In 1999, Alex Gimeno – aka Ursula 1000 – set dance floors whirling with his debut album The Now Sound of Ursula 1000. 20 years later with highlights that include: 7 studio albums and remixes for Quincy Jones, Felix Da Housecat and many more, a slew of television remodels for themes to Sesame Street, The Powerpuff Girls, The Incredibles, and Yo Gabba Gabba. Scenes and promos for Sex And The City, Greys Anatomy and How I Met Your Mother, and Modern Family have also featured several of his remixes, as have marketing campaigns for AT&T, Samsung, Adidas and Grand Marnier. His songs have been used in video games like Destroy All Humans!, NBA 2K9 and Tap Tap Revenge.
He has just released a new album titled, Esoterique. YRB Magazine’s Executive Editor Jonn Nubian sat down with Ursula 1000 to discuss the process in making the album and how to make cocktails with Campari.
YRB: Let’s start from the beginning in regards to the record. Certain things stood out to me after listening to the album a few times, in particularly the mix which is really lush. One song that really stands out is “Laka and Lono”.
Are those live drums along with electronic drums being played?
Ursula 1000: Everything is programmed. But of course I’m trying to replicate that era of Martin Denny and Les Baxter. Late 50’s exotica jazz with Polynesian themes, I was definitely going for the jugular for that kind of stuff (bird calls). I don’t really know much about Hawaiian or Polynesian mythology and I thought let me tap into that world. I found this story of these two gods Laka and Lono and based this lyric around that. Then I reached out to some friends of mine the electro-lounge quartet the Gentle People. One of the girls in the group speaks french and there is sort of a French theme throughout the whole album so I thought it would be a nice thing to have them involved.
YRB: How long have you been working on this album?
Ursula 1000: This one, pretty quick in the sense that my last album Galleria, which was 80’s synth wave influenced. I still want to explore more of that but when I was hitting this 20 year anniversary, I thought maybe I should force myself into a comfort zone. Then really put myself in another comfort zone which was doing a lot of this stuff that was really part of my DNA.
Whether it’s kind of a 60’s bass, 50’s exotica or swinging jazz, a lot of that is such a part of me. It was weird to tap back into it but once I was in there, I was there.
YRB: How has your production process changed from your first record to this one?
Ursula 1000: It’s changed a lot. Not to get all techie…
YRB: It’s Ok, we like techie. (laughter)
Ursula 1000: Ok, I started off with a MPC-2000 triggering samples of various loop based stuff with some performances on top of that. Once I got sure of myself as a performer (I’m a multi-instrumentalist), I started getting more comfortable and confident then I switched over to working on Pro Tools. From there I was really able to get the full scope of things that I was really hearing in my head. As a confident performer, I was able to do all those guitar lines and keyboard lines that I couldn’t do before. Now I perform everything but I still do like the idea of a sampled sound. So I record myself and then kind of tweak it afterwards to make it sound like I got it off a record.
YRB: That leads me to my next question. The song “What is Jazz?”, how many samples are in that song?
Ursula 1000: All the music is programmed. The upright bass is performed on a synthesizer. There are a couple of vocal snippets here and there from different music libraries, but everything else is performed and then afterwards tweaked it to the point where almost sounds like a very clean acid jazz record. I do like the grittiness of a sample, so what I did was just dirty it up.
YRB: Tell me about the song Campari and Soda, it’s such a fun song! How did that come about?
Qypthone, from Tokyo. They were featured on my second mix CD called Ursadelica on the track called Mr. Mustache. The singer, Izumi Ookawara also sung on the track “Kaboom” off my third album. I was working on some demos for her upcoming solo album and then just something came up where I said let’s do a collaboration where we do a song that would appear on both of our albums. I gave them something and then they came back with something else and I gave it a title, Campari, which is definitely my drink of choice.
YRB: Now I know what to do with that bottle of Campari in my cabinet at home. I never knew what to mix it with.
Ursula 1000: You would never drink it straight. You can mix it with a club soda or you can also do a Negroni, which is Campari with vermouth and gin. Or an Americano which is without the vermouth. It’s just one of those drinks that when I’m DJing, I could just be drinking it all night and it doesn’t really give me a buzz. Other than that, I’m a cheap date, 3 martinis and I’m good. So I had this title in mind and that was really the only direction other than the main riff. Everything on the record, all those saxophone solos are all performed by the band Qypthone.
YRB: Let’s talk about the song Neptune Freeze, which features Fred Schneider from the B-52’s.
Ursula 1000: So Fred and I have collaborated a bunch of times. I did a remix for a side project of his called the Superions. Then he did vocals on a track of mine called “Hey You”.
We also did this goofy Halloween side project called The Fangs, and video for a track called “Vampire Vamp”. Obviously Fred’s very into campy and geeky things. I had no real direction for this track. If you go way back and I’m sure people can probably find these clips on YouTube, there was a late 60’s show called Laugh-In, a comedy sketch show.
They had this skit that was a cocktail party and the hosts would be like “follow us in the cocktail party” and then these doors would open and it was a great swinging mod party scene going on. Then everyone would stop, somebody would tell a little joke and the dancing would start again. So that was the inspiration for this track. I wanted to do this very stop and start kind of thing.
When we got to the studio, I know there’s about 16 to 18 of these stops in the song other than that I had no idea what it would be. Fred’s in the studio listening and he’s got his legal pad there and he said jotting away. Finally he gets into the booth and comes up with these wacky Sci-Fi B-Movie Space Station lyrics. I’m like great and then I went back and I added all these science fiction and spaceship sounds. It’s funny how those things happen where you have no idea and then it comes back and you’re like, alright let’s do this!
YRB: What do you want people to get out of this album?
Ursula 1000: My stuff has always been about escapism. The world is pretty crazy and I feel like all my records have always kind of taken you on a little trip around the world.
I think with album it’s the same concept that I’ve always been doing, just having these fun little mini movies disguised as songs.
YRB: Thank you!
The new album Esoterique is available on all major streaming platforms and on limited edition double colored vinyl.