ULTREA "Music As A Weapon" 

By Theron Moore

Madison Wisconsin has long been a hotbed for local music dating back to the 70’s when Spooner, Punch, Speed Trap and Sun Blind Lion laid the framework for latter bands like The Gomers, Killdozer, and Poopshovel as well as many other bands that made it big and nearly made it, late 80’s to present day.  Read my three book series “All My Friends Are Rock Stars” and you’ll get the full picture.  

Within the last year, Lords of the Trident, Vermillion, Dos Males, Vanishing Kids and Pachinko have reinvigorated various segments of Madison’s local music scene harkening back 30+ years when Mad City music was alive, exciting, and could do no wrong.  And now, add Ultrea to that list of bands that we need to talk about.  All bands mentioned:  cutting edge in their own right.  All bands mentioned:  trailblazing into the future.

Ultrea play an aggressive style of heavy rock comparable to Arch Enemy, Nervosa, Once Human and Rage of Light, just to give you an idea where the band is musically not to mention the fact that Ultrea, like the aforementioned bands, is female fronted.  And truth be told, lead singer Jenni’s stage presence and vocal domination are both ferocious and punishing.  And Ultrea?  Sharp as a surgeon’s scalpel.  Let’s draw blood…,

WORMWOOD CHRONICLES:  Let’s take this back to the very beginning. How did everyone in the band come together and how did Ultrea coalesce / happen? What were the circumstances involved? 

ULTREA:  We’ve been creating music as Ultrea for six years now. Essentially, we all knew someone who had played in bands previously and the band was built with musical connections. 

Our original line up was brought together by guitarist Greg Dellmann and former drummer Chris Swenson. Greg called upon bass player Jason Wepking from Sledgehammer Solution and Chris called upon Jenni Lecesse from previous metal and punk projects. Bryan Lawver came in very early on and took over as drum master and official “Band Dad” Chris replaced Jes Hana on guitar. This was essentially our first strong line up. 

When Chris left, Bryan brought in long time music friend Kyle Rattner who still makes occasional appearances on guitar. We’ve had dual guitars on-and-off. We even had duo vocalists for a short time. The most recent change to our lineup has been on bass: Jason unfortunately needed to step back. For the first time we opened up band auditions to the public and, lucky for us, Ricky Staley came aboard at the end of 2017 & rounds out our current lineup. 

WC:  Did all of you have similar taste in music coming into Ultrea, that is, a desire to play metal, or, is not everyone a diehard metal head? 

U:  Metal is strong with us but Ultrea is a melting pot of genres that moonlights as a hard rock/metal band. Rock, Metal, Hardcore, Progressive Rock, Punk, 90's alternative, Funk, Hip Hop. It all speaks to us. 

WC:  Where do the lyrics come from, who does the writing? Is there a particular source of inspiration you (or all the writers) draw from? 

U:  Lyrical inspiration comes from all of us. We talk about song concept and direction. Jenni typically pieces all the ideas together from conversations, texts, and experiences we've all had or observed. The subject matter comes from each of us personally, our community, and beyond. The thing or source that we want to address in every song is reality. 

WC:  And there’s a socially conscious edge to the band as well. Is it a group ethic or something personal that comes out in the lyrics from a specific writer(s)? 

U:  It is definitely a shared vision for the band. Instead of falling into all the negativity that tends to fill our social atmosphere, we all see the opportunity to change that climate. We do our best to keep a strong and influential message and make a difference in a positive way. 

WC:  Do you feel as a performer that you’re obligated or somewhat obligated to maybe go a little deeper and try to put a message out there that’s socially conscious or relevant? 

U:  We don’t feel obligated to go this direction. It’s a part of who we are. We try to be transparent and let people interpret the lyrics for themselves. Art is always subjective. Even if you ask each band member about the “take-away” from the songs, we each have different meaning. The most obvious example is with Ricky joining more recently; his interpretations of some of the earlier songs come from an entirely different perspective than when we wrote them. We can have a song around a theme, even within that theme, we’ll have four different thoughts. Things will hit you differently at different times, too. Sometimes a certain song just connects with you at that moment. 

WC:  Is there a difference between being socially conscious and political, would this be a line that you’re willing or unwilling to cross? 

U:  There’s definitely a difference, to us anyway, but they are connected as everything is. Social issues surround us. It is hard not to be affected/inspired by your environment. Being socially conscious, to us, means being aware and recognizing that problems exist, bringing attention to situations. Politics has become very indoctrinating and that’s not what we’re looking to do. 

WC:  When I listen to Ultrea’s music, I think of Kittie and Arch Enemy. Were these two bands influences on how Ultrea sounds? 

U:  No, not specifically.  We listen to both and enjoy bands but we've always tried to develop our own individual sound. Angela Gossow of Arch Enemy was a huge inspiration initially for Jen to step into screaming vocals. “I thought, THIS... This chick is strong, powerful, and badass. If I’m going to do this, I want to carry that kind of strength” - Jen. 

WC:  What other bands were influences in terms of how the band’s “heavy” and “metal” sound has evolved since late? 

U:  When you collectively listen to the amounts of music we do, this question becomes increasingly difficult to answer. Some of our influences come from what we’re listening to in that moment, whether it be new stuff or revisiting the stuff we’ve always loved. Generally, we’ve been influenced by a ton of musicians like Van Halen, Michael Jackson, Chicago, Tool, Metallica, Fear Factory, Slipknot, Hatebreed, etc.  

WC:  Do you eschew the tag of heavy metal or do you embrace it? How do you view Ultrea and the band’s sound? 

