His 1999 debut, 'The Now Sound of Ursula 1000' on Thievery Corporation’s DC-based ESL Records announced its space age bachelor pad aesthetic by appropriating Pucci’s iconic Braniff stewardesses for his cover art. The album itself was an infectious mashup of lounge disco and chill tropicana. Since then, he’s released over a dozen albums and EPs, several singles and turned in remixes for Felix the Housecat, The Pinker Tones, Thunderball, and Federico Aubele and Mocean Worker who turn up with Lady Bunny and Puddles Pity Party, on his new album, 'Voyeur'. 'Voyeur' is out on 30th October via his own badass sounding imprint, Insect Queen.
We rang up Alex in Brooklyn the other night to find out more about the Insect Queen, the state of ESL Records, and what the now sound of Ursula 1000 sounds like now.
Why is your record label called Insect Queen? It sounds like a sci-fi character or like she’s touring with Gwar.
Ursula 1000: “I have no idea. I thought it sounded like a cool name for a band actually. I liked the vagueness to it. I can see a gothic heavy metal record being put out on a label like that, as well as my own stuff.”
What’s going on with ESL?
“Last year I was pretty much in limbo. A lot of people at ESL records were feeling like it wasn’t officially done but it kind of was. A lot of people were trying to get their catalogs back. I’m not sure why, so I can’t say, but it felt like the place was kind of running itself for a while.”
You have a wide range of tags pegged to your music — lounge, tropical, daytime disco, on and on. What do you think of all the sub-genres and how they’re applied to your music?
“I tour as a DJ so I get turned on to all kinds of stuff. Every so often someone comes up when I’m spinning and says, “Ooh, what was that ‘some-new-genre-house’ thing you just played?” and they’ll use some term I’ve never heard. And I think “I didn’t even know I had that type of record or that I was playing that kind of stuff.” If I had to put a label on this, I’d say it’s got an indie-dance/nu-disco thing going on.”
The camp and kitsch that has been associated with you is a bit more subdued on this album. It’s still fun, but it feels a bit more refined. Are you growing up?
“God, I hope not. I don’t want to grow up. I’m a perpetual teenager. With this album I can’t help but think of a fan base that likes that and expects that kind of stuff. This album definitely has a little of the retro future thing, and it also ends with it with “The Shadow of Your Smile” by Puddles. In between everything is more of the stuff I’ve been into lately - daytime disco, kind of tropical feeling, very summery feeling. My stuff, I would hope, has always had some kind of sophistication and didn’t come across like a cheap joke. You don’t want to be so pastiche that it sounds like an unreleased late ‘80s acid track.”
Are you not using samples much now?
“One thing I like is the sound of a sample, so what I do is record myself and sample myself and deconstruct it so it sounds found. It covers your butt legally, too. There’s something about that psychedelic pastiche that I’ve always liked, whether it’s Deee-Lite or Coldcut or anything from the golden age of hip-hop, I love sound collages.”
'Faded Denim Wash', the album, and art have more of a ‘70s/’80s vibe this time around. What feeling were you going for?
“It’s a summery state of mind. That track encapsulated that feeling I had, a classic West Coast vibe, sunsets, slow-motion disco. Even with the album cover, I was looking at a lot of late ‘80s compilations - “Electro Volume 1”, some of the artwork from some of early Face magazines, that kind of stuff, a lot of tight, geometric features. I was fooling around with that and then my designer friend Brian Hill took my ideas and reconfigured them.”
Speaking of denim, let’s have a Barbara Walters moment. If you were a designer jean, which one would you be?
“I would probably hop into a time machine and go to the Fiorucci store in like 1980 and dig in the racks.”
Voyeur is out 30th October on Insect Queen. 'The Faded Denim Wash' 12” with remixes is out 8th September.