals) and Rhys Williams (guitar) after the dissolution of Edwards' previous band Tripwires, they recently released second long player Modern English Decoration on Tough Love Records and it ranks as one of 2017's finest to date.
The five-piece - completed by Joe Stone (guitar/keyboards), Ben White (bass) and Callum Brown (drums) - have just supported Slowdive on their recent UK shows and head out on tour again later this year from September through to November. As the new record gains more plaudits with every passing week, DiS caught up with Edwards after their recent in-store performance at Nottingham's Rough Trade.
DiS: You recently supported Slowdive on their run of shows around the new album? How was that and how did it come about?
It was incredible. Meeting them was so nice. For our generation, that band always made a lot of sense quite quickly. It's strange because Rhys (Williams) the other guitarist did a dissertation on the link between geography - the area that surrounds you - and the music you make. He met Christian Savill from Slowdive five years ago and interviewed him, so when they asked us to play it was like everything had come round full circle. The first time we showed up Christian was like, "What? It's you!" They're lovely people. In a weird kind of way it's like seeing yourself in twenty years time and nothing's changed in terms of what your tastes are. We're actually gonna be doing the Ride tour in November as well. We're doing our own headline tour in September and October and I was a bit worried that would be it for this year so the Ride support has come along at the right time. When we tour we have to sublet our rooms and the only way we can do it is to be away for a few months so everything has fallen into place.
Prior to starting Ulrika Spacek a few of the band played together in Tripwires. Did any of Tripwires' songs make the transition to the current band?
No. We've always seen the two as being very separate really. Tripwires made a second record which we were really proud of but we couldn't find one person in the world that was willing to press vinyl for it so it went out on Bandcamp in the end. But there was a little bit of a defeatist feeling with that because physical format is so important to us. At that point, I'd moved to Berlin and while we didn't end the band, I moved away because I needed to start something new. Before I left I rang Rhys and told him I was moving away and asked if he wanted to take my room and job. So he took my room and job then came to visit me in Berlin. While we there I found out he'd made an EP and put it on Soundcloud which eventually came out on a label in Oxford called One Note Forever. So we decided to start the band. There was no real overlap. It was fortunate that Tripwires had reached its natural end so me and Rhys made the album. Then we met Callum (Brown) and got him to play drums. Then we had offers to play gigs so we needed to get a full band together. At the time I was unsure about asking Ben (White, bass player) as I thought it would be like we were just doing Tripwires again so we asked loads of people to come and jam with us, but couldn't rely on anyone. So it became obvious that Ben and Joseph (Stone, guitars/keys) were our best options for the band. They're two of our best friends. I'd like to think that through this band the second Tripwires album will get heard and won't be wasted. Hopefully people will find it and enjoy it.
Was it a different dynamic working with this band to the previous one? Which songs came first?
'I Don't Know', the first track on The Album Paranoia came first. The opening intro riff was the first thing we recorded. We had that for maybe a day then put the next guitars on. I'd never worked before like the way I did with Rhys in that we initially made songs through a computer using a drum machine. We had the opening 40 seconds of that song for a week. Then it was a case of deciding where to go next, what to add. We never had this with Tripwires; then it was more straightforward songwriting with the band making music and creating textures around it, whereas with this band it was more about trying to find a pop song after in some way. It was an amazing time. Me and Rhys had never made music together before even though we knew each other from the age of 12. We'd got stoned and listened to records many times so knew we were on the same level. It was just that awkward social moment where we'd been friends for so long then deciding to make a record together. Then I moved back from Berlin so we could do this. It didn't click straight away; there was an awkward three months at the beginning where we both questioned why we were doing this. Then one day Rhys was playing guitar and I was messing about with his loop pedal and that intro came from it. Over the next three weeks we wrote an awful lot of stuff and haven't looked back since.
Did some of the decisions you'd made with Tripwires influence the way you approached things with Ulrika Spacek? Was it a case of learning from past mistakes?
Yeah. Or maybe people just connected with it more? I don't know. I remember having a meeting with our manager in the very early days of the band where we were joking about getting good reviews but not selling any records. Then with the first record, we hardly got reviewed at all yet ended up selling more records than we'd ever dreamed of. Word of mouth is amazing. The amount of records we've shared with each other just within our group has led to a lot of new musical discoveries for all of us, so I'd like to think that's how people found out about us. So it was pretty organic which is great. With Tripwires, we were younger and made more mistakes. I never really see the two as being linked to be honest. We just came along at the right time.
