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Ultraísta: Radiohead's Knob-Twister Takes Off
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Ultraísta: Radiohead's Knob-Twister Takes Off


It's WEEKEND ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz. And it's time now for music.


RAZ: At the beginning of 1997, Nigel Godrich was a relatively unknown recording engineer. He was looking for a band that would trust his instincts as a producer. He finally got his chance with the band Radiohead and the album "OK Computer." And by the end of 1997, Nigel Godrich would become one of the most talked about names in music.


RAZ: Radiohead's album became the biggest critical hit of that year - of the decade, some say. It set a new course for progressive rock music, one that Nigel Godrich would continue to shift at will. And soon enough, he became one of the most sought-after producers, working with the likes of Paul McCartney and Beck. Now, Nigel Godrich has taken another detour to center stage. He's formed a new three-piece band called Ultraista.


ULTRAISTA: (Singing) There's a knife with a light in the corner. You're getting my attention by telling me (unintelligible)...

RAZ: Now, the name Ultraista gives some indication of the band's approach and its sound. The name comes from the Spanish literary movement known as Ultraismo of the early 20th century. But poets and writers who are part of it, including Jorge Luis Borges, were committed to writing spare but evocative works.

NIGEL GODRICH: My mother gave me a book by Luis Borges of his short stories. That had a big effect on me. It's very surrealist, very abstract. I was reading about him, and it talked about the ultraist movement. It suggested color and vibration and extreme.


GODRICH: So it just seemed very fitting.


ULTRAISTA: (Singing) You are static light, is starting by It's in my eyes, reflecting...

RAZ: Nigel Godrich started the band with the well-known drummer Joey Waronker. But they needed a singer. They decided not to trade on their influence in the industry but rather to find someone unknown.

GODRICH: We spent a good deal of energy making little posters that we stuck around art schools in London for random projects...

RAZ: You were actually advertising this?

GODRICH: Well, no. We just said, you know, because the original intention - or my fantasy, anyway - was just that maybe we would find somebody who wasn't a musician per se.

RAZ: But it didn't have your name on it or anything.

GODRICH: No, no.

RAZ: Nobody knew it was you.

GODRICH: Signs of Puff Daddy.

RAZ: No luck with the posters, but they did find themselves an art student who happened to be attracting some attention of her own in London.


RAZ: Her name was Laura Bettinson.

GODRICH: Joey and I went to see Laura play in a pub. And she had her own solo project which involved her performing by chopping up her voice into little loops.

RAZ: How many people were at the pub that night?

LAURA BETTINSON: Well, I don't know, 50, 70, maybe.

RAZ: Laura Bettinson had no idea that a Grammy Award-winning producer and a legendary session musician were in the audience scoping her out.

BETTINSON: I was aware that their manager was coming down, but I didn't have any idea that the guys were coming down.

RAZ: But were you nervous? Did you think, this is my shot?

BETTINSON: No. Not at all, really. Just because I didn't have anything to lose, so I didn't pretend to do anything that I wouldn't do normally. You know, if they don't like it, they don't like it.


RAZ: But they did like it. And they brought her to a studio to lay down some of those cut-and-paste singing techniques over their own productions. And the result was this debut album, "Ultraista." The first single is called "Bad Insect."


RAZ: Yeah. It's starts with this kind of high and low frequency percussion. And you get that - kind of the bass tones coming in. And then we hear snippets, just loop snippets of Laura's voice.


RAZ: And then all of the sudden just, bam, we hear her sing that first line.


ULTRAISTA: (Singing) Holding off she breaks down in blue...

GODRICH: Beautifully set, though.


GODRICH: I was with you that day.

BETTINSON: Oh, yeah.

GODRICH: I was (unintelligible) up into the (unintelligible)...

BETTINSON: (Unintelligible).


ULTRAISTA: (Singing) Holding off she breaks down in blue. I'm gonna wait right here for what you wanna do baby the love hurts, don't...

RAZ: The lyrics are sometimes indecipherable. And when they aren't, they're still pretty hard to comprehend. To understand them, you have to reconsider the band's name, Ultraista. The ultraists had a manifesto. And its very first rule - reduction of the lyric element to its primordial element: metaphor.

GODRICH: That is the way that the, you know, the words were brought together in the cut and paste. You know, we sat and played word games with each other and talked about how it's as relevant today - probably more...


GODRICH: ...than it was then. It was about, you know, just throwing away stuff that's old and trying to make something new.


ULTRAISTA: (Singing) Not gonna sing unless my body's holding on.

RAZ: That's producer Nigel Godrich. His new band, Ultraista, just released its self-titled debut album. And this weekend only, you can stream every track for free at our website,


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