It’s been a while since we heard from the Brussels triumvirate Ulysse, but during their absence they’ve been quite busy. Earlier this month they premiered their new single, ‘Acid’, featuring Belgium’s major export product, Roméo Elvis. The track is accompanied by an otherworldly video, which is self-directed by band member Benoit Do Quang aka A$ian Rocky. About time to catch up with Ulysse and ask Arnaud, Benoit and Julien about the dynamics of their band, their views on the Belgian music scene and their future plans.
Hey guys! So, tell us, how did Ulysse come about?
A: "I met Benoit and Julien whilst studying in Brussels, when we were nineteen or twenty years old. They already knew each other from growing up in Liège. Each of us were already into music, but not in a professional way. We became friends over many musical discussions. We each had very different musical backgrounds, so it’s actually quite funny that we started band together. I guess our friendship helped us realize we could do something together."
J: "Another thing we had in common was the computer. All three of us were producing music using VSTs, so there was a mutual interest in each other’s work. We tipped each other off on our tips & tricks."
B: "We didn’t really know a lot about producing music. We learned a lot by Googling how to produce and checking out YouTube tutorials."
J: "In the end, we just said: well, let’s try it at least."
How do you work in the studio? Is there a clear roll distribution?
B: "Not really. We started out with experimenting a lot because we weren’t experienced producers, we didn’t have a set workflow. Finding a way to work together was actually the most difficult part. Each song is like a puzzle, which is not always easy to piece together. We approach our tracks as a team, so sometimes it’s harder to come together and find a solution for various opinions. Having a sole decision maker would definitely make our lives easier."
J: "On the other hand, it’s quite cool that we always have a mix of our three inputs, we like to believe that makes us sounds like us. It’s the shared producing that makes it interesting. Of course other artists will always influence you, but this is how we try to find our own sound."
Speaking of which, your sound is situated somewhere between the dance floor and the living room. What are your main influences that push it in that kind of direction?
B: "We’re really influenced by artists that mix genres together and create these hybrid sounds. Jamie XX and James Blake are great examples of this, but we’re also heavily influenced by pop and hip hop. Our goal is to make music that makes people dance, but also reaches them emotionally. It’s important that people feel something when listening to Ulysse."
J: "What’s very cool, is that we can get different feedback on the same tracks. While one track would make people want to chill on the bus, others would like to dance to it. That diversity is very interesting to us."
You released your new single, ‘Acid’, recently. What’s the story behind the title?
A: "Well, it has nothing to do with drugs, it’s more of a feeling. Lyrics are always hard to explain, but I would say that "Acid & Purple" was the best way to describe what I had in mind at the time. It's a word that stands out from the others, and it can define something that you can't really get rid of, like a memory. The track started a year ago and took some time to finish. I always felt that 'acid' was the appropriate word to describe the track when listening to the instrumental. I like to come up with words and lyrics that describe the sound and will try to incorporate more in the future."
B: "It’s that same feeling we wanted to translate to our video and the graphic design. It’s important for us to have a connection between the visual aspects of the track and the music itself."
Your other output, like graphic design, photos and videos, is also mainly self-produced. Is it a difficult combination?
A: "Yes, it’s very time consuming but it’s also very important to us. We don’t only focus on the music; the visual aspect is equally as important. We like the idea of crafting everything ourselves. We’re not sure we’ll always be able to do everything in this manner, but even if we don’t shoot the video ourselves, we’d still like to direct it."
J: "When you have to take in account all of our opinions, it takes a lot of time. But we’ll always have an input, that’s for sure. You can release music that sounds good, but nowadays there’s so much music and it’s important to stand out in the deliverance as well."
B: "Since the beginning we’ve produced everything we’ve released ourselves. It’s such an important part of creating our identity as Ulysse. It even goes so far that money and time are no object when it comes to this, it’s being proud of what we release. For example: The video for ‘Acid’ took us almost four months."
‘Acid’ features a verse by Roméo Elvis. How did that collaboration happen?
B: "I’ve known Romeo for a while now, because I’ve been working with him the past few months, so there already was a connection. When we sent Romeo the track he was very enthusiastic about it, so the collaboration came about quite organically." To us it made a lot of sense. Like we said, we’re really into hip hop and we’ve been fond of the Brussels music scene for a while. Artists like Romeo Elvis, Caballero, JeanJass, L’or Du Commun, Stikstof and Zwangere Guy really make the scene grow. We’re very proud to be from Brussels and to be part of this scene. This collaboration is a way of expressing that feeling. Also, we wanted to create something new and hybrid. It’s part of the process of creating our identity and defining our DNA. Which is experimenting with diverse genres and working with different people.
A: "What I like the most about the feature, is that it’s really refreshing. When Romeo sent us his first take, we were so surprised. The result is quite different and unexpected, so it makes the track move in different directions."
J: "Exactly, whether you like it or not, you can’t say it’s not surprising. We hadn’t released a track since the end of 2015, so we wanted to come back with something new, not something that was similar to our previous track. We really wanted to make an impact, we hope we’ve achieved just that."
How come the Brussels music scene, and not just hip hop, is emerging now? Is there a specific reason?
A: "I think it has been blooming for a while now, but it’s finally ‘popped’. When I just started living in Brussels, I was really impressed by artists like Yellowstraps and Le Motel, for sounding so new and contemporary. I wasn’t even aware these kinds of sounds were present in our capital. So in my opinion there’s always has been a lot of talent, but it’s only been getting its proper exposure since recently. There can be other reasons, but I guess phenomena like Stromae and the current hip hop scene, make it interesting for people in other regions to pay attention."
J: "You can’t ignore that Belgium has a separation in culture. It’s one country, but each language area has the problem of ‘recognizing’ artists coming from the other side. It’s crazy how talented artists, like Bazart & Glints, have a hard time getting attention from promotors and media Wallonia. Vice versa, I think the same goes for Flemish industry & media. It’s necessary that we break the barriers and look beyond language borders. There so many talents on both sides, I guess when something is happening in Brussels, it’s easier for both provinces to sort of ‘claim’ it, because it’s in the middle."
B: "It’s a good opportunity for us to create bridges between the two. We are in the right place to do that."
J: "Yeah, we’d would love to do other collaborations with Flemish artists too."
In September you’ll play your first headlining show in Botanique. What should we expect?
J: "It’s going to be special, as we’ll be integrating a drummer in our live set for the first time. We’ve grown so accustomed to playing our drums on a APC controller, that I’ll be very new and exciting for us. We’re going to work hard over the next couple of weeks to get it right. People can also definitely expect to hear some new tracks. Furthermore, we’re happy to do it in Botanique, because we’ve played at some of their festivals and they offered us some support slots in the past."
What else can we expect from Ulysse in 2017?
B: "Well, ‘Acid’ is the precursor of our next EP, which will be released around the fall of 2017."
A: "We feel like it’s going to be an interesting period for us, because we really know where we’re going. We gave some thought to our future and how we can make everything work. We know how we sound and how we want to sound, what we can and can’t do. So it’ll be great to release new things and get going. I feel like we’ve never really had the chance to fully indulge ourselves into our project before, like for a steady and long period, so that’s the aim for this year!"
J: "We’d like to get some more exposure in other cities and countries and experience the clubs and festivals over there. We really think that there are some interesting challenges in the Flemish territory."