Ultra Deluxe is an ambitious post-hardcore band that translates orchestral arrangements through the channels of chiptune electronics and drum-bass-guitar rock band comradre. Not only is each of their albums epic in its sonic scope but also with the stories they tell. Ultra Deluxe is releasing its second LP today, A Call To Arms, which continues the story of past efforts, telling the tale of a group of queer space rebels in resistance to the advancing frontier of a growing, fascist space empire.
A Call To Arms to arms feels like something that could have been released on Fearless Records or Hopeless Records back in the Bush Era. A wild blending of punk and hardcore influences with almost outrageous apsirations that literally shoots for the stars. There really is no ceiling on what the band seeks to accomplish and that’s why I knew I needed to talk with them.
You can stream and purchase Ultra Deluxe’s A Call to Arms below, and keep scrolling for an exclusive interview with frontperson Max Narotzky and the rest of the band:
Interview conducted via email on April 23, 2021. Max contributed the third question, in a kind of artist-on-artist turn which I appreciated.. The transcript of this interview has been edited for the sake of clarity.
Tell us what Ultra Deluxe is and how it came to be?
Max Narotzky: Ultra Deluxe is basically a manifestation of my brain. I have ADHD and anxiety/ depression so this project gives me an outlet to get a cathartic release from. Ultra Deluxe also has a major political element to it. I believe in the abolition of the capitalist system, a greater importance on class consciousness, an end to the prison industrial complex, and a greater emphasis on mutual aid. This project serves as a vehicle to deliver a lot of those ideas that I hold close. The project began in 2015 after college when I was looking for a teaching job and was living at home. Eventually, I started to experiment with solo electronic music. I was always searching for a band that was heavy, electronic and orchestral but could not find one that sounded like that, so I decided to make it! I’m really happy to have my close friends Dane and Emily involved to make this a more collaborative effort that really brings the feel and message I’m trying to say out there.
Who are the players on your most recent album, A Call to Arms, and how did they come to be involved with the project?
Max: Dane and Emily, who are two of my best friends in the whole world, and have jumped in and made this such an amazing experience for us all. Emily plays bass and sings for Ultra Deluxe. She lives in New Jersey and we grew up in the same hometown so we’ve been going to the same shows for a long, long time. Dane lives in West Virginia and plays guitar and bass on some songs as well. I met Dane on tour 4 years ago and we’ve been great friends ever since. It’s so awesome to have them both because they bring such great energy and a realistic element to the music since they play physical instruments and most of what I do is just static electronics or acoustic drums. It has been hard lately since none of us live in the same city so we do a lot of work and writing remotely but it also feels like a rewarding challenge when it comes together.
What is it like to be in a remote band during the pandemic?
Emily Zimmerman: It’s still very fun! I do miss playing shows and meeting up to jam regularly, but also I feel like the pandemic gave us a unique opportunity to focus more on recording and writing new material. I’m grateful for how natural it still feels to collaborate with each other and our incredible producer, Doug Gallo, despite being mostly remote.
Dane York: It was different than anything I’d personally run into before, given there’s a few hundred miles between us, but at the same time, given the distance, I don’t think it’s unlike something we may have run into in non-pandemic times. Max and I talk a lot so we’re both able to stay pretty up to date in terms of progress on musical stuff. The biggest difference is obviously the lack of shows we’re able to play but keeping ourselves and everyone we know safe and healthy was obviously a bigger priority.
What is the story of your newest album A Call To Arms?
Max: A Call to Arms takes place 20 years after a government-planned terrorist attack that was used to justify space colonization. The planet is feeling the last effects of capitalism caused climate change. The rebel alliance which composes the main character of this album are discussing ways they can band together and fight back against this fascist government, the UGF. There are also queer love triangles, deals with cancer and lack of access to health care, housing issues and food scarcity. Eventually, the rebels decide to hijack a UGF ship to stop the army from colonizing the planet Xevium.
Does this album have any continuity with the story of your previous releases, specifically your last LP Contact?
