Lovers Lane
Copernicus Center

Stage Buzz Q&A: Ultra Q at Metro • Chicago

| June 2, 2023

Ultra Q


When Jakob Armstrong decided to end Mt. Eddy, the band he formed in high school with brothers Enzo and Chris Malaspina, later joined by Kevin Judd, and regroup as Ultra Q, he wasn’t sure if it was the right thing to do. Weeks away from the release of Ultra Q’s debut album, he still isn’t sure about the move. But one thing he does know is Ultra Q is who they are now and he and the rest of the band are happy about that.

For Armstrong, son of Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong, and co., Ultra Q represents many things: getting older, accepting change, and finding their musical voice. Their debut album My Guardian Angel represents their next chapter, one that finds them charting new territory, taking more risks, and challenging themselves to make something they are truly proud of.

Weeks before the release of the album and their show at the Metro with Waaves, Jakob and Kevin sat down with Illinois Entertainer to talk about the band’s evolution, musical discovery, and finding Ultra Q’s voice.

Illinois Entertainer: Since the release of 2021’s Get Yourself a Friend EP you guys have been touring frequently, so when did you start working on My Guardian Angel?

Kevin Judd: Long time ago.

Jakob Armstrong: That was a while ago. We spent the road leading up to recording it. There are songs on this album that were written years and years ago, so it was a very long writing process. People say you spend your whole life writing your first album. We released music as Mt. Eddy, but it was a different thing. I dunno. It was a long time. A lot of work went into making all these songs. When we recorded it that was –

KJ: Over a year ago.

JA: February 2022 with Chris Coady. Then it was finished being mixed and mastered several months after that, so it’s been done for, I’d say, about eight months. We’ve just had these recordings, so it’s been a while.

IE: Last time we spoke, you mentioned having a file with lots of songs in it. So, when it came time for the album, how did you decide which songs make the final cut?

JA: I’m constantly making demos and recordings and songs. I’m always making stuff. I think there was a very real, I dunno if [Kevin] feels the same way about this, but there was a very clear switch when it went from, I was writing stuff to write to we’re writing stuff for this album. The first demo I made was “Wrip,” and I showed it to Kevin –

KJ: And I was like, huh?

JA: And that was a very clear switch of having a different style than before, a different sound, aesthetic.

KJ: It’s gonna feel very different. But also, I feel like we, [Jakob] especially, are kind of always thinking about our current roster of songs in terms of tracklists and what songs we like together. I feel like [Jakob’s] always making new folders of, oh, look at these set of songs together. So, we’re always thinking in that way. Just in general, not even necessarily in terms of a project in the future we’re already thinking about. Just like, these are the songs that have been written, and they sound cool together.

IE: Let’s get into some of the new material. Listening to the singles you guys have released so far, you can hear a bit of the alternative direction you started on Get Yourself A Friend, but there’s also a lot more experimental things going on. You hear a lot of post-punk, synth wave, dream pop, shoegaze, and electronic music. What inspired the sonic direction of the album?

JA: To be honest, it could go all the way back to when we were on tour with Bad Suns and Lilly. Charlie [Anastasis], the bassist of Lilly, showed me [My Bloody Valentine’s] Loveless for the first time, and it blew my mind.

KJ: None of us have ever heard that before.

JA: This was back in 2019, and I never listened to music like that before. He was like, trust me, on the next drive, listen to this all the way through, and I did it, and it blew my mind. It changed my world.

KJ: I started listening to it immediately afterward because [Jakob] wouldn’t stop talking about it. I feel like we started listening to more challenging music, and what I mean by that is the first couple of times I listened to that record on that tour on those drives, I was like, I dunno about this.

JA: (Laughs) But that would probably be the pinpoint catalyst ‘cause that was before COVID, and it kind of sent us on a trail of getting into the forgotten bands of the 90s and early 2000s, whether it be shoegaze or The Burning Hotels. The one we were listening to the most before recording the album was My Bloody Valentine and All Natural Lemon Lime & Flavors. I found that record on the drive down. Right now, for me, it’s Superdrag and Cribs. That was a big change for us as far as our interests, but I’ve always had very wide-ranging – it’s funny because you would call it wide-ranging, whether it’d be LCD Soundsystem or it’s My Chemical Romance or it’s My Bloody Valentine.

You could say there’s a lot of variety in that music; however, I do think there is a throughline to all of it. If you’re making a Venn diagram, I think there’s a lot of overlap, at least for me, in that interest, and so I think that’s where our album falls, that sweet spot of the stuff we’re into. The album is a mix tape of our favorite stuff because we never really said no to anything. Like the song we just put out, “Rocket,” was like, we’re gonna make a random dance break in the middle of this song (laughs). Okay, sure, let’s do it. Or “I Watched Them Go” – we’re gonna do a drum and bass song, and that was our version of that. I’m so happy we did that. That was so much fun. Kind of saying no to rules in a way but still making it consistent and good, I hope.

IE: Even though you hear all these new elements, everything still has that Ultra Q sheen on that. With your latest output, it seems you’ve really found that sweet spot of being able to experiment and play around with new sounds but keeping everything distinctly Ultra Q. When approaching a new direction or sound, do you ever find it challenging to keep that balance?

