The Musicroom blog caught up with new ukulele pop duo, The Ukuleles, to talk about the release of their debut self-titled album and accompanying DVD tutorial songbook, available to order now from Musicroom.com!
Over the last few weeks the band have been appearing on the sofas of chat shows and breakfast TV, performing their versions of tracks such as Call Me Maybe, Forget You, Rolling In The Deep, Move’s Like Jagger and Pricetag.
The Ukuleles are currently supporting the chart-topping group The Soliders on their latest UK tour.
Hi Martha and Logan! So how did The Ukuleles get started?
Logan: It was just a chance meeting really. I’d seen Martha play down at the Great Escape festival in Brighton. She was doing a bit of stuff with the uke and I thought “that’s cool because I’m doing a bit of uke stuff as well” so we met up and had a little jam.
Were you both solo ukulele performers beforehand?
L: Yeah, and we both play guitar as well.
Martha: We both do our own stuff don’t we, writing and recording.
L: The Ukuleles started as a great little side project and has now grown to take over from everything else really.
M: It’s been a great experience so far!
How did you both approach arranging and selecting songs for the new album?
L: Some of them were obvious.
M: Like Train…
L: Yeah, and Hey Soul Sister, Noah and the Whale…
M: They’re songs that everyone will know, and usually the more commercial ones have easy chords too. Because we also want to teach people about the ukulele as well, it’s good to give them songs to learn that they already know.
L: I think it’s great to “pick the hits” and many of them are fun to work out too. With there were a few songs we chose that we’re just on adverts, you know, just fun little songs like You Make Me Happy. I’d just hear them on an advert and think “that’s quite ukulele-y!” [laughs]
What do you think makes a good ukulele song?
L: I think anything actually! Literally anything. It’s surprising really, literally anything. At the moment, we’re working on a version of Enter Sandman.
M: I’ve never really heard a sad ukulele song. I think ukulele songs tend to be happy. You can’t really write a sad song on the ukulele. It doesn’t work!
L: They are a happy, happy little instrument. I think it was Louden Wainwright who said that “every baby that’s born should be given a ukulele, so that there would be no war, just lots of terrible songs!” [laughs]
What were your favourite songs to record for the album?
L: That’s difficult actually. I’m liking Forget You because of what we did with it. We turned it into more of a conversation between the two of us, because we tried to make most of the songs into duets. That one’s come together quite well. I like the ones you [Martha] sing actually. Bizarrely they’re the ones I know best!
M: I don’t really know if I have a favourite. I quite like Rolling in the Deep, I think that’s a good one – it work’s well! And Somewhere Over The Rainbow – it’s a ukulele classic. Got to have a few classics in there!
L: A friend of mine got married a couple of years ago, and that was what he wanted me to do – play that version of the song – so I was already familiar with it.
When did the idea come about to use your music to help people pick up and learn the ukulele for themselves?
L: When we started putting the album together it was suggested that we do some tutorials because of how popular the ukulele has become and how many people would want to learn the songs.
M: I don’t think people realise how easy they are to play if you practice and have a bit of a sense of music.
L: Yeah, or if you’ve tried to play the guitar thought “oh no, this is too hard”, you might think the same about the ukulele, but it’s not. It’s really easy!
Why do you think the ukulele has become so popular in schools in recent years?
L: Well recorders are irritating aren’t they! [laughs]
M: And you can sing and play ukulele. You can’t do that with a recorder!
Could we maybe be seeing a Blur/Oasis ukulele and recorder rivalry with another band?
M: [laughs] Yeah, maybe!
L: Ukuleles can shout louder can’t they! I remember my little sister doing classical guitar lessons when she was at school and she was about eight or nine, and they were trying to make her play some difficult stuff. She’d be like “I can’t play an F”. An F – that’s the hardest chord to play on a classical acoustic guitar, especially when you’re small!
M: Also, I think the type of songs you get taught on a recorder or clarinet are really different to ones on ukulele. You tend to be taught more contemporary songs on ukulele whereas clarinet and recorder it’s older tunes.
L: Like Three Blind Mice – you can’t really play songs on a recorder. I tried to learn a load of songs by The Beatles on recorder but ended up just working out the chords and playing them on guitar. [laughs]
How did you go about writing the original tracks on the album?
L: One of my songs is on there that I’ve had around for a while. We’ve done a new version of that that’s gone on there. The lead was always an acoustic guitar part so it was just a case of playing it on a couple of ukes.
Who are your favourite artists?
M: I have to say Jack Johnson.
L: I like a bit of Jack Johnson. I like Billy Joel and a lot of the classic like that – The Rivers of Dreams is a great song to play on the uke! I’ve always been a massive Neil Finn, Crowded House fan, and before hand and after, Del Ametri – they were a big influence on me. Still like a bit of Dave Matthews too – all those sorts of people – too many to mention really! I’ve never really had a favourite song or a favourite movie or a favourite anything. I think it’s a bit a limiting to do that because any you have as a favourite, you can’t have it for too long or you’d get bored sick of it.
