Ursula 1000: Revealing the musician in the DJ (An Indieethos exclusive)

February 20, 2012

If one misconception has plagued the man behind the expressionistic, retro-infused handle Ursula 1000 over his 10-plus-years of recording original music and spinning records as a club DJ it may be the notion that he cannot play an instrument. After all, he plays all the instruments on Mondo Beyondo, the latest record by his alter ego Ursula 1000, released on ESL Music, including drums, guitar, bass, organs and synthesizers. I first met him as a drummer in the Miami band 23. His life as a DJ and Ursula 1000 would come years later. Speaking via phone from his Williamsburg home in New York, he notes that for the first time in 10 years, he is working to put together a band for a small summer or fall US tour. “I’ve been wanting to do this for a while,” he says. “Having played in 23 and stuff in Miami. I miss performing live.”

Though the Ursula 1000 band remains in the planning stages, it seems a longtime coming. He has released five albums under the alias, which pays tribute to iconic sixties actress Ursula Andress (she of the famed bikini in Dr. No) while also acknowledging the futuristic optimism of her heyday era in the quadruple digit tag. He has led a jet-setting lifestyle that has seen him touring the world as a DJ with appearances at giant music festivals and hip nightclubs since the late nineties.* His albums have a style that sounds like a pastiche of sixties pop music run through an electro-dance blender, leading to the notion that he is a sample-based DJ. “I think for me it would be a personal victory,” he says about performing live music, “so people would see that, yeah, this guy can actually play this stuff. There’s still people that see me touring as a DJ, but they know I have albums out. It’s hard for them to connect the dots, and they say, ‘So what is it that you do exactly?'”

What he does is weave together nostalgic sounds from the sixties, be it swinging, jazzy pop or psychedelic rock with modern sounds and some crazy dance beats. He walks me through a quick overview of his oeuvre. “The First two albums were the first two albums,” he says of 1999’s The Now Sound of Ursula 1000 and 2002’s Kinda’ Kinky. “Those were the ones that were very sixties-influenced, and there was some fifties, kind of Latin Cha-cha, mambo kind of elements.”

He followed them up with 2005’s Here Comes Tomorrow and 2009’s Mystics. “Then I started bringing in new wave influences that I loved and post punk and glam rock from the seventies and even sounds that were inspired by my DJ sets,” he says. “So I was very much making a record that was kind of listenable at home but also kind of DJ-friendly, too.”

Mondo Beyondo came out in August of last year. It seems to bring together the past and the present in the most organic way possible for an Ursula 1000 record. “With this one, I tried avoiding things like dub step and any flavor-of-the-month kind of rhythms,” he says. “I had been going back to some of my sixties roots, listening to garage rock and mod soul and all this kind of stuff. I was like, I’m just going to put something out that I want to hear. It wasn’t influenced by current trends, and I thought I may get total shit for this coz people may be thinking, ‘Oh, God, this guy is kinda living in the past,’ or kind of treading old ground, but surprisingly, reviews were very positive. It was nice to see that because I was expecting reviews to really rip me with it. With things like Pitchfork and these kind of trendsetter, taste-maker kind of people, if you’re not like this flavor-of-the-month kind of thing, like chillwave or something, or whatever the hell it’s called, then it’s [not cool] … I just want to do something that I really like and I really dig.”

Here’s the title track’s official video:

When it comes to music that he listens to, it runs a wide range of styles. But a lot of it moves forward while still acknowledging the past. He notes an appreciation for Seahawks, who he says, sound like yacht rock while also incorporating a dub influence, like the Orb. He has an affection for the work of Tame Impala, who he says have a warm, psychedelic soft rock sound. He also lauds Toy, a young band from England influenced by shoegaze music.

