Interview with MJ Ultra

Sessions 58 presents LA based artist MJ Ultra.

MJ Ultra is an LA based alternative-R&B artist. He’s presently promoting his debut independent album, 'Ocean Drive', and he’s just completed an extensive European summer and fall tour in 2017. His music has been featured in multiple feature films and television shows. Most recently, he scored two original songs and music videos for Universal Pictures’ “Bring It On: Worldwide”, A Netflix Original “#RealityHigh”, Justin Timberlake’s “Friends With Benefits”, and Kevin James’ “Here Comes the Boom”. His music was twice featured on Dancing With the Stars and America’s Got Talent. His latest feature collaboration, “Black & White” for Barcelona-based DJ duo, Boxinlion, has amassed more than 14 million YouTube views and 8 million Spotify plays.

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We caught up for a chat and got to know him a little bit more.

LookingGlass: Hi MJ, thank you for catching up with us and welcome to London! Can you briefly introduce yourself and your music?

MJ Ultra: Hi, thank you! I’m a singer/songwriter from Pittsburgh, PA. I moved to LA to pursue an acting career and while I was on set of my first movie, I was bit by the music bug. After I got my first song in a major movie, I figured, “hell, maybe I can do this for a living.” My music pulls from all my early influences, with elements from soul, hip-hop, and folk. So it’s a nice blend of acoustic R&B and hip-hop. 

LG: How would you describe the London scene compared to the LA one? What’s the main influence and difference you can spot between the two?

MJU: It’s pretty easy to compare LA and London for me. LA is so saturated that people tend to try to compartmentalize you. So you have to really dig deep to find your niche and a community that supports you. I feel like London tends to have a more sophisticated ear. I almost peed when I heard Musiq Soulchild on the radio in London last year… and his old stuff. You’d never hear that in LA. Londoners seem to appreciate good music for what it is, as where Angelenos seem to yearn more for the “scene” that’s associated with your music. I think that’s why my favorite artists love to tour here. 

LG: Your music has been featured on screen a few times now,  what does it mean to you to create music for cinema?

MJU: I had an amazing year last year with the film and TV placements. I find that doing music for the screen is much easier than creating music for an album. They usually give you some kind of prompt, and a sound they are looking for. It’s fun because you end up creating music that you wouldn’t otherwise. For instance, I just cut a track for a movie that wanted some old school 90s rap verses and an En Vogue type chorus... it was awesome.

LG: Visuals have quite a relevant space in the music industry, how do you think it impacts the way we experience new music? 

MJU: Visuals are paramount. It’s almost a no-no to release music without an accompanying video or visual of some kind. Video killed the radio star, and it holds true even more today. I’m not totally happy that this is the reality, but at least it forces the artist to use another medium to express themselves.

LG: You scored some impressive collaborations in your career already, where do you set the bar to “success”?

MJU: I’ve worked with some wonderful people and I’m grateful for those opportunities. Success to me is being able to have my records hold their own, without a big name artist or producer attached to it.

LG: Tour-life can be quite stressful for artists as well as creatively productive, What’s your experience with being on the road? Do you have a fun anecdote to share with us?

MJU: Touring is different for everyone, but since I’ve only toured by myself, without my band, I think I have an easier time doing it. One time I had a 14 hour layover in Iceland, on my way to Dublin. The funny thing about the airport in Iceland is that it closes after midnight so I was forced to leave the airport (with all my bags) and get a hotel. Unfortunately the closest hotel was 45 minutes away and I was in no hurry to go to there, so I found a local pub near the airport. Almost immediately the folks at the bar had me taking out the guitar and playing my songs. Long story short, the bartender covered my tab, gave me a cozy bed to sleep in, and got a ride to the airport in the morning… the power of music.

LG: What can you tell us about your new video “Converse” and your up coming releases? 

MJU: I’m super excited about Converse. I wrote the song with Phil Margaziotis and Harold Lilly, who won a Grammy for the Alicia Keys stuff, and we recorded it a Capitol Records in LA. We sat on the song for a few years and it ended up just collecting dust in my catalog. My manager caught wind of the song and said “what are you doing with this?” So we bit the bullet and just wrapped up the video in Los Angeles. I’m looking at an early June release of the song and the video, and I could not be more happy about it. It’s essentially a song about what it means to walk in someone else’s shoes.

LG: At last, if your sound was a flavour, what would that be?

MJU: Ha! I don’t eat sweets, but maybe something like coffee and caramel chocolate ice cream. Is that even a thing? 

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