Words and photos by Jon Reino
"History, genocide, climate change, anti-imperialism, queer representation, food scarcity and inequality are all major themes within my music." Max Narotzky is the mind behind Ultra Deluxe, an experimental post-rock project based in New York City. "A lot of my lyrical inspiration comes from the political climate of the world." As the epicenter of the Covid-19 outbreak in the United States, New York City has been thrust into the sociopolitical spotlight. In these strange times we live in, few are more impacted than independent artists. Happy Pill caught up with Max to discuss their experiences during this crisis, how it is effecting the music scene, politics, and of course the music of Ultra Deluxe.
"Some of my biggest musical influences are Thursday, Efterklang, The Octopus Project and Rage Against the Machine. I’d say Efkterklang is the most notable because of their unique approach to post rock that relies on mixing synthetic and organic textures which I have adopted in my own way." Part screamo part chiptune, overtly 8-bit, and always aggressive, Ultra Deluxe displays a wide variety of instrumentation. The anticipated synthesizers give way to harmonica, distortion and orchestra strings dance in a noise punk ode to nintendo. A dark yet uplifting tone defined by driving bass lines and screams that echo the struggles of the proletariat.
Max is the sole creative force behind Ultra Deluxe. A true multi-instrumentalist, they electrify any stage (or basement floor) through power behind the drum kit, kinetic screams on vocals, and chaotic expression while drifting through the crowd. "Music is a huge catharsis for me. When I was younger, I had a lot of emotional problems and I still struggle with anxiety and depression to this day. My live performance is the place where I can 'void my brain', as I like to call it. I am able to empty out my mind of every single thought and anxiety I have and just focus on performing. When an Ultra Deluxe set is over, I am usually profusely out of breath and [cannot] form coherent sentences for the next 10 minutes because I literally emptied myself out. I do this for me and me alone."
In summer 2019, Ultra Deluxe brought their act to Japan for a tour of Osaka, Kyoto, and Tokyo. "Those 10 days in Japan will forever be the greatest 10 days of my entire life. I was able to spend time with my good friend Jackson (of Sativa Cult and KoKoRoNoMe) who lives in Osaka and it was amazing to see my old friend and his wife and experience another country from a citizen’s point of view. The food was out of this world. Every band we played with in Japan exuded such immense energy in their performances that is truly a sight to behold. I was especially amazed by the bands D.A.M and Design Sound Works."
Filmed by Jordan Mary
A few short months after their return from Asia, Coronavirus began to spread it's way around the world. By early April, Max's home of New York City was essentially shut down, having become the center of the global crisis. Outside of music, Max spends their time as a teacher, which gives them a unique perspective of the struggles facing the city. "I have now transitioned into teaching exclusively online. I work at a school in East Harlem and the economic disparities that my students face are even more present in the age of Coronavirus. Many students do not have access to WIFI and computers therefore even getting homework done is a huge challenge. Many of my students’ parents are out of work and this causes immense food and rent shortages that Governor Cuomo is neglecting to address." The virus continues to hinder our society, and traditionally marginalized groups find themselves in an even darker place than they were before. With unemployment systems overwhelmed, many people will receive the financial support they need once it is too late. Many artists and creators now find themselves in this situation. "I am scared for the future of the music industry and specifically small venues. There have been no efforts in New York to advocate for rent forgiveness and this will disproportionately affect small and struggling businesses the most." Many venues have already started GoFundMe campaigns to fund their expenses, a trend that will surely continue in the months ahead. Concerts and festivals are expected to be the last to return to normal.
More than just the social and economic impact of the crisis, we also turn our attention to our families, our health, and our own well being. "Most importantly I am concerned for my father’s health. In February he had open heart surgery and is still recovering. He is definitely at a huge risk for COVID and the virus has been scary, but has also brought our family closer together which I value more than anything. My family has been very supportive of my music, my queer identity, my politics, my career, pretty much everything and I love them very much. As for my personal life I am much more sedentary than I previously was, I am working on new music instead of touring, taking piano lessons and cooking more. I am very fortunate and lucky to still be employed and working from home right now as many others are not."
"Contact is the 2nd LP chronologically in the Contact saga. In Contact, Adrian Park pilots a ship set out by the tyrannical United Galactic Federation (UGF) to mine for resources on the nutrient rich planet Xevium. The ship crashes and Commander Nora Alsaidi sends troops to recover the captain and invade the planet. The invasion is successful and they defeat the Xevian empress and conquer the planet.
I am currently working on an EP, titled Prologue, which introduces four new characters that are part of the rebel anti-fascist Contra alliance. The Contra aims to dismantle this tyrannical government and free the Xevians. After that EP, LP 2 which actually comes after Prologue but before Contact (in the story chronologically) will come out titled A Call to Arms. I have stories and songs written for about 3 other LPs at least, and will continue to write and expand on this story for as long as I can.
Above all else, Ultra Deluxe is a statement, a DIY message for all that change is possible and that you already posses the tools to accomplish it. The message behind the music inspires, while the energy behind the performance motivates. "I am hugely influenced by historical and current events such as the British occupation of Hong Kong, the Communist Revolution. The Palestinian Genocide, The Holocaust, and early colonialism. Additionally, the Contact Saga is my prediction of a future where the virus of Capitalism is unchecked, has destroyed planet Earth and seeks to destroy other planets in its wake." Indeed, the direction our society is currently heading echoes these fears. Now with 'Space Force' the US seeks to control space and the economic benefits of the resources found there, rather than to share the bounty with the rest of humanity. More than any other time in history, Max's prophecy rings true. "I would hope that as a society we can progress further left but without a drastic recalibrating of the economic system and higher taxation to the 1% this will be near impossible. It is best to educate and aide allies through understanding discussion rather than building walls between us."
