Q&A: USS (NWA, ASPARAGUS, TOURING JAPAN + MORE)



Ubiquitous Synergy Seeker - the eclectic electronic alt-rock outfit, first made waves on 102.1 The Edge with their debut single "Hollow Point Sniper Hyperbole" in 2008. The Toronto-based duo have since maintained a steady presence on the airwaves across the country and are an absolute must-see live show.

They began touring in support of NWA the day prior to its release and have just one Canadian date left before heading to Japan with Simple Plan this October. We caught up with Jason and Ash to talk about their new album, touring Japan and everything in between before their set at RiverFest Elora.

Before USS became the collective genius it is today, they were just Jason and Ash - two guys who met while working on a golf course. Jason shared an "exclusive Ash story" from the summer of 2004 before they joined forces and created USS.

"Summer of '04 in Unionville - at this bar called Jake's On Main. I'm sitting on the patio with two friends of mine and Ash walks by and recognizes me, because we had met at the golf course a few months earlier. He knew that I was a DJ guy and I knew he was a band guy. He sat down at our table - didn't even say hi, and said that he was up at the Unionville Public Library and that he figured out, in his readings, what the chemical is in asparagus that makes your urine smell. Ash chimed in "Mercaptan." "The two women I was sitting with were like 'who is this guy?'" continued Jason, "and I was like 'I don't know, but we should start a band." 

Following three EPs and one full-length project, USS returned earlier this year with a remarkable new album titled New World Alphabet. The band continue to reach new heights with three recent chart-topping radio singles, a recently released video for their track "California Medication" and an upcoming tour overseas.

Q: You recently released New World Alphabet, can you describe the overall album and how it is similar or different to your past work?


Ash: "We wrote half of it in California and half of it in Ontario and it's funny - the first half was recorded in California and the second half was recorded in Ontario, so there's a point where salt water and fresh water meet -"

Jason: "Brackish"

Ash: "- you can actually hear the point."

Jason: "In Florida, the American crocodile lives in brackish waters. So, you can describe the album as the American crocodile."

Ash: "It crosses the threshold between fresh water and salt water - which are both hospitable for different reasons."


Q: Can you tell us about your latest single "California Medication"?


Jason: "It's a sunny sentiment. It's a sunny moment we had as a band in the summertime in Canada."

Ash: "It's also a testament to one's own goal-setting. I want to be a person who offers help more than a person who asks for help. It's like saying you want to be the lighthouse instead of lost at sea. So that song kind of sets that intention into motion."

Ash: "We did a video for 'California Medication' which is the first time I've ever really danced before. I was clinically depressed that day and we had to film the sunniest music video and I just woke up in a Leonard Cohen after world, so I had that going for me."


Q: Who or what else inspired NWA?


Jason: "Electronic music - new and old. 80's pop,  90s grunge, Oasis -"

Ash: "- a lot of Oasis."

Jason: "- Fatboy Slim, Gangstar. Ash goes to a waterfall and we have a song the next day."

Ash: "The first half of our album - in the same one week stretch, we got to be in the mountains, the ocean, the desert, the woods. I think that having all four seasons at the same time just created this neat sense of balance."


Q: What are your personal favourite songs on the new album?


Jason: "I'm going to go out there and say "Us."

Ash: "Right now I'm in this Ke$ha vibe - because on her new album she's tapped into something else and into some other place, so I'm going to go with "Alien" because I can relate."


Q: What is the role - and importance, of radio in the ever-changing trends of music consumption?


Jason: "For listeners, to this day, it appears to us that people listen to radio because, to them, it legitimizes music - especially in alternative rock and in our country in particular. We get it because we have fans that tuned into Y108 or, of course, 102.1 The Edge - it's the reason why we have a fan base in Western New York. People still think of radio as the marker of you making it - which to some degree it is. It still blows our minds when we hear our first single "Hollow Point Sniper Hyperbole" all the way to "California Medication" on the biggest rock station in Canada. We never take it for granted because it gave us the lifeline to our life force that is our music and the live experience. It's extremely important to us, albeit, we do believe strongly in Spotify and in YouTube because that's how younger generations of fans are finding music now. Spotify has had a huge presence for us and also allowed us to see where people are listening to our music."

Ash: "Inherently we are social creatures and a lot of the times our inner monologue isn't very positive because evolution made us more pessimistic and that helps us survive to be negative. We don't need that to survive like we used to, so radio is a pretty positive way to just listen to something other than your own inner dialogue. Songs are your friends and you like hanging out with your friends! It's good to have friends."


Q: What changes and/or growth have you noticed in the Canadian music industry since the beginning of USS?


Jason: "You see it a lot in the United States because American and British bands tend to create their own waves and then everyone rides it and then there's bands and artists on the fringe that are their own thing in Canada."

Ash: "The alternative rock and roll department of the school of Canadian music is incredible right now. It might be in its finest form since the 90s when incredible bands like Treble Charger, Hayden, Lowest of the Low and Sloan were massive."

Jason: "And now you've got Arkells, July Talk, Mother Mother - all at their primes right now."

Ash: "What a phenomenal bunch of colleagues."

Jason: "The Arkells and July Talk sold out the Budweiser Stage in less than a day. Giant Canadian bands that do arenas couldn't do that."

Ash: "Everyone goes 'man, this is so amazing, all the music that's coming out of Canada,' talking about The Weeknd, Justin Bieber and Shawn Mendes - and that's one vein of music and in alternative and rock music, there is an equally phenomenal group of people writing great, melodic music."


Q: Do you have any favourite Canadian artists?


Jason: "Last September, we were in Germany and saw July Talk and they just blew our socks off. Mother Mother will always have a special place in our collective hearts because, not only did we tour Canada with them but we became very close friends with them. Arkells got onto the radio in 2008 - the same time we did, so it's interesting that we're both still doing it because there are a lot of artists that came up with us that have fallen by the wayside or formed new bands. It takes a lot of patience where you can get to a level that you can still be relevant and keep playing live for your fans. It's really neat to see people that stick around."


Q: You have an upcoming tour with fellow Canadians Simple Plan, how stoked are you to be going on tour in Japan?


Jason: "It's crazy. We're still just like 'okay, the universe wants us to do this.' When we announced the show, instantly we got followers from Japan and it's just because their fan base is like a cult following."

Ash: "The first thing that I thought when our manager let us know, I wondered if they put as much aspartame in their pickled ginger."

Jason: "That's what he thought of."

Ash: "Because I love pickled ginger and I went to J-Town - a Japanese supermarket in Markham, and they sell pickled ginger in big, enormous bags. It was heavily aspartamed."


Q: Are there any other artists you are interested in collaborating or touring with?


Jason: "The recurring theme for us, with a current band that's actually gigantic - whom we've often been told we'd be a perfect match with is Twenty One Pilots."

Ash: "And K. Flay."

Jason: "We saw her in Vienna and we played the same stage as her - we were just captivated. Ash went and introduced himself and brought her over and she's the same on stage as she is in person - which is a really hard thing to pull off for a lot of artists."

Ash: "And her issue with pickled ginger is sucralose while mine is more with aspartame but we sort of meet in the artificial sweetener-based preference in pickled ginger."


Q: Is there anything else you'd like to add?


Ash: "We couldn't be happier to be anywhere than where we are right now."



Tidal

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