JA: I feel like we don’t really think about it. I think it comes across because of the different personas we all put into the music. The way Chris [Malaspina] plays drums, the way Kevin plays bass, or the way I sing and play guitar. We’ve never had a conversation when writing a song where we say –

KJ: Does it sound enough like Ultra Q?

JA: We never really had that. I’d say the closest one was “I Watched Them Go,” where we thought, can we pull it off?

KJ: Because that’s definitely the most different song we’ve ever made.

JA: We were working on that one with Chris Coady, and he said it was his favorite song on the record. That’s when I knew it fits. Every time I’ve shown the record to someone, they say it all makes sense as a body of work.

KJ: Which is very reassuring because when we’re in that bubble of all of us who are working on the record, you get lost in the sauce and you don’t even know what’s going on.

JA: I still say I don’t know if it’s good (laughs). We’ve had this record done for so long, and people will say, oh, it’s great, and I’m like, cool, I don’t know though! One of my favorite songs on the record has not come out yet.

KJ: My two favorites aren’t out yet.

IE: Let’s talk about the new single “Rocket.” It has this really cool, surreal video with unique visuals. It feels like one of those dreams that’s really colorful and action-packed, but at the same time, you don’t really know what’s going on. As I was watching it, I caught several references to Green Day videos: “Kill the DJ,” “Longview,” and “When I Come Around.” And thinking back to “Klepto,” that one referenced Evil Dead. What’s the story behind the videos and the references included?

KJ: We aren’t really involved in the videos, to be honest.

JA: For “I Watched Them Go” and “VR Sex,” we were very involved. The same person is making all the videos, Kevin Connor [Kingcon2k11]. After the first two videos, it was clear to us that we could give him the keys to the car and let him do his thing.

KJ: The reason we were involved in the first two is we had to film stuff for him to put the AI generations over the stuff we filmed, but the last two we haven’t needed to film anything for the videos. It’s very much his vision. He’s making them in the UK and sending them to us.

JA: We were waiting for the “Rocket” video, it was a week before the song came out, and we got it, we watched it, and we were like, cool. To be honest though, I think in the back of my head I noticed those references, but I didn’t fully connect them until way later. I was like, wait a second, he’s totally using clips from those videos, and I was like, oh my god.

KJ: I didn’t realize that until now.

JA: Really? I didn’t realize it until right when it came out. I was like, holy shit, it’s right there! So, it’s more like we trust this guy. The videos he makes are great and insane, and it fits, so I’m kind of like, do your thing. That’s just what he makes.

IE: The videos definitely stand out, especially during a time when it seems not a lot of artists put thought into their videos. Most are fine with the standard performance video. The clips you’ve released so far are very mesmerizing and keep you engaged the entire time.

JA: That’s one thing I’m really proud of. I feel Ultra Q has a great roster of videos for our songs so far. I hope we keep that up.

KJ: We’ll try.

IE: Thinking about the last EP, it dealt with growing up and changing as a person. Are those themes further explored on the upcoming album?

JA: Yeah, 100%. I think there’s a lot of different things I was writing about. It’s funny because I wrote these songs so long ago sometimes I forget what I was writing about or what was the point of it, but as soon as I hear the song I remember. The only way I can write songs is by writing about myself; that’s the only thing you really know. Absolutely I would say those themes are still a part of it, though I think lyrics and meaning are easy to get lost in the sauce too. Kevin is often one of the people I work on lyrics with, and when we’re recording, we’ll write down songs and talk about each one and why we’re doing this because when making songs, the last thing I do is lyrics.

KJ: Sometimes it’s too late (laughs). It’s like we’re in the studio recording the song.

JA: For me, the moment happens, the song is written, the lyrics are written, and I move on. I don’t try to make up crazy stories or dilemmas to justify the songs for myself. They’re written in the moment and however I felt at that time. It’s just a time capsule of that.

IE: That approach also allows listeners to attach their own meaning to the song and figure out why it resonates with them.

JA: I also think it doesn’t have to be so serious. Some of the songs might be kind of heavy and trying to deal with something, but I also think it doesn’t have to be such a big deal as far as the overall picture of the song. I know a lot of people appreciate lyrics that are written a certain way or value their relationship to lyrics in a song, but for me, I like letting things be dumb or not make sense sometimes.

KJ: Cocteau Twins.

JA: Cocteau Twins! All sorts of artists have done that. It’s definitely something I relate to. It doesn’t always have to make sense. Like one of our songs, “What D’You Call It,” makes no fucking sense, but it’s fucking awesome. It’s some of my favorite lyrics we’ve ever made.

KJ: I think it’s important to say it doesn’t have to be so serious both ways. It isn’t a problem that people are attaching serious meaning for themselves to the lyrics of any song.

JA: We’ve met on tour people who have our lyrics tattooed, and I’m like, that’s crazy. These people relate so much and really care about it, which is really cool.