Max: Definitely! This album serves as the direct prequel to Contact. At the beginning of Contact we have the character, Adrian, barrelling down in a crashing ship. This album ends with the character Yula hijacking the exact same ship to try and stop the colonization that is taking place. This album comes directly from the perspective of the rebels and their attempts to stop the UGF from taking over the universe in search for new resources and markets.
Your music has a very theatrical feel to it. Is this intentional, or is this more of a consequence of the way that the album is put together?
Max: Truth be told, if I had unlimited resources I would like to present this large overarching story as a rock opera acted out with puppets. And instead of a big band in the orchestra pit it would literally just be our band playing a show. There would be acts and interlude and overture, the whole nine. So I kind of write as if I were to present it as a story. All the lyrics serve strictly as dialogue for the same reason.
What is the hardest part of writing an album that tells a sequential narrative?
Max: The hardest part has to be creating sounds that match the mood of the story. For the most part, the whole story of the saga is written but the music is not. So with each release, I tell a certain chapter and have to create the sounds that I think go with the part of the story I’m trying to tell. For example, a future album will be about a war between the fascist army and the aliens/ rebel alliance. It’s hard to create 10 songs that are like ‘battle music’ just out of thin air but at the same time I have firm ideas for what I want the songs to say.
As far as influences and bands that inspire your specific sound, I’m picking up a little Say Anything, but can’t quite put my finger on the rest. Would you mind telling us what artists or albums inspire your sound?
Max: I love Say Anything. I grew up Jewish so it was really cool to see Jewish representation coming from Max Bemis, especially with all their historical allusions to World War II. The biggest influence for me is definitely the album Tripper by Efterklang. They’re an electronic orchestral post-rock band and I always loved their blend of strings and glitchy sounds, however, they aren’t exactly heavy so I decided to make a screamo influenced version of that. I also really like Thursday and Merchant Ships as for emo/ screamo. I also listen to a lot of electronic music such as Baths and the chiptune project Sabrepulse. And honestly, I grew up on Linkin Park and Rage Against the Machine so those are definite influences as well.
Emily: I love all types of music, but some artists that have influenced me a lot are Joni Mitchel, Stevie Wonder, Elliott Smith, Green Day, Amy Winehouse, and The Who. My favorite bass player of all time is John Entwistle.
Dane: I think a lot of my main influences are 90’s/00’s emo/punk/hardcore-adjacent bands like Jawbreaker, Cap’n Jazz or Paint It Black but I’m also just a big music nerd who loves everything from skate-punk to radio pop to noise rock to everything in between. With Ultra Deluxe, I tend to try to lean into a heavier sound on bass or guitar but keep it bouncy and moving around so I feel like I take inspiration from all of those things.
How does queerness contribute to the structure of your sound? And/Or how is queerness expressed through it?
Max: A lot of my story is based on characters. Different characters fit differently on the gender spectrum and I find myself fitting into that spectrum differently on any given day. Some days I feel more feminine, some days I feel more masculine. I use these different gendered characters to play different roles of myself.
What games have you been playing lately?
Max: I love love love videogames. Recently I’ve been playing A Short Hike, Final Fantasy 12, In Other Waters, and Gris.
Do you have any favorite game soundtracks or composers?
Max: Disasterpiece’s work on Hyperlight Drifter is a standout one for me. I also love the SSX soundtracks, they featured some of my favorite bands growing up such as The Faint, Thrice, Fischerspooner and Bloc Party.
Emily: I like the Bioshock series soundtracks a lot. I’ve always thought the contrast between the post-apocalyptic context of the game and the old-time music was interesting and amusing.
Where is your favorite place to grab a taco in East Harlem?
Max: There are so many good options but I really like TacoMix on 116th between 3rd and 2nd. There are also great taco trucks on 116th between Lexington and 3rd and on 110th between 3rd and 2nd.
What’s next for Ultra Deluxe in 2021?
Max: We are actually going back into the studio with Doug Gallo to record our third LP this summer. This album is going to continue the space story but takes place after Contact and features Adrian, the main character from the first LP, being taken to an inpatient mental health hospital. The other half of the album will be about the occupation of the planet Xevium and is heavily influenced by the British Occupation of China, the Opium Wars and the historical writing of Howard Zinn and his critique of colonialism.