Ulterior Motive stop by for an in-depth interview as their highly anticipated debut album for Metalheadz is finally unleashed upon the masses. Covering everything from turning down Goldie the first time he asked for an album (politely, of course) on through to an hour-by-hour break down of a typical day in the studio and tips on increasing productivity, this is one interview you don’t want to miss.
It’s hard to believe it’s only been five short years since you guys burst on the scene – give us a quick sense of your history before 2009 – what sort of music were you listening to growing up?
We both grew up on rave and hardcore in our early teens and it has been a general progression from there. Before that it was the usual mixture of hip hop and pop and whatever we would catch on the chart show or top of the pops.
What sort of early electronic music do you remember being exposed to and what was it about d&b that captured your ear then and continues to do so to this day? I imagine those influences are laid out in your recent classics mix you did for Dimensions Festival.
The Dimensions mix really sums up the start of the journey for us with regards to electronic music. We were both exposed to it one way or another in the early ‘90s. The early hardcore / rave tracks of that era are unrivalled in terms of vibe and energy and the progression into drum & bass steams from there.
Around 1997-1998 drum & bass turned a corner in terms of production and sound with tracks like “Watermelon,” “Alien Girl,” “No Reality” and from then it’s been about wanting to be part of the production process of the genre for both of us.
At what point did you guys cross paths and link up and launch Ulterior Motive as we know it today?
We met back in 2000 – 2001 through mutual friends in a house share. We’d both started writing beats in one form of another; James had a small studio set up and Greg had a PC with some monitors but nothing special. We started writing some tracks together for fun and they worked straight away. Things have just gone on from there.
Collaborative partnerships are tricky business but you guys seem to have become a well-oiled machine at this point. What strengths/specialties do each of your bring to the table that make the partnership what it is?
We play to our strengths and treat things as a business. One example is that James will do mixdowns when I go off to gigs. We find it works well because the mixdown process is a one man job and James really knows what he is doing but also because it frees up studio time in the week for us both to be creative.
When does Metalheadz enter the picture for you guys and more specifically, at what point did that relationship turn to talks of an album?
The real relationship with Metalheadz started after we did the Future Cut “Obsession Remix.” We were at Sun and Bass the year it was first premiered  and it was here Goldie first approached us for an album.
We felt that it was maybe a bit too early for this so we politely said, “Thanks but we have the Subtitles stuff that we are committed to.” From here a line of communication was formed between us and the label and things have just snowballed from there.
How did you guys go about sketching out a shape, outline, or vision of what you wanted an album project to be? What kind of language were you using to describe it to yourselves back then before even the first tune had been written?
Our first solo 12” was “Right Here” that we wrote with Headz in mind as with “Lost Contact” and “Forgiven” – but with regards to the album we didn’t want to write an album that sounded like Metalheadz (for example something like “M.I.R.” is not your typical Headz release); it had to sound like us and what we are about. Thankfully, they continue to believe in what we want to write and give us the freedom to do it.
At what point does ‘The Fourth Wall’ become the project’s working title? What do you see as the meaning behind it and how does that inform or establish the framework within which the album eventually evolved?
‘The Fourth Wall’ became the title around forty-percent into the writing process. There is a lot of stuff on the album that people wouldn’t expect to hear from us so the title plays a dual purpose in both us “breaking” from the pre-conceived idea of what people would expect to hear and also the fact that drum & bass music is written for club environments typically in a dark studio room with no one around so when the music is played it is itself breaking “the fourth wall.”
From an outsider’s perspective, there seems to be a very definite sense of crafting this album as a larger narrative with each tune sort of lending itself to the larger story you guys are telling. Is that a fair assessment and now that it’s done, what sort of story do you hear it telling?
We shortlisted around 120 demos for this album down in stages to the 14 tracks that feature. From the start we wanted to do something that represented our journey through drum & bass. “Sideways” for example is our version of the Bristol sounds we loved so much back in the day. Our personal journey is the narrative.
Speaking of journeys, things have moved fairly quickly over the past five years. What do you cite as the reason for your success?
We work hard and know what we want to achieve. We have a year planner on the studio wall and set ourselves goals and dates they need to be completed by. We’ve always been very conscious of our output and while our first releases on Subtitles came about seemingly very suddenly, in reality we waited and waited for the right opportunity and made sure the music was strong enough before sending it out.
Working hard seems to be the core of your identity at this point. For all the up-and-coming producers out there, break down what an average day looks like when you’re in studio mode and any productivity tips you can pass along.
During the album an average day would look like this:
8-9AM: Admin (emails etc.)
10AM–1PM: Studio writing
1.30–8/9PM: Studio writing
9–10PM: Admin / dinner
11PM–12AM: Stressing out / chilling
This was our daily timetable, 7 days a week, pretty much from Dec 2013 – June 2014. This timetable isn’t much different from how things are normally but except that we might leave a bit earlier or have the odd day off on the weekend.
The studio writing parts are planned in advance generally, too. For instance, if we’re at the ideas stage anything goes and we let each other be as creative and free as possible and we don’t spend too long on one idea. We get the idea down and move onto the next. If we’re on the mixdown stage, we keep to mixdowns as much as possible and try not to get too sidetracked on cool new sounds, etc. – this massively improves productivity.
Sun and Bass seems to have also played a steady role in your journey – you’ve actually just come off this year’s event having “curated” a stage, yeah? For those who were lucky enough to attend what sort of guests and vibe did you bring?
Sun and Bass is a big part of UM history. We went there back in 2007 to party with demos on CD promoting our music and now 8 years on we are curating our own party. We’ve literally just got back and it was something special.
We curated a pool party at Bal Harbour which is a 5 star hotel and restaurant situated on the beach (La Cinta). We had a mixed-genre line up to keep things in theme with the pool party vibe. Lecta played some jungle, FD played garage , Jubei played some wicked soul and funk before us and DBridge played drum & bass.
The whole party was hosted by DRS and SPMC with guest appearances by Cleveland Watkiss and unbelievably, Jeru the Damaja! We are humbled by the turnout, it was the busiest we’d ever seen it and people seemed to have a great time. Sunshine, cocktails and music is a winning combination.
Before we go, we have a few questions for you from our Kmag Facebook readers:
Brandon Blazz Golden: What made you combine the “Forgiven” tune and “Lost Contact” to create “Given Contact“?
This is something we had wanted to do for a long time. We talked about doing a combination of “2098” and “Featherweight” to become “209weight” back in 2011 but never got round to it. When we were writing these tracks we both said that we could imagine them working as a VIP.
James Kenyon: How did the collab come around with Meyhem Lauren?
This came around through a friend in America. As we have said many times in interviews we wanted to reach out to different vocalists on this album project. Meyhem was really cool to work with a real professional.