IE: Get Yourself a Friend felt like a reintroduction, you were introducing yourselves as Ultra Q. My Guardian Angel feels like the next chapter where you guys have found your own voice, your own niche in music. What does this album represent for you?

JA: I think you kind of said it. We spent a long time figuring out what we want our band to be, and, in a way, I think it’s always changing.

KJ: It’s always changing and has been since we started playing together.

JA: I showed this record to someone, and they listened to it and said this is Ultra Q. This is your band. It’s most definitely you as it ever has been. This is what you guys are. For me, that’s what it is. It represents everything we’ve ever gone through to get here. Because we’ve had some bad luck, we’ve had some bad luck, and I think it represents everything we’ve been through to get to this point. This is what our band is. It’ll be cool to see it years from now and see how we change.

KJ: There’s so much stuff the world will never hear from Ultra Q, and we’re really proud of all three of our EPs, but this album feels different, and it is different in many ways. We recorded with a real producer. We did it the real deal kind of way. Everything album and music-related feels very aligned with itself in a way that feels really special.

JA: Special is a good way to put it. It feels like a moment in time for us. It’s a very important record for us. Even now, having written it and finished it so long ago, I still look back and listen to it like whoa. I’m excited for everyone to hear it!

KJ: We’re stoked.

IE: As Mt. Eddy, you guys found an audience with Chroma and your live shows, so putting the pause on that, changing to Ultra Q and moving in a different sonic direction can be seen as risky because you found some success under a different name and style. Were you worried or hesitant about shifting gears as a band?

JA: Yeah, absolutely.

KJ: I think we still are.

JA: It’s interesting, though, because Mt. Eddy had a small degree of success while we were active. Most of the success of that band came after we broke up. We all graduated high school, and I felt like there wasn’t much of a reason to do it because it wasn’t successful enough. I’d rather go to school. Afterward, it found a lot of success. When it came time for us to be a band again, there was that question of do we be Mt. Eddy again or do we do this new thing, and I think we all felt we wanted to do this new thing.

We played a show as Mt. Eddy back in September, and it was so much fun. It’s funny because I used to be so self-conscious about that band because those are songs I wrote when I was 16 years old, so I’m like, eh (laughs). But we went into the show and people flew in from Europe to see us play. People drove across the country, people had tattoos of the Chroma hand on their bodies, and I was like, I didn’t know! I felt so clueless. I didn’t know people loved it so much. People come up to me and say it was their favorite album in high school, and I just did not know. I think we’re always gonna be doubting ourselves in terms of was Ultra Q the right move, but this is what we are now. This is what we’re making, and we all love it.

KJ: Yeah, I don’t think it’s a regretful thing.

JA: It’s more of a rediscovery of that. I didn’t know that many people cared about Mt. Eddy, and it’s cool they do now. Maybe one day we’ll make another Mt. Eddy record just for fun, just to cosplay as our high school selves. I think we’ll still do those one-off shows every once in a while. I would love to do more Mt. Eddy shows just so people who haven’t had the chance to see it can see it ‘cause that show was so much fun. But Ultra Q is what we are now.

KJ: And that feels great.

JA: I’m so proud of everything Ultra Q has done.

IE: So, what you should do is do an Ultra Q show where you open as Mt. Eddy.

JA: We talked about that! We talked about doing a show where Jakob Danger opens into Mt. Eddy, and then Ultra Q closes.

KJ: We talked about doing that for our first time going to Europe, which we didn’t end up doing because no one over there ever got to see Mt. Eddy or Jakob Danger. I think that’d be really fun.

IE: The new album drops soon, and in a few weeks, you’re heading out on tour with Wavves and Cloud Nothings. What’s next for Ultra Q?

JA: I honestly have no idea. Because our record deal is done. Our record deal was an EP and a record with Royal Mountain, so that’s gonna be done next month. We’re still gonna promote it. But then, I have no idea.

KJ: We’re trying to book more shows.

JA: We try to get shows, it doesn’t always work out. We’ve been trying to play more shows; that hasn’t always worked out. So, whatever happens, will happen. We kind of don’t know. We don’t know what’s going to happen after June for at least six months. It’s kind of the state of the music industry stuff. It’s annoying, but that’s how it is. We’ll figure it out, I guess.

KJ: We’re trying not to think too hard about new music, so we’re really trying to navigate playing the shows we want to play when possible because it’s challenging.

JA: We’re trying to see if any opportunities happen and go from there. As of right now, if you’re hoping to see Ultra Q play, you should really come to the Waaves shows because we don’t know when our next shows will be (laughs). It might be a while until there’s another headline show for Ultra Q after the summer. We tried our best! We really tried. We just want to play shows. We’re about to go on tour, and we’re trying to figure out how to play some of these songs (laughs).

KJ: We’ve got some stuff to figure out for our first show in like a week!

JA: But it’s fun, I’m excited for it.

KJ: We just love playing music. Sounds corny, but it’s true.

JA: It is corny (laughs).

Ultra Q’s debut album, My Guardian Angel, arrives June 9th. That same day, the band will play the Metro with Waaves and Cloud Nothings. You can still grab tickets here.

-Ashley Perez Hollingsworth

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