Welcome to a new edition of Nicky Reviews Rock, and the very first one for 2012!!!
I stumbled across this band on Twitter… I listened to sample tracks on the Internet… I checked out their rockin’ website… and I was well and truly hooked. What a powerhouse of a band this is! Therefore it is with tremendous pleasure that I bring you the mighty … [drumroll please]….. UltraDrive!
Find below the band profile, my review of their album, Believe, a soundbite (or three!) and, of course… the big interview!
Who is UltraDrive?
UltraDrive is Jay Henderson (lead vocals), Tommy Thompson (guitar and vocals), Derrick Dickey (drums and percussion) and Anthony Holcombe (Bass/Keys/Vocals).
Sporting their signature “arena sound”, UltraDrive is a melodic active-rock band that stirred up quite an immediate buzz as a regional super-group from the time they began to play shows in late 2006. In only their 3rd show ever, UltraDrive opened for Army of Anyone, and the band has continued rocking ever since. UltraDrive has performed with Chevelle, Adelita’s Way, the Raconteurs, Queensryche, and Saving Abel (in the Pontiac Garage), as well as headlining top venues in Atlanta and the region.
UltraDrive was formed in Atlanta, GA, by guitarist and songwriter Tommy Thompson and manager/producer Gary Carrico. UltraDrive likes to describe itself as a ‘melodic active-rock band.’ Influences ranging from STP and Alice in Chains all the way to Hendrix and The Beatles have shaped the band’s huge sound. In 2008, UltraDrive composed and performed the theme song for Project 9-6-1 radio’s “Giant Show”. UltraDrive’s first album, Believe, was released in 2010.
Sources: last.fm; reverbnation
Also don’t forget to visit UltraDrive on their website! Plus, of course, you can find the band on Facebook and Twitter.
REVIEW: UltraDrive’s Believe
After an agonising wait for my new UltraDrive CD to arrive from a record shop in Germany, the postman finally delivered, and there it was: Believe! As you all know, I like to start by considering an album’s cover; after all, the band created it for a reason, trying to convey a certain message.
The cover for Believe is simply stylish. All black, with two silver-white elements. The first of these is the band’s logo, UltraDrive. The logo brings to mind the emblem of a racing car (and the ‘drive’ association in UltraDrive serves to reinforce the notion) and every attribute that goes with it: fast, slick, well-oiled, highly tuned. The album title, on the other hand, is presented in a font that evokes a sci-fi feeling; just ever so slightly out-of-this-world, unusual, eternal and big. These, then, were my expectations for the album: music that would be hard and fast, accomplished, edgy and grand. And my, does UltraDrive deliver!
The opening track, Crush, is a fantastic hard-rock piece with anthem potential. A powerful opening riff blows your mind, and the deep, dark vocals accompanied by a series of power-chords set the mood perfectly. Crush is definitely one of my favourite tracks on this album; and possibly a candidate for my all-time greats! The title track, Believe, opens with a tantalising guitar intro followed by rolling riffs and a rousing beat. It has instant sing-along value and I adore the powerful contrast between the muted mike and the clear, loud chorus. The final call of “I still believe” sounds almost outer-worldly and haunts you long after the track is finished. A little quieter throughout, Shame brings you a fabulous drum intro, quiet but pacey, followed by a guitar theme that lodges right in your mind and refuses to leave! Shame also features amazing two-part harmonies, and a great air-guitar moment for those of us (like me) who love to pretend. Crazy, another one of my favourite songs, is more mellow in sound, almost ballad-like, and very lyrical.
And the list of praise goes on. I always listen out for great lyrics with goose-bump potential, and I am not disappointed here. Consider From the Outside: “Come on in from the outside…your life is waiting for you/just make your move and turn the page…” or Drive: “If you want to stay alive you’d better/drive!/only the hungry will survive…” I love that about hard-rock in general, and these songs in particular; the positive message, the affirmative outlook: get up and go, it’s all up to you. On the other hand, there is Them Bones which has an entirely different feeling, a dark feeling evoking anger and, perhaps despair. The drawn-out vocals and shouted, repeated “I” make the hair on the nape of my neck stand up.
So to me, Believe is a strong, accomplished, hard-hitting album with great, dark harmonies, powerful vocals and strong feelings. I haven’t (yet) had the pleasure of seeing UltraDrive live on stage, but I am confident that they would fill, and thrill, a stadium! This is fantastic arena rock and I highly recommend getting a copy if you like to rock out.
