There's a tendency to describe the music that Ultimate Painting create as "pastoral." Though Jack Cooper and James Hoare's crystalline guitar pop marries the minimalism of the Velvet Underground, the Chills' melodicism, and the dreamy paisley pop of the Kinks, it also evokes a rustic and rural life. The jangle comes with a light and twinkling warmth like that of a sunset or dusk in a country meadow.
Cooper, who grew up outside Blackpool on the UK north coast, and Devon-born Hoare, recorded their appropriately titled third album Dusk [that you can stream in full below] in Hoare's North London apartment. Though Clissold Park is close, it is not an area usually associated with shepherds or livestock.
"I guess when people use it [pastoral] they mean some kind of retreat back to nature, autumnal maybe. I don't really know," says Hoare.
"I don't think we sound like a city band though, adds Cooper. "We're not the Strokes. Pastoral makes sense to me".
The two met when on tour with their other bands Mazes and Veronica Falls, and realized that they shared a love and ear for sublime pop as well as art and films. Across two albums—their 2014 self-titled debut and 2015's Green Lanes, they've created a deft and reflective art-pop that travels with an economy of music and lyrics.
Dusk sees less guitar and more of a recently acquired Wurlitzer piano but the pairs distinctive songwriting and musical synergy remains. We caught up with Jack and James to chat about the new album.
Noisey: The third album. Screamadelica, After the Goldrush, OK Computer, Born to Run. Do you have a fave third album?
Jack Cooper: I've been listening to Donovan's Sunshine Superman a lot recently. I heard Jefferson Airplane doing a version of "The Fat Angel" on WFMU one morning a few weeks ago and went back to Donovan. It's interesting because it was really one of the first psychedelic albums, but because of some contractual bullshit, he found himself being left behind.
There's something quite tragic about Donovan in lots of ways. He never really recovered from looking lightweight in the Dylan movie Don't Look Back, but he was really very influential in the way he incorporated jazz and eastern influences. There's this slightly corny air around him nowadays and he seems to want to rewrite history in lots of ways but I think he's great. Especially Sunshine Superman.
James Hoare: I haven't really thought about this but if I'm pushed it would probably be the Velvet Underground's self-titled third LP. It's perhaps the softest record (sonically) that they did. There's a reason why we're often compared to that album in particular. I've been influenced by their guitar work for many years and on that album it is perfected and simplified down to its most basic form. They couldn't have made this record with John Cale in the band, they made up stories about their fuzz pedals being stolen to explain to change in sound, but in truth Lou Reed just wanted to make that record at that point in time.
Did you approach this album differently from your first two?
Jack: I think we both saw Green Lanes as an extension of the first one. It wasn't much of a step forward stylistically and thus, we were both a little dissatisfied with how it turned out. That's not to say we don't like it, it's just we're both of the mind that if we're not making better and better records, we may as well stop… or at least think about it - ha. That's probably a little idealistic, but we definitely approached this differently. There were a lot of songs that just didn't fit with the idea we had. It's quite difficult to define what that idea was, but James and I both get what it is.
James: Yes, the idea was to make a very minimal LP and strip back the guitars and use more electric piano. A couple of times things drifted off course and had to be brought back, but overall I think we achieved the original concept.
I like how you tweeted that a peeve is when Stoke Newington is abbreviated to Stokey-ha. Are you still on Green Lanes?
Jack: That used to be just my Twitter but somewhere along the way I just started talking about band stuff and then occasionally I'll want to get something off my chest. But yeah… I actually found it difficult to even type Stokey. When Thurston Moore moved to the area, he mentioned 'Stokey' in an interview and I felt like going home and throwing away my Sonic Youth records. I'm in Stamford Hill though and James is over the other side of Clissold Park… Stoke Newington is between us.
Would you say that Ultimate Painting has now eclipsed the achievements of Mazes and Veronica Falls? Jack: If there's a mathematical way of figuring that out, then I'm sure we have completely in every way. I don't know… It's just different. Mazes was a total slog… nothing ever came easy really, so this band has been a breeze in comparison. Saying that, I think our second album is great. That one was really just me and Conan who played bass. When we finished that it was very satisfying. So yeah it's just different. It certainly occurs to me when we're playing in Spokane or Boise… I'll ask James if there were more people when Veronica Falls played there and he'll usually say 'yes'. I think he's just keeping me on my toes though.