I remember the Del Ametri Scottish football song…
L: Don’t Come Home Too Soon. That was a great song!
Are there any other plans on the horizon for The Ukuleles besides the album and the songbook?
L: We have to see how it’s all received really. I mean, we’ll do whatever it takes and if people like what we do and want more of it then we’ll see what happens! A lot of people out there are musicians too these days though and they might get us completely wrong.
M: That’s what we’re trying to stay away from, because you’re always going to be associated with selling out by some people.
L: Because we’re doing an album of covers I think we’re going to risk being tainted by that brush, but then with the idea was bringing it all into the educational side to it, and you don’t want to give people songs that make them say, “Why do I want to pick that up and play that? I don’t even like that!” A ukulele jazz odyssey for beginners, it’s not going to happen is it? [laughs]
What was your favourite part of creating the album?
M: For me it was recording because I’ve never actually done a proper recording of anything before! It was really weird hearing my voice like.
L: Well you’ve done a lot of stuff on YouTube and home recording…
M: Yeah, but it’s not really the same sort of level, with a high-end microphone!
L: Yeah, it is cool when you get on a decent mic. Martha was great though – came in and recorded everything in literally two takes – the first of which were fine so we just ended up doing some more for spares! [laughs] She’s a naturally very good singer though so she’ll hopefully be doing more singing and I don’t mind doing more of the playing – back here up!
M: Yeah, you’re definitely better at ukulele!
Will you be doing more tours in the future?
L: Again, that’d down to how well it’s received. If people want us to play more shows then by all means we’ll do it!
M: It’d be really fun.
L: At the Musicroom showcase that we played, we taught every guest and audience member at the show how to play a song. They all got a free ukulele, learned their parts and then we played along. I thought it was great – everyone came away being able to play a song by the end on their own, free ukulele.
What other artists or songs would you like to cover or work next?
L: Definitely, there’s hundreds.
…apart from Enter Sandman of course!
M: I love it when people cover things and completely mix up songs.
L: Yeah, like the Alien Ant Farm version of Smooth Criminal. I think it’s great to take something and twist it – AC/DC have got Hayseed Dixie for example. When I heard them I thought that it worked really well and the songs almost lent themselves to being played that way. It’s often the more unlikely the better! That’s why I think something like Enter Sandman would be great. You could even make it heavy! If you recorded enough parts, detune them…
Can you drop D a ukulele?
L: You can! I drop tuned mine for a song on the album in fact, and you can pretty much do anything that you’d want to do with a guitar – put it through a distortion pedal if you wanted to – it’s quite interesting. We might do something more like that if we look at doing another album!
Check out The Ukulele’s cover of Cee Lo Green’s Forget You below:
How many different types of ukuleles did you use on the album?
L: There was a guy who came in to play some uke bass because we play soprano. It sounded great.
M: Yeah I really liked the sound of it – a really big, fat sound.
L: There’s some tenors and baritones on there as well.
Just to fatten it out and make it sound fuller?
L: Yeah, it does and there was quite a bit of difference afterwards. I sent in a load of recordings I’d done and then when I heard it back I was like, “Oh! It’s a bit bigger now!”
Could you be taking a full ukulele band with you on your next tour to pad things out and bring that fuller sound to the stage?
L: Maybe. I think with and Martha both playing soprano ukes, it’d be quite nice to get a tenor on board. Then, when we play together, we can get different sounds. I think there’s also talk of taking a uke bass and percussionist out with us too to keep it nice and simple.
Are there any makes of ukulele that you prefer to play?
M: I really like Kala. I used to have a Kala that was painted like a Watermelon. That was amazing but I left it on a bus in Cambodia – I was quite sad!
Well at least you got a cool story out of it!
M: [laughs] Yeah, true! And someone’s probably playing and enjoying it for themselves now.
L: I’ve got a Tanglewood which has got a good sound and I’ve seen some other nice ones about like Fender and Epiphone have just brought out an authentic Les Paul ukulele model too!
Are you electro-acoustic ukulele players or acoustic?
M: Both of ours are electro-acoustic.
L: I think because we’ve always gone out gigging…
M: Yeah, the sound is just awful if you haven’t got an electro-acoustic. You just can’t hear it.
L: There’s nothing worse than miking up. You can’t move for a start.
M: And your hand can hit the microphone because it’s so close. Feedback…
L: Yeah, if you try and get into the song then suddenly boom! And the sound guy’s like “thanks!” [laughs]
M: I think electro-acoustic ones are brilliant, and you can just go straight into the PA.
Great! Well thanks for all your time and good luck with the album launch and tour!
L and M: Thanks!
Have you spotted The Ukuleles on your TV screens or heard them on the radio at all?
What do you think of the ukulele’s comeback as popular and widely played modern instrument?