Without a doubt, dance diva extraordinaire Ultra Nate’ — who invented sexy long before Justin Timberlake ever thought about bringing it back — has been one of the hardest working dance music performing artists since her UK debut in 1989 with “It’s Over Now."
Beginning her career on a major label (Warner Bros. Records), Nate’ took a path almost directly oppositional to that most established performers (especially in the dance world) undertake. From that point, almost every one of her singles went straight to the top ten on the dance charts. It was clear that Ultra Nate’ was a soulful force to be reckoned with. She even made significant mainstream crossover success with her classic 1990s dance crossover smash, "Free."
She is also remembered in America for her team-up with Amber and Jocelyn Enriquez as "Stars on 54" on a 1998 cover of "If You Could Read My Mind", which was also a mainstream American hit. It reached #52 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and #3 on the Billboard Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart.
Now, with the release of “Grime, Silk, Thunder” on Tommy Boy/Silver Label Records, Nate’ is celebrating 18 successful years with some of her best work ever. Ultra Nate’ — who was named after the perfume Jean Nate’ —has combined her uplifting, body moving soulful underground house music with slick but sturdy pop styling that mixes like chocolate and peanut-butter in a tasty, soul-shaking package.
In a recent exclusive interview with O&AN, Ultra Nate’ took a few minutes out of her studio time — she virtually lives in the studio these days — to talk about the release of “Grime, Silk, Thunder” and what the future holds for the phenomenal entertainer. For more on Ultra Nate’ check out her MySpace page and her Web site www.myspace.com/ultranatemusic or www.ultranate.com.
O&AN: Congratulations on all the strong positive response to “Grime, Silk, Thunder." I saw the video for the Pointer Sisters cover “Automatic” directed by the amazing Karl Giant and I was blown away! I don’t know who was sexier…you or those hot actors!
Ultra: *Laughs* Why thank you! The actors in that video really had to come through for us and I feel like they did in spades! That video probably had less drama than I have ever had to deal with on a shoot. It only really took about ten hours and the cast were all very cool to work with. We had great camera people who did exceptional work and that helped to keep the atmosphere as relaxed as possible. Karl and I worked on the entire concept including costuming, make-up and everything else for months in advance so we were very well prepared to make it happen. The fan feedback has been intensely positive so I feel like we were successful.
O&AN: This album seems to be a sort of monument for you as an artist. I say that because it’s obvious from the vast attention to detail on every aspect of the release that you were very hands-on from the beginning on this project. Why was this release so important to you at this point in your career?
Ultra: This album represents a lot of things for me. It represents a lot of changes and evolutions in the music industry and personally as a business person, in that I have started my own label (Peacebisquit) and this is my first label effort produced in tandem with Tommy Boy. It’s a position that I have never been in before. This album is about survival and experimentation. It’s about pushing the envelope and challenging seemingly established boundaries. It’s really a clash of elements musically set in the backdrop of being in this business for eighteen years and having completed five albums previously and all of the growth and change that happens within someone on a personal and professional level in that setting.
O&AN: Being someone who has gone from a major label to now being an independent musician in your own right as well as having the perspective 18 years of work affords, what do you feel has been the most noticeable change in the industry since 1989 when you made your debut?
Ultra: In America the biggest difference in the music industry from when I first started out is the level of support that any said artist gets at the major record labels. When I was starting out the majors were paying attention to soulful underground house music and dance music in general and were really helping to create great avenues in order to get the music out there to the masses. There was a lot more support for new music and a considerable increase in the opportunities to network. I really do not see that kind of infrastructure in the business any longer and that is a very unfortunate thing to witness. It’s still pretty early in the game with my partnership with Tommy Boy, but I have had experience previously working with them when I did the “If You Could Read My Mind” single with the Stars on 54 Project. When the deal first started I pretty much already knew everyone there so it was a very organic experience.
O&AN: You have been sequestered in the studio for what seems like forever now. Since “Grime, Silk, Thunder” is out now do you see yourself slowing down your pace at all?
Ultra: I am very, very busy every day. It is totally true what they say about there being no rest for the weary. I’ve already lived with these songs for a hot minute even now with “Grime, Silk & Thunder” coming out I am already hard at work on new album material for the next project. With every project that I take on unforeseen opportunities evolve out of that work. It’s just a matter of being creative and making the music that I want to make and building my label so that at one point maybe I’ll be completely self-contained and efficient. I currently also have another label named Sugar Music, which I use to help out other artists. I currently have two artists signed who have albums out in the UK (Lisa Mack and Jada). I’m always planting little seeds and creating new possibilities with every step.
O&AN: You’ve been spending a lot of time behind the mixing board as a producer lately. Which do you prefer: performing or producing?
Ultra: I am a bit of a chameleon in that I not only change my look a lot but I also change my roles and what hat I happen to be wearing depending on what I’m doing at the time. I have a club in Baltimore that I do every week called Sugar that is four years old now. I’ve been traveling globally as a DJ for over five years along with performing as a singer for the past eighteen. No matter what hat I’m wearing, I always do my best no matter what hat I happen to have on at the time. Performing is probably the easiest part of what I do. It has always been my natural inclination. The production aspect evolved from having been in the business for so long and learning to get more adept at how you want something to sound or feel. However, I am equally comfortable in either of those situations.