A Personal Interview

Not Just Any Brtish Boyband

Ultra, the newest British boyband to hit the popwaves, isn't just any boyband. Lead vocalist James Hearn tells Nina Ti the secret behind being a real deal

Aug. 18, 1998 Kuala Lumpur -- The moment the word 'boyband' leaves my mouth, I am sure Ultra will be cross. The tag's been given to lots of bands, apparently some have turned out to be manufactured slap-ups.
So when lead vocalist James Hearn says he considers the tag flattering for his group, I know Ultra is throwing caution to the wind. "It's a pity that most boybands are trying to get rid of it. The tag is quite complimentary, actually. There's a certain amount of hype surrounding all boybands and some of it can be damaging. But if you think about it, even the Beatles were once a boyband. Just that in their time they were called something else."
This is Hearn, 21, speaking over the phone in a purring brogue that has the strange effect of stroking and calming my nerves. Halfway through, he pulls out the telephone cord by accident and disconnects us. I call back immediately, and we pretend to accuse each other of hanging up.
"Do you find us appealing?" Hearn suddenly asks. I mumble some vague answer that doesn't amuse him at all. "I find this interview flattering because we never expect people to find us vaguely appealing," he adds. "Our success comes from our songs, not our looks. And since you asked, we're not 'manufactured' because we've been together since school. Some manager didn't put us together. We put us together."
We in this case, is the strikingly photogenic Hearn, and his friends Michael Harwood (guitar), Nick Keynes (bass guitar) and Jon O'Mahony (drums and percussion).
Michael Harwood, 22, is the mystery man of the group. Dark and thoughtful, he's known to think that "the hype's all rubbish" and that having good music is all that should matter.
"We're not obsessed to be famous," Harwood offers during a press conference. "And we won't pretend to be amazingly deep. Pop is to put a smile on your face, and that's all we want to do."
Their first single 'Say You Do' seems to have done just that. Recently Ultra climbed higher on the charts with 'Say It Once' and 'The Right Time', songs that the lads from Buckinghamshire penned in their spare time.
But celebrity has also brought things they haven't needed. Hearn recalls an embarrassing episode last year when a 16-year-old English fan suddenly got off her chair, ran right up to the stage and pulled her top off. "She flashed us," Hearn gasps, adding that although the song skipped a few beats, the show went on.
In concerts, Ultra has supported former Eternal member Louise Nurding for a performance at Wenbley, Irish pop-Svengalis Boyzone in 1997 and recently 911. As a group they admire such performers as Supergrass and The Corrs for writing really good music, and Beatles and Genesis for being classics.
"I listen to a lot of Peter Gabriel, although my other friends laugh at me," Hearns reveals. "They think it's fairground music. But I love the ten-minute songs, the key changes and weird time signatures."
When asked, Hearn resists the notion that there's some big message behind choosing a name like Ultra, despite the allusions used by the press for reviews on the group. "We're not Spice Girls, where the name is supposed to be some kind of tactical game," he says. "We chose Ultra while ruffling through loads of other names! Before, we used to call ourselves Decade and once we were Just Like Clockwork. We don't surf, but we even tried a name called Suburban Surfers. It was a running joke for us really. We just kept changing names."
Apparently the rave-sounding Ultra has stuck, for now. The boys have promised to last this one out. "This sounds like a terrible cliché, but Ultra will be around for as long as people still want us." Will they still be a boyband five years from now? "I don't see why not," Hearn says quickly, on the other side of the line I hear members of his band entering his room, and they're gadding about some joke. "The reason why boybands fall apart in the first place is because they're put together by managers and songwriters. We're vastly different - first and foremost, we were friends." And that's the way they're going to stay.

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Catch some interesting reports for groups 911, Take 5 and 98 Degrees.

Web Links
Ultra's Official Site
Eastwest Records

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