U:  Lemmy said, “Heavy metal is rock and roll, it’s just a different name.” Especially in metal, it’s easy to tag songs and bands as fitting into certain packages but that can be so limiting. We all love metal, and more broadly rock and roll, so we embrace it. In that same interview, Lemmy also said, “Rock and roll is supposed to be crazed joy and rebellion for no apparent reason...” Being socially conscious and rebellious is important, but we also don’t take ourselves too seriously because you lose sight of the joy. One of the songs we play almost every night is called “F#ck That Sh!t” and it really kind of sums up that whole idea. 

WC:  My first experience with Ultrea was watching the video you guys did for “Through the Ashes.” It’s pro shot to the point that if MTV was still around it could be aired as is. Was it expensive to produce and was it a local production? 

U:  Thank you so much. We want to do more! WE MISS YOU MTV! It was locally produced by E Wadium Productions and we were able to produce it at a pretty affordable rate. Elizabeth has a great eye and strong vision. 

WC:  Who came up with the concept / idea / storyline of the video and can you talk about it, kind of guide us through it? And I mention this because I feel like the video is probably the main jumping off point for fans to discover Ultrea for the first time... , 

U:  We all sat down to brainstorm what this song represented. Rising though the ashes of the past to become who we decide to be. Not running away from life but persevering through each obstacle that’s in front of us. The fire within us all burning though each set back, each struggle. Saying goodbye to what was and welcoming what can be. We really hope others enjoy it as much as you did. 

WC:  Do you have professional management that’s been shopping the band around to indie / major labels? Has there been any interest you can talk about? 

U:  We are currently self-managed, although we have been approached by a few interested parties. It has to be the right deal, a win-win for everyone before we take that next step. Until then we continue to DIY it... 

WC:  Ultrea is a band that’s as strong live as in the studio, which is a rarity of some sorts these days. What are your tour plans; do you plan on playing outside of Wisconsin and the Midwest, maybe trying to get something happening on a DIY tour through different parts of the US at some point? 

U:  Definitely! And thank you. That is a really amazing compliment for us. We’ve been fielding show offers from all over, but lately focusing on the new record.  We’ve covered a good part of Wisconsin as well as the surrounding Midwest states already, but once the recording is finished and everything is ready to go we’d like to step out a little more. 

WC:  And let’s address the tour aspect real quick. How feasible is it for an unsigned band to actually leave your jobs, and your families, and hit the road? Are any of you married or tied down to jobs you can’t leave? 

U:  That’s the million-dollar question! Just kidding, it’s not that expensive, but honestly the feasibility aspect really comes down to funding most. We do all have families at home. Between the four of us we have 10 children. And we all work full time jobs to support our families. Anyone who has rock and roll as a full time job will tell you it’s difficult, but having responsibilities beyond the band just means we need to be a little more strategic in our moves. So those obligations can make scheduling long periods of time away hard. 

The model of being a touring band has changed, too, with the advent of social media and streaming. We’re able to get our music out to every corner of the globe now, but it’s also a lot easier to watch a show on YouTube than it is to go to Ozzfest, you know? It’s not the same.  
The experience of live music is truly irreplaceable but that seems to coincide with smaller music venues closing. Big arenas and festivals are great, but they’re so few and far between & a lot of the times the overhead for those shows is huge. If there isn’t a place for people to go catch a band on Friday night, it’s harder for the smaller acts and labels to create a sustainable touring schedule.  Right now we’re awaiting plans falling into place. It’s just all about finding & seizing the right opportunity at the right time. 

WC:  Let’s jump back a step or two. What CDs or EPs do you currently have available and where do we find them? 

U:  All of our recorded works is available through our website and can be streamed on all major online platforms. The music has progressed from our debut EP Always Persevere, that was recorded, mixed and mastered ourselves in 2012; to our second EP Forever Ascending2014; and our most recent The End of Illusion, 2016.The latter two were both recorded at Megatone Studios in Madison, WI under the care of Paul Schluter. 

WC: And I believe you have a new album you’re working on right now. Is there a title attached to it and when will it become available? 

U:  Yes, we are in the thick of working on our first full length album! We are working with Eric Labrosse and Cherry Pit Studios. The finer details are being played close to the chest right now. We’re excited about it & have been lucky to have the support from our fans making it possible. We recently wrapped a very successful Indiegogo campaign to fund the recording and release. That has allowed us to really get creative and put thought into making an album where the songs are killer! We’ve been playing a few of the new tunes live, so if you can’t wait you can find some live videos on our Facebook page or catch one of the remaining shows we’ve got lined up this year. Everyone who donated to the campaign got a download of our new single “Fate,” so we’ve gotten a feedback right away and it’s been really positive so far. 

WC: Let’s jump to Madison’s local metal scene. How good, how strong is it right now? Which bands are you recommending we check out, besides Ultrea, that need to be mentioned? 

U:  The scene throughout the Midwest is very strong and there are some seriously awesome local bands just about every place play at. Specific to Madison right now though, there are some really cool things happening for our friends in Breech, Casket Robbery and Lords Of The Trident. Check ‘em out…

WC: I’m going to give you the opportunity to say anything you want, plug merch, shout outs, what do we need to know and what’s your parting words you wanna leave with us with? 

U:  Our biggest shout out goes to our fans who continue to share and spread the music and message. We are all in this together. We’re on most social media platforms and love meeting music fans across the globe. All of our music and merchandise can be found via our website . We’ve just added new tank tops and Ultrealienation flags will be available soon. Fans can also get one of a kind merch at our live performances like drum heads and cymbals. Every dollar we receive from fans is 100% put back into the music and pushes us forward. Lastly Thank YOU for your interest in the music and for this opportunity to talk about it.