Your new album Modern English Decoration was recorded in an old Victorian house. Did that influence the songs in any way as there seems to be a conceptual link running through the record?
It did yeah. It's a standard shared house in London in an area where a lot of people are involved in the arts. Of the four people who live in the house, three are in the band and the other's a sculptor so he had no problem with us making a noise and if it meant staying up for two days to record certain parts there was never a problem with that. I think what was also different with this record was that we didn't just make a song, rehearse it then pay for studio time to record it. The first album was made using one interface. It's possible to do anything now without having to through that whole process. If we wanted to do the vocals with a bit of reverb we just went to the bathroom! I like that you can just do that. The first record is more like a 1am album whereas this one's for 5am. The lyrics are very much set in that living room. Sometimes at parties when daylight's approaching and you start seeing people's faces look a bit different. That sort of thing. To be talking about your feelings in that sort of environment… I’m a really big fan of atmospherics and we created an atmosphere in that house. People wouldn’t know unless they talk about it.
Where does the theme for interior design originate from?
I can’t remember to be honest. I didn’t see it in a magazine or anything like that. It’s more a case of something that just popped into our heads. My original idea of the album cover was going to be a collage of the living room. Like an IKEA catalogue, which ended up being the print that came with the record. I just thought the caption “Modern English Decoration” above this room that’s a complete shithole yet full of guitars would work. Also, Rhys did a lot of ornamental lead guitar early on which went some way towards the decorating theme. It all came together gradually.
Did you feel under any pressure to make a new album so soon after the first one came out?
Not at all. If the first record had been more successful and we were only just finishing touring now I’d probably be thinking more about making a second one. We’d be in trouble really. We were just in a very productive time as friends. When we finished the first record we didn’t even know we’d end up going on tour. We just carried on writing so in a way they’re like a brother and sister record. I also know we won’t be making another record in the house. We need to change it. We need to change the atmosphere of the room.
There’s quite a distinctive change in sound between the two records. They’re both very very different albums.
We love the album format and as soon as we listened back to that first track it was a case of where shall we go now? It’s not completely chronological but the basis of it is. We wanted the album to have a different flow. I’ve heard so many bands release their second record and the flow of the album has been exactly the same as the first. We love space and different textures in a record. In terms of Modern English Decoration sounding different, I think a lot of that was down to me and Rhys having a year of touring with the band so there was a lot more freedom involved. For example, Joe would bring his parts in when they were ready. I like the dynamic in this band when we’re writing. We can expand and contract. Sometimes bands get to a point where they have to compromise and everybody has to feel they’ve had their part. Whereas with this band there are songs where some members don’t play a single note, but it doesn’t matter. I think we’ve learned this from Radiohead. Also, we accumulated a bigger mic collection, whereas the first record was just done on one mic, so hopefully there’s a richer to it than with the first one. I think we’re a band who’ll always make records in the underground.
Were there any songs left over from the Modern English Decoration sessions that didn’t make the album which might be revisited in the future?
No. We did put a secret seven-inch single out with the album. We had one song we were thinking of saving but one thing I’ve learned from the past is don’t wait on an idea. If you make something you’re proud of then put it out. We did a cover of a London band called Parsley Sound as well. They were around in the early 2000s so we did our own take on one of their songs. We love doing covers; Yo La Tengo are one of our favourite bands. What I love about them is people struggle to assign them to any one particular genre. They can do everything. They can do lounge, baroque, lo-fi punk rock, anything. But most importantly whatever they do still sounds like Yo La Tengo. That’s how I want people to see us. As a band that can go in many different directions but still end up sounding like us.
Do you think the band’s sound has the potential to cross genres in the same way as someone like Yo La Tengo?
I think so, yeah. We like melody and humans in general tend to pick up on that kind of thing so I really don’t see why not.
If you had the benefit of hindsight and could change anything about either record would you?
Not really, no.
What about in terms of the live set? Obviously it’s very Modern English Decoration heavy at the minute. Do you see any of the older songs returning anytime soon?
