I had the chance to chat with Ben Roberts, Lead Ukulele player of Ukulele Death Squad. We had a chat about their performances at both the Adelaide and Edinburgh Fringe Festivals, and their new single ‘Not Afraid’, as well as their upcoming Australian tour which fans have to look forward to!
J: Ukulele Death Squad is a pretty aggressive name, what is it that make you guys so deadly?
Just doing the things on the Ukulele, which, in our opinion, haven’t been done before. There’s a certain ferociousness to the Uke. The ukulele is pretty famous all around the world, and it’s generally perceived as a nice ‘happy love song’ type instrument. We like to think we show a different and a darker side to the instrument, through our songwriting and use of the instrument. I think our audiences really enjoy it, seeing something that hasn’t been done before.
"I was very anti Uke to begin with"
J: You haven’t had that many shows yet, but the ones you have had have all sold out!
That’s right, we formed in early 2017, and eighteen months later we’ve done two European tours, two fringe shows here in Adelaide, and one in Edinburgh, and they’ve all sold out. We’re currently undefeated, so to say.
J: It sounds like a lot of fun!
It is. We’re not really defined by a specific genre, we just wanna have fun with it all the time. Our band motto is “Keep it fun and keep it deadly”.
J: How did the band happen? Did you just stumble upon a bunch of ukuleles?
Well I’m a banjo player, as well as a guitarist, and I also play the mandolin. I was a music teacher in Adelaide, and I started getting enquiries about ukulele lessons. I was very anti Uke to begin with, but then I picked on up and played around with it, and I discovered there was a bit more to it than I first thought. It is somewhat similar to playing a banjo, so that was interesting. I was able to strum it like a guitar and flat pick it like a mandolin. It was like all of my favourite instruments combined in a little neat package that I can take with me around the world in my carry-on luggage. It makes gigs much easier.
J: You went from not knowing how to play a ukulele to touring overseas with one in a span of eighteen months, that’s quite an achievement!
We’ve been surprised by how successful it’s been, it’s turned out to be quite an awesome and unexpected career.
J: You’ve got a new single out called ‘Not Afraid’, can you tell me a bit about that song?
That song is a prime example of our use of our instruments. The intro was from a song I had on the banjo, which I showed to the guys and they liked it. We moved it onto the Uke and ended up building a song around it. It’s the first song we wrote and recorded together, and it’s the first song we open up every show with. It’s one of the staples in the set, and it’s a good depiction of what we do live and the attitude of the band.
J: Are there any particular artists who inspire your songwriting for Ukulele Death Squad?
The inspiration doesn’t necessarily come from one particular artists, it’s more cinematic when we’re building songs. We had the pulp fiction theme song, we do stuff by artists like Rodrigo y Gabriela and add that sort of Mexican flamenco vibe to it. Our main inspiration for the band is probably Quentin Tarantino and the way he depicts music in his films, and the way his character are built. That’s how we got the imagery for the band. Our song choices are more built around that than any particular artist or genre.
J: You’re gonna be touring all over Australia soon, is there a particular show that you’re most looking forward to?
The show that were building up to the most would be our show here in Adelaide. It’ll be the biggest show we’ve ever put on, and it’s at Elder Hall. We’ve got a ukulele artist coming to join us all the way from Alaska whose doing things a bit differently as well. Were really looking forward to that because it’s a big show on a theatre stage. Were also looking forward to Melbourne in a couple weeks’ time, we’ve been to the Northcote Social Club before and it’s a lovely venue. We’re jumping into unknown territories with Sydney and Brisbane, we’ve done festivals around there, but we’ve never done our own headline ticketed show there. These a little something to look forward to in all of them.
J: You stage craft has been said to blow people’s minds, you’re creating this epic live show, can you tell me how you make it so powerful?
I guess were doing things on the ukulele that people haven’t seen before, bring things like distortion in. were at an energy level that people don’t see often. Our lead singer is said to be like Labrador on speed, he goes crazy on stage. We have a phenomenal saxophone player who can do just about anything, having sax in the mix is probably not something people are used to when the think of a ukulele band. We always put in one hundred and ten percent into every show. We give a somewhat punk attitude to something that is usually thought of as a ‘happy love song’ instrument.
J: Have you had a favourite show so far?
There were quite a few highlights on our last tour. We played in a town called Cork in Ireland, that was an absolutely stellar venue. Only about one hundred and fifty people could fit in there, but the venue had such a rich history and a lot of soul. A lot of big artists have played there and love it, it’s a beautiful venue. The staff were also incredible and treated us so well. We did another gig in Ireland at Whelan’s bar, which has been made famous by the move ‘ps. I love you’. It was great to be able to play there, big bands like Mumford and Sons, Ed Sheeran and Passenger have all played there before. It was great to be a part of that venues legacy. Our whole European tour was a roll of highlights.
J: Will we be seeing a music video for ‘Not Afraid’?
Yes you will! It’s coming out in early September, sometime around the ninth. Keep an eye out for that!
You can catch Ukulele Death Squad on their upcoming Australian tour! Check out their new single ‘Not Afraid’, and keep an eye out for the music video, coming very soon. You can follow them on social media or via their website to keep up to date with everything dangerous, and I highly recommend that you get your tickets to see them at Elder Hall in Adelaide as soon as you can, because the tickets WILL sell out fast!