Though Gimeno counted himself a fan of shoegaze back in the early nineties (in fact he and his mates in 23 produced music that easily fit into that genre of dreamy, swirly music), he has recently fallen back in love with many of those bands. Just last month he compiled a mix of obscure shoegaze on his Soundcloud:

In fact, Gimeno says, he is on the way to completing an EP of original music that pays some respect to the genre and should see release this summer. He says the music is so far removed from an Ursula 1000 record, he has decided to release it under another alias: Impossible Objects. “I have this mini-LP almost done,” he says. “It’s not as eclectic as an Ursula 1000 record. This definitely sounds like it’s this one band playing this thing … I just love the droney guitar kind of stuff. It’s kind of a shoegazy, droney, space-rock guitar sort of thing, but there’s also heavy synthesizer work in it. So there’s also a Giorgio Moroder [influence], almost like John Carpenter, seventies horror soundtrack stuff,” he says with a laugh.

It marks an almost logical step for Gimeno, who just produced his most organic and flowing Ursula 1000 record to date. In fact, he says, this album originated from a more melodic instrument than the beats he is more accustomed to beginning a song with. “Since I’ve been playing a lot more guitar lately it’s been actually starting, in some cases, from riffs,” he says. “In the beginning, since drums were my main instrument, I used to start with rhythms, and now things have gotten a lot more melodic. I’ve been more confident with my playing, so now I can actually pick up a bass or guitar and actually work out a riff like a traditional band would.”

One guitar riff that stands out in Mondo Beyondo is the one that drives “Don’t Get Your Panties in a Bunch.” He says, “That lock grove, Krautrock-inspired, whatever you want to call it, I’ve always loved that. It’s funny because I didn’t get into Can or any of that stuff until way after the fact. I got into people like Stereolab, you know, like people who were emulating that stuff after the fact.”

Speaking of Stereolab, who happen to feature a French vocalist, another track on Mondo Beyond of note is “Repetez Le Repertoire,” which features another kind of Krautrock influence: the incongruous electronic rhythmic pulses of Kraftwerk. It also features the sensual voice of Isabelle Antena, who primarily reigned in the post punk/art rock, samba-influenced band from France called Antena, during the early eighties. Gimeno says he did a remix for her and always talked about collaborating. “I was re-listening to the first Deee-Light album, which is such a big record and a huge influence also for me too, just the way they were kind of handling samples, so I had this very bubbling kind of electronic track, and I thought it has this kind of French thing, and I asked her and she was down for it.”

Probably the biggest name who collaborated on Mondo Beyondo is Fred Schneider of the B-52s. He sings on the second track, “Hey You.” Gimeno says they both had a mutual friend who wanted the two to meet. It never happened but, during one fateful airplane trip from a gig in the Midwest, Gimeno noticed him on board. Gimeno says he gathered the courage to approach him in baggage claim after landing in New York, and he introduced himself dropping their mutual friend’s name. When Schneider asked Gimeno what he did, Gimeno told him about Ursula 1000. “Oh, I think I have all your albums!” Schneider responded.

Gimeno could not believe it. “I was shocked. How crazy. So we just swapped info,” he says, “He has this side project called the Superions, which is him and two guys from Orlando. They do this weird kind of electro-pop stuff, and I did a remix of one of their tracks, and that’s kind of how we broke the ice.”

Schneider happens to live in Manhattan, and Gimeno offered him a track of instrumental music that needed vocals. He came over to record it in Gimeno’s home studio. “It was great,” Gimeno says. “It was real super easy to work with him. He had this great book of lyrics. It was all so super quick, just right in the pocket.”

Gimeno says he and Schneider continue to work together. “I’ll be producing some tracks for the upcoming Superions album,” he says.

Collaborating on projects beyond his own albums is nothing new for Gimeno. He also will be producing music for the Japanese pop singer Izumi’s forthcoming album, and he recently finished a remix for an an upcoming compilation from Waxploitation called Future Sounds of Buenos Aires.”

