New York funk musician and DJ Ursula 1000 has been bending genres for years, adding elements of spy tunes, Latin disco and retro soundtracks to his albums and live DJ shows around the world.
We caught up with Ursula 1000 while he was packing for overseas gigs and discussed his background, how his sound has evolved and the balance between playing live instruments and DJing. Catch his eclectic sounds and upbeat vibe on the dance floor March 2 at Public Works.
Ursula 1000 “Obscure Shoegaze Vol. 1” Mix
You’re getting ready to head to Germany for some shows tonight.
Yeah, I leave tonight. I’m just getting all my stuff ready to play a couple gigs there—one of those crazy weekends.
Out of all the countries in Europe, I actually hit Germany the most and am there or in Spain pretty often. My earlier records were inspired by what was happening in Japan and Germany at the time so they kind of got it before anyone else.
When you were younger you lived in New York and Miami. How did moving to a different city shape your music tastes at a young age?
I’m from New York but grew up in Miami Beach and even living down there I was still always tuned in to what was happening in Europe and England. Even though we were living in the tropics, among my friends every one’s mindset was on London, New York or Los Angeles.
Even though my parents are from Spain and I was in Miami with a Latin background, I don’t know if that came into play with my production.
You’re on the label ESL Music with artists like Thievery Corporation, Fort Knox Five and Afrolicious. How did you get linked up with them?
I was working on some demos when I was still living in Miami, getting ready to leave there and head to New York. I sent them out to some labels like Astralwerks and ESL. Even though ESL was more downtempo sound-wise, I thought aesthetically we had a similar vibe – album art, design and the soundtrack kind of style.
They dug the music immediately and wanted to put it out. My move from Miami to New York was all about polishing up the demos and getting my first album ready.
You’ve released several albums over the last 10 years. Have you seen your style change or have you maintained the same vibe throughout?
I started off initially with what I hesitate to call a 60s loungy sound – it was groovy and spy movie-like. I loved new wave, post-punk and 70s glam rock so a lot of those sounds started coming into my production too.
With this new album I’m going back to the 60s for inspiration but it’s less funky and a harder sound – more fuzz guitar and garage rock. I like so much stuff so it’s really evolved. It’s hard to make a record that sounds scatterbrained though.
Initially you were a drummer and then started DJing. Now you’re going back to playing instruments live. What made you change to DJing initially and why are you going back to your roots at this time?
I started off drumming because it’s a natural instrument for me; I was never confident as a guitar or keyboard player at the time. Even though I knew I had ideas, it was hard to get them across.
Through the years I’ve been teaching myself and thanks to technology you don’t have to go to some big studio to record instruments, you can do it all yourself. That made it a lot easier to get your ideas down – it’s not like you’re sitting with a guitar in a fancy studio with the clock ticking. A lot of it was feeling more confident with my playing.
I love DJing but for a couple years now I’ve been thinking about how cool it would be to present all my original stuff as a live band in a way that I’m not cheating the crowd. I’d want to build it up as a full band with bass guitar and drums. It also opens you up to festival crowds who aren’t really there to see a DJ, more to see live bands.
The club generation today is such a young crowd. Do you think they relate to your songs or is the retro feel more dedicated to an older crowd?
As a DJ I’m always looking for super brand new music and that’s a method that I incorporate into my DJ set. I feel like I still have a finger on that kind of pulse. Those sounds inevitably creep into my production as well.
For me it’s always been a nice challenge to pick at older vintage stuff and mix it into brand new, current sounds. People hear that in the music.
Your name is an ode to James Bond vixen Ursula Andress. What do you most have in common with Mr. Bond?
We both have specific tastes on things like drinks – creatures of habit with peculiar taste. He likes his martinis shaken, not stirred and I like my Campari and sodas.
Ursula 1000 will DJ along with Afrolicious and live percussion at Public Works this Friday, March 2. More info.