Jul 25, 2012 10:21 AM WV Sound
Keeping a beat in the Mountain State
Fairmont-based nine-piece soul band The Ultimatums formed in 2006 hoping to add new life to the local music/bar scene with a variety of instruments and musicians. The Ultimatums’ sound includes guitar, bass, drums, baritone sax, tenor sax, two trumpet players, keyboards, and the soulful and powerful vocals of Ultimatums founder and lead singer Michael Stewart. “I more or less tagged the most talented people I knew who were also easy to get along with to be in this band,” Michael says. “It's been six years of three-hour practices every week and countless hours of recording, mixing, promotion, and beer drinking; and I love every minute of it—almost as much as I love the awesome musicians I’ve had the pleasure to perform with.”
With an album recorded at Squirrel Sound in Morgantown, the band is excited for people to hear what they’ve been diligently working on for several years. The album will be available on iTunes, Amazon, and through the Ultimatums’ website. “We'll also release The Ultimatums album on vinyl and CD. We recorded 98 percent of it at Squirrel Sound with Robert Bowers, who was awesome to work with,” Michael says.
So how does a nine-piece soul band even begin to write its songs? Michael says he used to have the songs completely written and arranged himself, including horn music, and he would bring the songs to practice for the group to learn its parts. But now the group has evolved to write songs collaboratively.
“I get an idea and chart out the chords and lyrics and we arrange the whole thing at rehearsal. The horns pretty much write their own parts now as well as the rhythm section. Every idea that is voiced gets tried and voted on, so everybody can have ownership of the song,” Michael says.
Being a tight-knit group of friends doesn’t hurt The Ultimatums’ songwriting abilities either. The enthusiasm that all of the members have for their music resonates at their live performances, and they draw a crowd of dancers and onlookers almost immediately from their first song. The band’s performance at this year’s Arts Alive Festival in Morgantown was one of those shining moments with an audience of all ages crowding into the Hazel Ruby McQuain Amphitheater for an afternoon performance.
“My favorite thing about being in The Ultimatums is that they are all really good guys. We’re more or less a family now. The other thing is, as a songwriter, I can bring them anything and they know exactly how to serve the song. We’re all very honest and forward about criticism, too. If the song is laboring, they let me know. There are no egos. We strive to make each song the best it can be for us first in an effort to be able to get behind it for the audience. If you don’t think what you’re doing is badass, then neither will your audience,” Michael says.
With more performances under their belts at 123 Pleasant Street in Morgantown, Arts Alive, and PJ Kelly’s in Clarksburg, The Ultimatums are gaining momentum in the North Central West Virginia music scene. “A lot of venues have opened up to us this summer, and we’re excited to expand our audience. We believe we’re doing something out of the ordinary stylistically and we are trying to get it to as many people as possible,” Michael says.
See The Ultimatums:
Saturday, August 4, with Black Coffee, 123 Pleasant Street, Morgantown