But why rely on my opinion? UltraDrive has very kindly made available not one but three sample tracks for you to listen to, right here, right now! Find two straightaway… and the last one is waiting for you at the end of the interview.
“From the Outside”
“Beyond the Pain”
And if these tracks have whetted your appetite, you can buy the album on cdbaby or iTunes.
And finally, here comes… the BIG INTERVIEW with UltraDrive!!!
It is with tremendous delight that I introduce today my very special guest, UltraDrive…. Welcome to Nicky Reviews Rock! I stumbled across you on Twitter and instantly connected with your sound and your music. As always, I’d love to find out about the people behind the music as well as the music itself. You guys have very kindly offered to answer a few questions this here new fan has for you, so here goes…
NRR: Congratulations on a fantastic album, Believe. Tell me a little about the dynamics behind making this album… is there a chief songwriter? Who’s in charge of lyrics?
Wow, where do we start? The making of the album was, shall we say, an adventure! This is largely because UltraDrive started out as sort of a “super-group” concept, with a rotating cast of characters who came in to make great music. The project was founded by lead guitarist Tommy Thompson and manager/producer Gary Carrico, who had worked together in a previous band. Tommy brought over a few songs he had written from that band along with the new material that he and Gary collaborated on. From there, new guys who came in have often contributed to the writing process as well.
The first incarnation to play live went out in late 2006, and ironically the 3rd show ever was opening for Army of Anyone (a super-group with members of Filter and Stone Temple Pilots). During this time we demo-ed out several songs, but during that early recording process some of the guys were moving to different priorities and directions, and honestly, it also became clear that this line-up wasn’t completely capturing the sound that Tommy and Gary had in their heads for UltraDrive.
The core line-up of UltraDrive that played on the album began to form then in summer 2007 when drummer Derrick Dickey (formerly of Subject2Change) came aboard and we found lead singer Jay Henderson (believe it or not) in a local cover band. We put it together quickly, opened for Queensryche and started touring regionally and things started blowing up from there, including the shows with Chevelle, Adelita’s Way, Raconteurs, LinkinPark, et al.
Ironically, it was our success as a live band that kept interfering with recording! We’d go in and lay down tracks when we found the time, but it was sporadic. And to complicate matters we went through a veritable parade of bass players over a 2 year period until Anton Holcombe came aboard in 2009. That’s when we set out to finally complete the debut album, but there was as much studio time spent on reverse engineering as recording to get this line-up on the entire CD! So yes, it was an adventure.
One final note: Our real wake-up call to get serious with finishing the album came when we played with Saving Abel at The Tabernacle for Atlanta radio station Project 9-6-1, and the guys at the station were raving on air about how we had upstaged the headliner (unintentionally, of course). They brought us in the studio for an interview and feature, and asked UltraDrive to write and record an outro song for their Morning Drive show. Normally bands record an album and then go on radio… but hey, we’ve never been accused of being normal!
UltraDrive playing the Atlanta Hard Rock Cafe (photo courtesy of UltraDrive)
NRR: Who or what inspired the writing of the title track, Believe?
Actually, that song grew out of something that our former singer James Fulford had brought in. The words he had were expressions of his angst and confusion from a tragic childhood loss. Tommy created a new riff and chord structure and Gary added more words and glued them together with a bridge and then created the trapped-inside-4-walls feeling in production. What we were going for in the final song was a combination of anxiety, anger and hope all at once, if that makes any sense.
NRR: Why ‘UltraDrive’? It’s such a fantastic name, it conveys an image of power and something larger than life. How did you come up with the name?
Thanks! That’s exactly what we were going for, both with the band itself and the name. Tommy had founded a previous band called Transmission that was very successful, but broke up on the eve of signing a major label deal. So when he and Gary decided to hand-pick a new project, the first rule was that everything about it had to be even bigger and better than Transmission. Sure enough, Tommy called one day and said “UltraDrive”… that was “it”!… and within an hour Gary had the logo sketched. The name, the image spoke for itself. It was dead solid perfect.
NRR: What’s the most musically complex song you’ve ever made? Do you all have a favourite song—and if so, which one and why?
Actually, probably the most complex piece on its face is an instrumental we’ve done live but never recorded that’s like a combination of a Joe Satriani guitar epic – meets – a sports highlight film soundtrack. We haven’t even settled on a name yet, although one suggestion is BANG! (which is our unofficial band catch-phrase that came from a fan describing our stage sound at our first show).
