It’s not every day that you find a professional musician who was once on the pre-med track to becoming a doctor, but Ultra Naté is not your typical musician. Hailing from Baltimore, dance music artist and songwriter Ultra Naté draws in a wide range of musical inspiration — channeling everything from R&B to funk, electronica, pop and gospel. On the heels of her recent Black Stereo Faith album release with bandmate Quentin Harris, she is ready to keep making music that is fierce, forward and uniquely her own.
How would you describe your sound?
In the industry, I am referred to as a dance music artist & songwriter. My albums range from house to r&b, funk, jazz, soul and electronica, so I draw from a wide spectrum of musical genres within the context of “dance music”.
Growing up, did you always want to be a musician? Can you recall your earliest musical memory?
Actually, I never aspired to be a musician. I was originally planning to be a journalist, and then started planning to become a doctor by the time I was in high school through the beginning of college. I started identifying as an artist/musician once I found the underground house music scene. That’s when I started writing and recording as a side hobby with a budding local production team called The Basement Boys. Our first demo — a song called “It’s Over Now” — landed me a major deal with Warner Brothers Records UK back in 1989, and the rest is history!
Who are some of your favorite artists?
My dance music is strongly influenced by soul singers like Chaka, Patti, Phyllis Hyman, Regina Belle, Tina Marie, Diana Ross, Whitney, Sade and other strong women like them. I love the soul/funk combination of artists like Earth, Wind and Fire, Marvin Gaye, Commodores and Parliament Funkadelic. I also love pop and new wave/80’s synth, so I have listened to a lot of Madonna, Culture Club, The Cure, The Police, Prince, New Order, Nine Inch Nails and so on. Hair bands are another favorite of mine, so stadium rock is my thing too! I have always surfed the dial — including Gospel, because I grew up regularly going to church.
Who would you love to work with in the future?
I would love to work with Nile Rodgers, Pharrell and Mark Ronson at some point. I believe each of them would help me grow in some way; they would help me to experiment and move into a new place and vibe.
What is one of your main goals?
I never stop learning. The goal is to appreciate what I’ve accomplished starting out as a young black girl from Baltimore and stepping into an industry many years ago that I knew nothing about and making it my own. My goal going forward is to find balance as I continue this great adventure I’m on!
Are there any new and exciting projects you are currently working on?
I’m working with my band to bring my Black Stereo Faith album to our audience. The live performance aspect has gotten sidetracked because of technology, so now it is more important than ever to translate music into that style again. We want to bring the authenticity back. People are hungry for that texture.
What do you enjoy doing outside of music?
I’m still a party girl. I love to dance; it’s cathartic for me. I enjoy going to dinner with my friends — we call ourselves ‘foodies’, so it’s a thing. I love yoga. I’m also a street apothecary because I love the medical field and helping people. I’m very into natural healing with herbs — I’m always researching and recommending supplements for my friends to try.
What do you usually think about when you’re alone in your car?
I’m usually thinking about 20 things at one time! I’m mentally organizing my gig schedule and my next party event, thinking about my son and his personal development, figuring out my workout regimen of choice for the day, pondering my love life (or lack thereof), depending on where I’m at. I could go on…
What is your favorite ’90s jam?
Ooooh, that’s tough! There was a lot of great music out in the ‘90s — but I’m going to go with “Don’t Walk Away” by Jade.
What were you like in high school?
I just realized from a conversation I had with a friend the other day that I’m pretty much the same person I was in high school, just more aware. I was always independent and adventurous. I was very creative and artsy, but I also loved learning, so I was bookworm at the same time. I might have dressed like a punk rocker, Madonna, Boy George or a corporate CEO on any given day of the week.
In high school, I was just as likely to quote Shakespeare as I was to stand in the operating room at a major hospital, watching surgeries before heading to school for the day. (I was enrolled in a college prep curriculum for the medical profession). I enjoyed time alone to think, but I loved being around people and having a lot of friends. I’ve never shied away from hard work or a good time.
What inspires you?
Love, honesty, wisdom, innocence, hard work, dreaming with intention, courage, mystery, focus, compassion and kindness.
How would your friends describe you?
My friends would say that I’m driven and artistic; a dedicated friend and confidant. They would also say that I’m a taskmaster, a gym rat and that I’m always mothering them to work out and eat better. They might say that sometimes I’m a glamazon, an aristocrat or a hippie…go figure!
What is one of your favorite performances from your musical career?
One of my best performances was at UK Pride in the late ‘90s for 300,000 people. There was massive energy.
What was one of your worst performances?
I lost my voice at Miami Pride a few years ago. I was a bit under the weather and sleep-deprived from my busy schedule. I was performing at a windy outdoor event. When I’m singing, the wind is never my friend — and it stripped my voice while I was in the middle of my set. That is one of the worst feelings for a live singer — when you are not able to perform up to your expectations.
What does it feel like when you perform live? How do you prepare for it?
Performing gives me an amazing rush of energy. It feels like all of those feel-good chemicals in my brain are on 100! Before I perform, I prepare by visualizing myself on stage, warming up my voice, making sure that my show is programmed perfectly and verifying that my personal aesthetics are on point. After that, it all relies on synergy with the audience.
What are your top 10 pieces of advice for artists who are just starting out in the music industry?
- Get some sleep cause once you hit..that’s over!
- Make the music you love and always feed your soul
- Be hungry to learn more
- Be as self-reliant as possible
- Surround yourself with likeminded people who are moving forward but are not in competition with you
- Be prepared to spend your own money
- Learn all you can about the legal side of the music business
- Only put out music that you can be proud of 20, 30 or even 40 years from now, because your work might come back to haunt you
- Save money for a rainy day, because there are A LOT of rainy days in the music business
- Use technology to give you an edge, but don’t let it become your crutch. People still respond the most to authentic emotion in your music.
What is the main message you hope to put forth with your music?
I want people to feel empowered and to never be afraid of their magic. I want people to keep failing up. Stand in your truth but stay open to other possibilities.
Are there any resources you’d like to share that have been an asset to you as a musician?
Having an app for just about everything is awesome! But at the end of the day, it’s about relationships. Nothing can replace the emotional component of people believing in you or being inspired by your music and wanting to support you. That’s priceless.
FEATURED PHOTO CREDIT: KARL GIANT
This interview is part of the Steereo Featured Artist Series. Steereo promotes new music from up-and-coming artists in rideshare vehicles, reaching new listeners and fans as they travel. For more on Steereo, visit mysteereo.com.