GENERALLY SPEAKING, most folks spend the bulk of their lives listening to the music that soundtracked their formative years. This phenomenon of human nature is what we have to thank for the easygoing '60s vibe that pulses through Ultimate Painting's endlessly listenable pop songs.
"I grew up listening to stuff [my parents] grew up listening to... the Beach Boys, Dylan, the Beatles, Buddy Holly," says James Hoare from a recent tour stop in North Carolina. "My parents weren't really that up to date. I wasn't really ever exposed to, like, '80s pop music. My parents never updated their record collection after buying records when they were quite young."
Like the music from Hoare's childhood home in the UK, Ultimate Painting sounds like it comes from another time. The band's two albums—2014's self-titled and this year's Green Lanes, both released by Trouble in Mind Records—are packed wall-to-wall with beautifully crafted paeans to the way music used to sound. Imagine a heavy-lidded summit between the Beatles and the Velvet Underground, with an occasional incursion by Television's guitar heroics and Dylan's various "talkin' blues" songs, and you have a snapshot of Ultimate Painting's aesthetic.
"The '60s are still my favorite era," Hoare says. "And Jack grew up listening to a lot of the same stuff. Our parents are the same age."
Jack is Jack Cooper, Hoare's partner in Ultimate Painting. The two met when two of their other bands toured together a few years back. Hoare is a member of Veronica Falls, and Cooper is in Mazes—two of England's best indie-pop/rock bands of the past few years. Ultimate Painting is poised to join them.
Three weeks on the road together resulted in Hoare and Cooper drinking beer and talking about common musical interests. Eventually, the two agreed to record together upon returning home to London. Often, those kinds of late-night barstool plans never quite materialize, Hoare says. But in this case, very little stood in the way: The two get along well, they live a 10-minute walk apart, and Hoare can record in his flat with no studio costs or time constraints.
The musical relationship bloomed from there. "We thought we'd record a 7-inch for fun, like a song each. And then we recorded two songs and we thought we'd do an EP," Hoare says. "And then we were like, 'Fuck it, we'll do an album.'"
Hoare and Cooper are recording enthusiasts; they had no plans for Ultimate Painting to become a touring live band. So when the debut album came out last year, there wasn't much anticipation or buildup. Ultimate Painting dropped quietly, but people began to catch on. "An unexpected pleasure," wrote Q magazine.
Things are different this time around. Crowds are bigger, and more LPs are selling at the merch table, according to Hoare. Veronica Falls and Mazes aren't necessarily over, but they "aren't so active," he says. Ultimate Painting is the duo's focus now, not just because it's easy, but because it works.
"It wasn't like after we discussed [playing together] I was like, 'I've met my McCartney!' I'm not saying that makes me Lennon, but whatever," Hoare says with a laugh. "But at the same time, I did think this definitely could be promising. It was very nice to meet someone who I could make the kind of music with that I've been wanting to make for a long time."