Rock In A Hard Place: The Ultra bring country style and swagger to Boston


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Boston is long past the point where it’s at all surprising for a country-leaning rock band to break out. The scenes building up at places like Loretta’s Last Call on Lansdowne and State Park in Cambridge have built up a groundswell of a unified sound and vibe, and artists like Dalton & The Sheriffs, Chris Moreno, and Jenna Lotti are adding their own Boston-based style to a genre normally associated with Nashville.

The latest entry to all this is Boston quartet The Ultra, who today unleash a electric and whipsmart self-titled EP that’s all sorts of impressive and inviting. Led by 24-year-old frontman Alec MacGillivray, The Ultra may be known by those who toil and make trouble in country circles, but the breakout potential here among more pop- and hard rock-leaning tastes is intriguing.

“The Ultra started as a fun idea that we never thought would happen,” MacGillivray tells Vanyaland. “We were playing shows as a country band and having some success, and we would always joke about what would happen if we wrote rock songs together. We all grew up with huge rock influences and it’s still our favorite kind of music.”

As life was pulling the band in different directions, both musically and as people, MacGillivray says an impromptu writing session that birthed “Lights Go Down” in a single take helped crystallize a vision. It’s a confident, swagger-fueled song that has mega-hit written all over it. “When we finished, we felt this tangible electric energy in the room that none of us had ever felt before,” he adds. “It was the kind of feeling, I think, you chase your whole life — and it was addicting. I think that night we knew that the band was very soon going to become everybody’s number one priority.”

Part of the charm of The Ultra’s new EP is that while it dabbles in county vibes, there’s enough polish here to cross over to mainstream appeal, made all the more impressive when considering the four-song EP was self-produced by the band in drummer Shaq Druyan’s basement space. From “Lights Go Down” kicking it off to the arena-rock ambition of closer “Sea Full Of Faces,” there’s a tangible force brewing here.

“Honestly, our goal and vision for the EP was just to make something that we loved and create the music that we wanted to hear,” MacGillivray says. “We wanted to make music that, even if we weren’t in the band, we would want to listen to. We took the process very seriously, but we never took ourselves too seriously. There were no rules for what we could or couldn’t do sonically or in songwriting. The more ‘out there’ the idea, the more excited we were to try it. We just really had a fun time making music we are really proud of.”

And the Boston roots really shine through on a track like “The Level,” a towering pop-rock anthem that could easily fill the air of any outdoor festival this summer. It’s almost what we’d expect from a bunch of dudes raised on Aerosmith and making music in 2018, especially now that Steven Tyler has chased his country dream. But even these genre labels we’re throwing around in this article hardly tell the full story, as the core of The Ultra really boils down to the songwriting and the intensity and emotion in each track. It’s musical craftsmanship at its finest.

“Genre is a very loose idea these days,” MacGillivray notes, “it’s ‘whatever sounds good is cool.’ It’s an exciting time to be a band… First and foremost, we consider ourselves a live band, we are at our best on a stage in front of a crowd. So as long as there are people attending concerts and looking to rock out, we’ll be ready for them.”

Hopefully the world is ready for The Ultra.

Featured Ultra photo by Mary Slowey, courtesy of the band.