Despite his international exposure. Gimeno still comes across as the down-to-earth music and comic book geek I first met as the owner of Bam! Comics and Graphic Novels in North Miami, when he lived in South Florida, back in the early nineties. The cover art of Mondo Beyondo harkens back to his love of comic books, as the illustrations come from an obscure comic book called “Mod Love,” by French pop artist Michel Quarez (he was then uncredited) written by Michael Lutin. “I’ve always been a comic book nerd,” Gimeno says. “I love the genre and stuff, and there’s this comic book that I heard about called “Mod Love,” which came out in 1967 or something like that, and it was this very psychedelic, Peter Max, Yellow Submarine kind of groovy art thing. Totally impossible to find. It was like from some weird, small publisher. I finally found one on eBay last year, after years of hunting for this thing. When I got it, it was just page after page of really beautiful art. As I was working on the album, I kept thinking to myself, this is the artwork for the album, but how the hell am I going to license this stuff because I don’t think the publisher exists anymore. And then I finally tracked down the writer. He does astrology for ‘Vanity Fair’ magazine, and he must have done this comic book when he was like 20 or something. It turned out he had the rights for it.”

Gimeno approached Lutin and told him what he had planned for it, expressing his love for sixties mod culture and psychedelia. Lutin asked Gimeno for his astrology sign and then granted him the license to use it as cover art. “He saw that my intentions were true,” Gimeno says, “and he was super cool with it. It was nice to have something that wasn’t a fourth generation or fifth generation. It was like an artifact of that era.”

Though the album first came out on CD and MP3 back in August, it was not until December that a large format, double LP, gatefold vinyl release saw the light of day to do the art proper justice. “It’s so weird,” Gimeno says, “the physical world is kind of diminishing right now. To get CDs or vinyl pressed nowadays is like pulling teeth. I really wanted this out, even from a limited kind of standpoint.”

Only 500, hand-numbered vinyl copies saw release, and two months later only a few remain at select shops (Amazon seems to still have a few in stock, as of this posting). “It’s weird because 500 now is like 3,000 from like six years ago. When I first got on the label [ESL Music] vinyl was very healthy. To press like 2500 or 3,000 of a 12-inch single for me, it’s like not a problem at all. Now if you do that, it’s like ‘Wow!'”

Gimeno also notes that he recently heard of Neil Young’s rant regarding the loss of sound quality in the digital sound of MP3s, which seems to be the preferred format of the music industry nowadays. “He broke it down in a weird way,” he says of Young. “He had broken it down to decibels and how like even good quality mp3s are like some kind of weird decibel, and there’s this whole body of sound being lost because of it.”

As a DJ, Gimeno is very sensitive to vinyl, and he’s noticed audiences do not seem to care, especially in the clubs. “It’s almost like how loud can you go than the subtleties of the track,” he says. “It’s not even about sound quality anymore. It’s completely like who can be the loudest,” he says with a laugh, noting that it is all about rattling the speakers over the sound of the music. “It’s always like how far can I push this subsonic bass thing.”

But now he is concerning himself with how to recreate his recordings in the purest way possible: a live setting with a band. Besides only two “pseudo live shows” Gimeno has never performed the music of Ursula 1000 in a band. “One was at the World Trade Center,” he says, “at the Windows of the World that used to be at the very top of the building. There was this really cool party that was going on when we first moved here. It was kind of like playing a lot of that J-pop that was around at the time, like Pizzacato 5 and a lot of this lounge revival mixed with a lot of the clubbier [music]. It was interesting. Then Marissa [Gimeno, his wife, who also appears on Mondo Beyondo] and I did a live thing recently in Washington DC in October. But it was very stripped down: bass guitar and beats that were prerecorded, kind of like the Kills.”

If he is going to perform Ursula 1000 music in a band setting, Gimeno says he wants to do it right and also stage a proper show. “I just want to do something cool,” he says. “Like some visual revue thing … A lot of times when people do a live thing, especially when they are in the same boat as I am, they might be this one-man-band that’s electronically-based, sometimes they’ll do a live thing where it’s just them and a laptop, and I really don’t want to do that. I feel like it’s kind of cheating. I really want to do something where I’m stripping everything away and rebuilding it back live … It’s going to happen.”

So far, Ursula 1000 has the following DJ dates lined up, including some dates in Miami

Hans Morgenstern

*He only recently returned from the Green Plugged Red Festival in Seoul, Korea. It was his fourth appearance there over the years.

(Copyright 2012 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)
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