Ulysses - Uber Rock Interview Exclusive Print E-mail
Written by Jonathon Kardasz   
Sunday, 14 February 2016 03:00

The media spends an awful lot of time wringing its hands about the state of the music business, hyperventilating about downloading, piracy, the death of the CD, and then gets its knickers in a knot about U2 forcing people to have their new LP for free. It gets its panties in a pickle about the rate that streaming services are paying multi-millionaires (but of course they’re concerned about this on behalf of the smaller acts too, natch) and then it gets its tights in a twist about Jay Z and his Tidal service. But what about the bands out of the limelight, the smaller bands trying to make a living wage out of the tawdry world of 21st Century music making?


Bath-based Ulysses are one such band. They’ve already got a brace of LPs on the shelves and have supported Rival Sons as well as featuring regularly on TeamRock Radio. They’re regulars on the local gig scene, tour abroad and have recently supported Dodgy at some high profile shows. They have a splendid new recording ready to go, but cannot get a label to release it, so let’s take a look at the state of the music business from their point of view.




So what’s the story with the new LP, then?


We have made a new album with Steve Evans (Robert Plant / Siouxsie / Goldfrapp) producing, tracked at Monnow Valley Studios in Wales and finished at Steve’s studio over 2015, which Will Sansom of Close Range Films has also made a documentary video that is not boring and is in fact quite hilarious. I tried to get a label for it thinking we might have a better chance this time based on previous success but then got bored of trying, to be honest. There were some smaller labels that wanted to put it out but they basically said “You might as well put it out yourselves - we’ll only fuck it up!”, so we’re putting it ourselves in the spring.


How do the labels react to unsolicited submissions (don’t be afraid to name and shame, mind)?


Generally any unsolicited submissions wouldn’t get looked at. If you can put something in the title and then some good juicy attention-grabbing info in an email then certain labels might actually listen to you. In the rock scene in England, you either have to be young with some kind of backing in place already - generally it’s only okay to be an older new band if you’re American!


Indie-scene-wise, because we’re ‘rock’ they won’t really listen to us even though in my opinion we’re more inventive than most ‘indie’ bands - radio-wise too - all those shows on BBC6 Music and not one of them plays any rock music. Everything is so blueprint-based now - if you vary slightly, even if they think you’re amazing they won’t sign you, as most indie labels’ fan-bases buy X amount of the same thing from the label every time.


Label-wise, there is a scene of people that can still open doors for you, they all know each other - the labels, the management, the agents, the magazines, the radio - if anything it’s even more stitched up than ever.


Is there any point in releasing physical artefacts now? Surely people, especially young ‘uns, are only interested in the music and are happy to download?


Yes definitely, people still like to have ‘the thing’, even the young ‘uns. Mainly at the gigs, it’s middle aged blokes buying CDs and t-shirts - sometimes even hot young women want them, though! I think we should aim more merchandise at that target audience to be honest.




There’s a belief that the internet has made it easier for smaller bands to make a living: direct contact with fans, selling merch through websites and building communities via social media; what’s your take?


All bands now have to be like Fugazi or something, and be the band, the label, the management, the agent etc., only thing is they started in different times. Like Joe Boyd said that the ‘60s happened because it was financially viable - it couldn’t happen now, the music business has become gentrified like everything else - only people with parents who can buy them a flat in London can really get involved.


One of the issues for me is the beauty of a real band, the gang thing, it’s so hard to keep that kind of situation going now if there’s no financial reward or too much struggle, not to mention the logistics of having day jobs, families, travel, etc. Fortunately for us we have ended up with our own studio and HQ, and no one in the band has put a time limit on ‘when we’re going to make it by’ or any of that shit.


Social media-wise, I do all that and I enjoy it, and I love connecting with people and other bands in real life at shows and then staying in touch on social media and then seeing them again in real life at another show, but it is massively time consuming and takes a toll on my life generally.


Its’s great to be able to do all these things ourselves, but I don’t think anyone can really make a living from it - someone has to keep up the good fight, though - who else is going to do it?!! We do love this, though - meeting other bands, playing with some of our favourite bands, meeting people, travelling - some of the best of times.


How about videos online… how important is it to get your work out there?


Very important, we are extremely fortunate that Jules in the band is a genius video maker and chief fiddler in such domains, he can do it all - cartoons, proper green screen action in space, sexy stuff - it allows us to keep our costs down, stay in control of the process, and of course control our own vision as best we can.


What about piracy, is it just the big guys who get ripped off or do smaller bands suffer too (some people seem to think it’s acceptable to rip off, say Metallica, but unacceptable to rip off up 'n' coming bands)?


Piracy affects everyone, at least the big bands can still make some money out if it even if they have had to downsize. A whole middle class of independent bands got screwed by the emergence of downloading / streaming etc., not to mention the little bands.


What about crowd funding – is this the best model now for new bands or does it require an established fan base to work?


It only works if you have a large fan base already - I’ve seen some bands try it with disastrously embarrassing results.


How about streaming services, flash in the pan or the future for consuming music?


I think it’s probably the future but they will have to figure out how to pay the artists and labels, etc. properly, else the whole thing will eventually collapse.




The past years have seen an awful lot of telly programmes finally using decent music, both contemporary and from the past, and some bands credit their success to their material appearing on something popular on the box… is it easy to break in to that market?


I guess there’s been some good stuff picked up but it’s certainly not an easy one to crack - you would have to have a name publisher to get a chance at that sort of thing I would imagine.


A lot of older bands now seem to make their living through the live circuit and selling t-shirts, but is the live circuit able to support newer and younger bands too?


This false information about bands making all their money, and a lot of it, from touring has gone following the initial boom 10 years ago, and people who don’t know any better re-spout it often, much like the old Ringo not being an amazing drummer bollocks - it simply isn’t true.


How about selling yer soul to Satan and sound tracking an advert? If you get the chance, would you you draw the line and not let the band be associated with particular products or services?


Todd Rundgren said there is no such thing as selling out in this day and age, but I’m not sure about that. If it’s a good product made by a not-totally-evil corporation we’ll do it, generally it’s not something I’m particularly comfortable with though.