By Zach Schepis
Photo courtesy of Ultimate Painting.
Take two blokes from successful indie Brit bands and throw them together to paint their masterpiece, or rather, their ultimate painting. Jack Cooper and James Hoare are self-driven songwriting mavens whose individual talents have stirred considerable waves overseas. They just happened to meet one another when each of their bands toured together last year.
Almost immediately, the two struck up a friendship.
In Veronica Falls, Hoare conjures ghosts and hauntingly dream-like moments of clarity. Blackpool born singer-songwriter Cooper ushered the vibes of Pavement to the UK with his rock band Mazes.
Stylistically, combining the influences from each of these strong-willed leaders might resemble an eccentric hybrid. Instead, however, their collaborative project Ultimate Painting forges its own independent sound. Think a laid back, stripped down, and mellow nonchalance–yet everything is exactly where it should be. The arrangements are sparse and seemingly slack, but each jangly chord and crunch of guitar is just enough to work together.
The two songwriters provide their insights into how they share the songwriter’s helm.
BreakThru Radio (BTR): You two met when each of your bands were touring. Did you have any initial ideas as to what kind of music you wanted to explore together?
James Hoare (JH): We talked about starting a band with twin lead guitars, in the vein of Television, with a drum machine and a minimal overall approach. As we recorded and worked out the sound, the drum machine disappeared under live drums and a simple rhythmic feel was developed.
Jack Cooper (JC): What James said, really. We wanted it to sound good and to have lots of space. There was some talk of Television but more we wanted guitars that were neither lead nor rhythm, but both at the same time.
BTR: What influences from each of your past bands do you bring to Ultimate Painting? Are there any sounds you wanted to shy away from?
JH: The Velvet Underground was a large influence on Veronica Falls–especially in the guitar playing, so that naturally came through.
The twee-end of indie pop was something I wanted to shy away from.
JC: Mazes is evolving into something more improvised and instrumental because I’m more interested in playing guitar than singing, but that’s gone out the window with UP. Neither of us wants to be the singer but we both are. That’s just how I feel right now.
Image courtesy of Ultimate Painting.
BTR: A lot of critics cite The Velvet Underground when they listen to your music. Obviously they’ve been a big influence, but do you ever get tired of the comparisons?
JC: I don’t think we ever said, “Let’s make this sound like The Velvet Underground,” but we certainly spoke about the guitar sound of their third LP as a reference point. It’s funny when people compare it to The Velvet Underground as if that’s some kind of insight. We’re not stupid. Of course we know that and we’re certainly not the first band to be compared to them, but it wears off in time… People forget and people don’t care. Listen to Jonathan Richman or The Feelies.
BTR: How would you say minimalism factors into your dynamic?
JH: Since the initial conversations we had together we talked about a minimal approach. The record was recorded on an eigh-track tape machine, which means there are only eight different elements making up the mix. This, in itself, is a limited way of recording. Eight-tracks were outdated by the early ‘70s.
We used this to our advantage while putting down only the parts that were necessary. It forces you to think more and make decisions as you go along. This method of recording reinforced our initial ideas and the results seemed to work.
JC: Restraint and having limitations is everything.
BTR: What’s your songwriting process like? Do the songs form when you’re together, or does most of the writing occur when each of you are on your own?
JC: It’s different every time. Some of the songs are brought to recording as just a chord sequence, melody, and a few lines of words and we build the song up from that. James has, on occasion, recorded almost everything himself. On “Riverside” for instance, he’d pretty much record everything before I could get over there… He even had the idea for my harmony and it all sounded so good that I really couldn’t bring anything to it.
On a lot of mine, the demos I send to him will have two defined guitar parts like Ultimate Painting or Ten Street and then he brings his personality to it with a distinctive bass-line and harmony. A keyboard line maybe. Then there’s things like “Three Piers” which is a total collaboration in that it’s my song idea but he defined the feel of the whole thing and the guitars.
On the new record, there’s a song of mine where the guitar I play as the rhythm is basically ripping off James’ style and then there’s a lead part on one of his that’s something I could’ve come up with. Sort of a weird cross-pollination.
BTR: What kind of creative head-space were you in for the making of your first album, Ultimate Painting?
JC: It was just very easy and fun. I think we’re both at a point where we feel quite confident with songs we come up with because we’ve been doing it a long time.
BTR: Do you plan on making more music together this year?
JH: Yes, a new record has already been recorded and is coming out in August. It was recorded in the same manner as the first (in my bedroom) but with a fuller, slightly more laid-back sound. We also plan to start working on the third LP shortly. I’ve always been a fan of the way bands released LP’s in the 60’s: as frequently as possible.
To hear more from Ultimate Painting, check out their Tumblr or BTR’s very own In the Den.