James: It's probably best not too think on those terms. As far as Veronica Falls goes, I wouldn't say that was necessarily true. If you're making good music and people care about it thats the important thing. Obviously everyone wants to achieve some kind of success, its not particularly constructive to compare one thing to another though as every situation is different. it can create problems in ones mind.
My fave track is "I Can't Run Anymore", and this may sound weird, but it almost sounds like an Oasis song. What are your thoughts on Gallagher's songwriting in general?
Jack: We were talking about this recently and I think in one way of another, we're both fans. I was a really big fan of Definitely Maybe and then I remember when Morning Glory came out I was really disappointed. I remember ringing my friend Paul the evening it came out and talking about how much we both hated it. I still went to see them the next evening so I stand by that really. Definitely Maybe is great. When Liam Gallagher popped up again recently, we spoke about how great it would be to write and record with him… and then it turns out he's signed a huge deal and is working with some hot shots. I think it'd be interesting to make a record with someone like us. So yeah… If anyone could suggest that to him.
James: That doesn't sound weird too me. I wrote that song with another influence in mind but quite often I've found that i can hear similarities in the way i write and their work. to be honest its not at all surprising, if you're influenced/borrowing from the same sources its bound to happen
Yeah, people love comparing a band to other bands but you guys get if from all sides-ha! Is it something you get tired off or are you resigned to the fact that the style of your music it is inevitable?
Jack: We might reference people or sounds from the past but it's impossible not to. Unless you're a time traveller, it's impossible to be influenced by the future. That kind of music journalism or criticism is so prefecty. "Yeah but they sound like this or that" - seriously who cares? It's a very macho attitude. I feel fine about being in a long line of bands who at some point have been accused of just ripping off the Velvet Underground… The Modern Lovers, The Feelies, Galaxie 500, Yo La Tengo.
James: It doesn't bother me. when you can hear someone gets the reference points its generally a good thing
I'm going to add one more - Sloan. Are you familiar with the Canadian band?
Jack: I'm not. I'll give them a listen. I just heard American Analog Set after being compared to them. Maybe these comparisons are just a way of educating me?
James: I am. A band of mine from some years back was compared to them. I know their music, they're a Canadian institution. Some of their stuff is pretty good.
Trouble In Mind seems like the perfect fit for you guys. What is it about Bill and Lisa that you dig?
Jack: Well they're just the best. I don't really know what else to say. They're two of the nicest people I've ever met and they're genuinely brilliant at what they do. They just really care. Apart from home, sitting around Bill and Lisa's kitchen table is the best place I know.'
Catch Ultimate Painting at these shows:
Sep 30 - Manchester at The Deaf Institute ^
Oct 1 - Leeds at Brudenell Social Club ^
Oct 2 - Glasgow at Stereo ^
Oct 4 - Birmingham at Hare V2 ^
Oct 5 - Bristol at Exchange ^
Oct 6 - London at the Islington Assembly Halls ^£
Oct 10 - Amsterdam at Paradiso $
Oct 11 - Brussels at Botanique
Oct 12 - Paris at Le Pop Up du Label
Oct 13 - Cologne at King Georg
Oct 14 - Hamburg at Aalhaus
Oct 15 - Berlin at Berghain Kantine
Nov 26 - Nashville at High Watt*
Nov 27 – New Orleans at Saturn Bar *
Nov 28 – Austin at Barracuda *
Nov 29 - Dallas at Double Wide Bar *
Nov 30 - Memphis at Bar DKDC *
Dec 1 - Columbia at Cafe Berlin*
Dec 2 - Chicago at The Hideout *
Dec 3 - Detroit at El Club *
Dec 4 - Toronto at Horseshoe Tavern *
Dec 5 - Montreal at Casa del Popolo *
Dec 6 - Cambridge at Middle East Upstairs *
Dec 7 - New York at Bowery Ballroom
^ with Leif Erikson
* with EZTV
£ with JC Flowers
$ with Ulrika Spacek
Images: John Sturdy