The fact that people enjoy the weird music I make is hugely impactful. I’m just here making weird music to seek an emotional catharsis and the fact that people come out to see us, listen to us and watch me do that kind of makes me feel like I am no longer the outcast I was when I was 14. I hope to inspire in others that with new music technology learning an instrument is now easier than ever. I made all the instrumentals to Contact on a free phone app called Beatwave. You do not need to be classically trained to make music and I encourage everyone to start a band. I want people to know that there are tons of free apps Beatwave, Auxy, GarageBand that you can make music with! If you want to start a band you can!"
Filmed by Jordan Mary
Follow Ultra Deluxe at the links below. Please support them through bandcamp, much of their discography is available there exclusively. If streaming is more your vibe, please enjoy their music on Spotify. Special thanks to Jordan Mary for providing videos from their Japan tour, follow her on instagram @beautyinthedirt
Words and photography by Jon Reino
After forming in early 2019, Nova Charisma quickly began making waves in the alternative music scene. The post-hardcore duo consists of Donovan Melero of Hail The Sun and Sergio Medina, formerly of Stolas. "We met in 2010 at a Zia Records show Hail The Sun was playing on a DIY tour," says Medina. Together they made up 2/5th's of post-hardcore supergroup Sianvar, featuring Will Swan of Dance Gavin Dance and Michael Littlefield of A Lot Birds. He continues, "Donny wondered what kind of music him and I would write with the two of us at the helm. Around seven years later, after [Sianvar] broke up, we were finally able to give that vision a shot. With Sianvar, we'd all write together in a room. It was usually 4 or all 5 of us together. That worked really well for Sianvar, since most of us knew when to contribute or sit back when necessary. With Nova, it's just less cooks in the kitchen- it works really well, thankfully."
"We have always enjoyed the musical chemistry we shared, so it was a no brainer to continue doing it in the form of Nova Charisma," says Melero. "It's also easier to make decisions outside of writing when it's only the two of us." Nova Charisma released their first EP, "Exposition I", on August 22nd, 2019, soon followed by "Exposition II" on December 6th.
"I started [playing guitar] when I was 9 years old," recalls Sergio, "but I didn't really start taking it seriously until 12 when I started taking lessons. My early influences as Jimmy Page, Angus Young, Paco De Lucia, but slowly evolved from flashy guitar playing to how one uses the guitar in a unique way. Using pedals and tones to accentuate one's playing. I would say that sentiment is the same in the process of writing Nova Charisma vs my other bands. My other bands showcase the flashy guitar player in me, while with Nova I'm trying to focus on song structure, sonically unique guitar playing while maintaining the parts simple. Not leaning on technically proficient playing."
Nova Charisma marks a departure from both artist's typical styles, while keeping a sound that remains unmistakable. Heavy yet reserved, technical yet modest. An accessible and almost pop vibe from two of progressive music's finest minds.
"The music that has been created so far has felt different than my other bands, so I'm naturally inclined to write accordingly," says Donovan. "I try my best not to overthink it, which is easier said than done at times. I have a way that I write that works, with anything I'm involved with. When I let the process take hold organically, I feel like I get the best product. A more tangible difference is I am writing and recording bass guitar in Nova Charisma. I've played and written bass for over a decade now, so fully diving into that role has been different."
"My life with active addiction feels like a whole lifetime ago, and I have experienced so much since then, both related and unrelated to substance abuse. With Nova Charisma writing, it hasn't felt as prevalent, although a point could be made that it's led to everything I am and therefore write today. The best advice I could give to someone struggling with [substance abuse and mental health] issues is to reach out for help. Don't take on those demons alone."
- Donovan Melero
In December 2019, the band hit the road to bring their sound to the live stage for the first time, including a stop in Brooklyn, NY at Elsewhere on 12/20. But to do that they would need some help. "Putting together the live show was a wonderful experience," Sergio describes. "A lot of the music came together in ProTools sessions. We didn't get to hear them live for ourselves until the full Nova live group got together and filled in all the spaces. All of the people in our live band are great friends of ours. That includes Carlo Marquez, who drums on all of the Nova Charisma music and writes with us as well." The live band also features Aric Garcia of Hail the Sun on bass and Joe Occhiuti of Ice Nine Kills on keyboards.
"The first shows were a testament to the path that led us to Nova Charisma," says Donovan. "The support of this new project in its infancy stage is humbling. It seems that the songs have connected with others. This is everything we had hoped for, because the songs connected with us."
According to Donovan, Nova Charisma has no intention of slowing down. "We have a performance in London coming up this month, on January 17th. After that we intend on continuing to write for a full length record, and releasing "Exposition III" in the mean time. We are hoping to tour the US and UK/Europe at some point in 2020."
Expositions I and II are both available online now via Equal Vision Records, "Exposition II" is also available on vinyl in their online store as well. Follow them on social media at the links below, and please enjoy their latest single, "Gemini".
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