From the album though, listen closely to From the Outside. The composition we think is pretty neat (and very challenging to play correctly). It’s a state of constant motion and totally polyphonic, even during the verses, with counter syncopations among the guitar, bass and drums in contrast to a very melodic vocal line. If one day we’re fortunate enough for other bands to want to cover that song, I’m sure they’ll be cussing us in rehearsal!
NRR: Where do you see yourself going next? Do you have plans for more albums? You have been touring in your region at the moment… any plans for going global?
We’ve recently been contacted by a multi-platinum producer about re-mixing a couple of songs to push for radio, and we have new material we’re getting ready to demo. Right now we’re focused on getting songs heard and perhaps placed in radio, TV and films. And yes, we would love to go global! Hopefully interviews like this will help the cause. NRR: I sure hope so!!
NRR: You make powerful music which I believe has been described as stadium-rock, and I believe you’ve played quite a few huge arenas already. What does it feel like to perform live to thousands of people?
Wow, there aren’t words to describe it!… but on the other hand it’s something we came out of the box ready to do. UltraDrive was predicated on the “arena sound” that people say we create, even if you hear us in a club. So, whether it’s in front of 150,000 people at last year’s “Peach Drop” (Atlanta’s New Years Eve Extravaganza), or 50 folks at a club in rural Alabama, this is what we do. And even though there are plenty of “bells and whistles” on the record, we pride ourselves on pulling off that sound live with only our basic stage line-up of a 3-piece power trio (guitar, bass, drums) and a frontman… without any backing tracks or other common production shenanigans. Probably the most rewarding compliment we get is when someone at a large-venue show or festival comes up and says that we sounded as big or bigger than the national headliner, albeit using maybe a fourth of the amount of gear.
NRR: I really hope to see you live some day! But while I wait, one last question…. In my rock star romance, Sophie’s Turn, rock singer Dan reassures Sophie that ‘what goes on tour, stays on tour.’ Now I don’t want to ask you to kiss-and-tell (well, I do really, but we’ll skip that part…) but… would you mind sharing the weirdest, funniest, scariest or most bizarre thing that ever happened to UltraDrive on tour or during a show?
Well….. yeah, there are some we can’t share… but, here are a couple of stories, one that was scary and one that’s, well, bizarre:
1. Scary: As we said earlier, the band started out as a super-group concept, and the second touring incarnation (that evolved into the band that played on the album) of UltraDrive came together literally 2-1/2 weeks prior to a scheduled show with Queensryche. We went through boot camp rehearsals and booked a shakedown show at a sketchy pub in the middle-of-nowhere Georgia, and suffice to say it wasn’t pretty. So now 3 days later here we are on stage at the Coca-Cola Roxy Theatre opening for these rock legends!… with a fill-in bass player, no less (who was scared out of his mind). Somehow though, when the curtain opened, it clicked and BANG!, as we like to say, there was that sound. And by half way through our first song, that room full of VERY skeptical Queensryche fans were pushing up to the front of the stage and by the end of our set were singing along with our songs that they’d never heard before in their lives! After the show, the guys in Queensryche were sufficiently impressed that they invited us to take part in their meet-and-greet. That night was when we knew we really had something.
NRR: Awesome! I wish I had been there. You must have been totally over the moon…
2. Bizarre: Sometimes when we tour the region we’ll do shows where we mix in 90s Alternative covers with our stuff, and play the whole night. During one of these shows (which we call “UltraDrive’s Alternative Nation”) at this big rowdy club in Mississippi, a bachelorette party was in the house so we brought the bride-to-be up on stage to dance with the band during a cover song. Normal stuff, right? Well, during the break the girl’s mother boasted that she could do better than that! So, always accommodating, we got momma up on stage in the next set, and she proceeded to perform an R-rated stripper act, and gave Jay an affectionate nip on the neck hard enough to leave teeth marks. This incident inspired one of our band mottos: “It’s all fun and games until the mother-of-the-bride bites your lead singer!”
NRR: Wow! I bet that wasn’t in the job description!
Well, this is the end of the big UltraDrive interview. Thank you so much, guys, for visiting Nicky Reviews Rock, for sharing a bit more about your history, and for these amazing anecdotes. I am totally intrigued. Please do let me know if you ever come UK way……. I am waiting! X