We never really played ‘Porcelain’ anyway. Everyone else in the band likes it but personally I don’t think I play my part very well. It’s like tonight. We played some songs here that I doubt we’ll play again for the foreseeable future. We’re just so privileged to have two records out that people like and can cross reference. We aren’t the type of band that just plays one set. That’s important to us, so there may be some point on the next tour where we just play ‘Porcelain’. That excites us and hopefully it transcends onto the audience.
You’ve been adopted by both the shoegaze and psych rock scenes. Did either of those play a huge part in the development of Ulrika Spacek?
The idea that when you make a record you’re listening to loads of certain other bands at the time isn’t necessarily the case. They’re in your DNA from when you were growing up. When you’re making a record all you listen to is your own record. I understand why people want to pigeonhole us in those scenes or compare us with certain bands. I remember when I was 18 all of us except Callum who I didn’t know at the time spent a year just listening to shoegaze. But then by the same token, Souvlaki by Slowdive is one of my favourite records and I can listen to it anytime but I haven’t done for about five or six years. With psych, we’ve enjoyed playing those kinds of festivals but at the same time, I can see how it’s easy to become typecast with that scene. We don’t just want to play those events with heritage bands all the time, but then we’ve also been quite lucky where we’ve been asked to play a lot of other festivals too. We played one in Liverpool recently where Wild Beasts were headlining. At first we were worried about going on at 11pm after the headliners had played but then once we were actually up there and the strobes came on it turned out to be more interesting than we could have ever imagined. Our aim is to be a band where genre is not even talked about.
Do you see yourselves more as a live band or recording artists?
I see us as both really. In one way we love the album format. The way we talk about records and flow and how many seconds there should be in between songs. We’re very detailed about that sort of thing. But then I do believe without any doubt we’ve built our reputation via word of mouth through playing live. We love both even though we’re not a band who can do both at the same time. We’re not one of those bands that can write songs in soundchecks or anything like that. We’re very much either/or at the moment.
You've probably played as many shows in mainland Europe as you have the UK so far. Do you feel more of a connection with European audiences?
Without a doubt we're bigger in Europe. France is our place at the moment. I don't know why that is? It's strange because everything comes full circle. I think one of the reasons we do well in Europe is because we're benefiting from arts funding. All the venues there are funded, so we were paid enough to go there. Even if the venues were below capacity, we still did enough for the promoters to book us again. Whereas with the UK the venues and promoters can only afford to pay a percentage of what they take on the door which is not their fault, but considerably less than we get paid to play in Europe. And that infiltrates through the whole show so the people doing the sound isn't at the same standard as the ones in Europe because that's all the venues can afford. With regards to the UK, we always do well in London and Manchester's been great for us. The first time we played Glasgow was amazing; I love the audiences up there. We returned to the same venue a year down the line and it was incredible again. Once you're accepted in a place like Glasgow you can go back whenever you like and be treated like kings. On the whole though, the UK has been more difficult for us to break than Europe.
Are you playing any more festivals this summer?
Only in Europe. Nothing in the UK. I think the record coming out in June may have been a reason for that as most festival line ups are booked by March. The only two UK ones we went for were End Of The Road and Green Man. We were quite confident at one point but then by the time it got to March both bills were pretty much full and it was clear there'd be no room for us by the time the album came out. In Europe we're playing in Poland for the first time at Off! Festival which will also be our first ever main stage performance. Then we're playing one in Sicily which we're quite looking forward to.
Are there any new bands you'd recommend Drowned In Sound and its readers should check out?
We did a few gigs with Ought. I know they're not new but they're definitely one of the more interesting bands around right now. I like a band from London called JC Flowers. Also Psychic Markers are great. Not many people know about them. They haven't even got a Facebook page. They have one song that sounds quite Motown then the next is very War On Drugs. I like bands that move things around then have one voice anchoring things together.
What advice would you give to new bands just starting out?
You can make a record nowadays with no real knowledge of recording music so just trust your ear. You can use one mic then put it out safe in the knowledge no one will ever notice it wasn't made in a studio. You literally can make anything in your bedroom. Also, make your own world. As humans, we're all complex people to have likes and dislikes so there's no reason not to put them together and make your own thing. Anybody can do that if they're willing to.
Ulrika Spacek are touring Europe in September and the UK in October including a DiS affiliated show in Nottingham on 6th.
For more information on the band visit their official website.
Photo by Nathan Cullen