Local band honors grandmother's legacy
Updated 2:31 pm, Thursday, December 19, 2013
It was the 1940s. A young Mississippi woman left her home to pursue a singing career in New York City. Ula Ruth eventually made it to the spotlight, but her fame came with a price: She had to change her name.
The woman, who found her voice singing at a Southern Baptist church, was asked by music producers to change her name to hide her Southern roots. She then became Judy Roberts. After a few years of fame, Roberts gave up her career to become a housewife.
Two generations later, the woman's grandchildren have named their Indie rock band after her in hopes to "take her name back" and continue the family's musical legacy.
Ula Ruth, a New Canaan-based quartette, has been active for just over a year, but as the group prepares to release its second EP, some of the members are planning for a successful career.
"We want to play stadiums," Nic James, lead singer and rhythm guitarist, said. "We want everybody to like our music."
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Ula Ruth's grandchildren, brothers Nic and Luc James, were born and raised in New Canaan. James is a middle name they share and prefer to go by. Their last name is actually Conforti.
Luc James, the drummer, does not agree with his brother about how big he wants the band to be.
"I don't believe in stadiums because I don't believe they're intimate," he said. "You can never get close to people."
What they all agree on, however, is that they want "a big sound." They want to record music that always can be played live. The group's second EP, comprised of seven songs, will be released Jan. 14.
Nic James, 22, recently transferred from George Washington University in D.C. to the University of Connecticut in Stamford to be closer to the other members. He's a graduate of St. Luke's School. Luc, 18, just finished high school at Green Farms Academy in Westport.
Nic and Andrew are aware how difficult it is to grow in the music industry, but they've already come up with a strategy.
They both have TV internships -- Andrew is interning at NBC; Nic is interning at FUSE.
"The music business is a tough one right now," Nic said. "I don't think this is a bad business. I just think that money has changed."
The members are considering placing their music in commercials and films so they can infiltrate the music industry.
"And that's how you make money," Nic said, "not necessarily through your records."
Ula Ruth's "Water and Cigarettes" song, from their 2012 EP, was featured in the Canadian Indie film "Searching for Angels," starring Vivica Fox.
Their upcoming EP was a product of networking with prominent producers across the New York metro area. It was produced by Chris Sanchez and recorded at two different Bridgeport studios: Gold Coast Recorders and Tarquin Studios.
"We made a record that a major label band would've made," Nic said. "But for a quarter of the price."
Nic, the primary songwriter, said all songs are a collaborative effort among the band members. A recurring theme in their songs is the coming of age.
Some of Ula Ruth's musical influences include Kings of Leon, Arctic Monkeys and The Strokes. But Luc said the members try to make music that's "not too straightforward."
"We always have weird sounds in the background," Luc said. "We'll have like an organ in there, or something random like that."
The members listen to different types of music. While Luc often listens to hip hop, for example, Andrew prefers listening to jazz. The band accepts the label of Indie rock, but they say "glamorous Indie rock" is a better one.
"We are Indie rock, but I don't know what that really means anymore," Nic said. "All the Indie rock bands that people know are with a label and their records cost $1 million."
The band could very well be on the same track. Ula Ruth played about 70 concerts over the past year. They're playing at New York City's Mercury Lounge on Jan. 14, the day of the release of their EP. They're also working to shoot their next music video, "Shake it Of."
The name that was taken away from a grandmother whose career was cut short could one day be eternalized if this New Canaan-based rock band goes as far as they want.
"Imagine if we get to that level and her name is immortalized," Nic said. "It's an amazing goal to have."
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