If you haven’t seen or heard much from dance diva Ultra Naté in recent years, that’s probably because she’s been busy getting her “freak on” overseas.
‘I am a love dealer, what are you talking about?’
— Ultra Naté
No joke — the singer of modern dance floor classics like “Party Girl (Turn Me Loose)” and “Free” provided vocals for an extremely addictive U.K. number 37 chart hit, “Freak On,” one of several smash singles off the 2004 disc, “Can’t Get Enough,” from Swedish DJ/producer StoneBridge. Yet while the super tasty dance CD burned up discos all across Europe and Australia, it never received a domestic U.S. release.
Better late than never, “Freak On” finally arrives stateside on “Grime, Silk & Thunder”
(Blufire/Silver Label/Tommy Boy), Ultra’s first full-length studio album since 2001’s “Stranger Than Fiction.” It also includes a whole spate of new songs, from the Giorgio Moroder-esque “Love’s The Only Drug,” to a supremely electro-soaked re-envisioning of The Pointer Sisters’ “Automatic” (number one on Billboard’s Hot Club Play chart) and old-school soulful groove, “Feel Love.” StoneBridge mixed the entire album, while guests including The Brand New Heavies’ N’Dea Davenport, Andres Levin and Eric Kupper lent their talents.
So what else has Ultra been up to since 2001? She’s released a handful of singles, had her first child in 2005, and appeared that same year on the British TV series “Hit Me Baby One More Time,” on which out-of-the-spotlight pop stars performed their hit singles and covered a current chart ditty. “Grime, Silk & Thunder” also marks the debut of Ultra’s own label, Blufire.
A frequent performer at gay prides — this summer being no exception, with appearances scheduled at New York, Detroit and Indianapolis events — I spoke with Ultra by phone and discussed her new album, her overseas freaking on, gay pride, and why love is the only drug.
Let’s start with the political quandry du jour: Hillary or Barack?
“The jury is still out because I haven’t really had a chance to look into the issues. And I’m going to sit down, focus and really get a handle on it because it’s a very, very, very important moment. We really have to get rid of this Bush administration.”
‘Grime, Silk & Thunder’ hits music stores May 22.
There’s a good bit of Giorgio Moroder’s sound and influence on this album, particularly the synth programming-heavy ‘Love’s the Only Drug,’ which is like a fierce, alternate universe Grace Jones single. Would you love to work with Giorgio sometime?
Definitely. He’s been doing this thing for a long time. He has a staple sound and a very long history. I like to work with people that I feel there’s something I can learn from. He’s worked with people I love and respect, like Grace Jones and Donna Summer. He’s an icon.
Your cover of The Pointer Sisters’ ‘Automatic’ is doing really well on the charts. What made you decide to cover that song?
It was really just kind of a spontaneous moment. I was just traveling around one day and heard it on the radio and I was like, ‘wow I really love that song.’ It really took me back to a really fun, really cool place in my teen years. I wanted to give it another shot, another moment, because I thought it was a really great song and deserved one more go around and those who heard it the first time would appreciate my take on it and those who may have missed it the first time will have a chance to get it now and really feel it.
Fabio is in the ‘Automatic’ video naked! From what you could tell, intellectually is he the type to expound upon and deconstruct the shooting at Virginia Tech, or is he more like, ‘Caramel. yummy!’?
Well, I don’t know Fabio well enough to really say for sure which of the two he would talk about. I actually had just met him the day of the shoot. He’s lovely, a sweet person, very fun personality. He was totally willing to do any crazy stuff we were asking him to do. But I want a man who is not all brown and there are definitely some brains in there. I think he can definitely have a reasonably intelligent conversation. And he’s very personable.
Did ‘Freak On’ boost your profile overseas?
It was a single for me and it was really just something to put out while I was still working on [my own] album, to keep things moving and shaking. It was good, profile wise. It was a great thing to do with Stone, because he was working on his album and he asked me to be a part of it. So it really all worked.
Why did you decide to start your own label, and did you feel empowered doing so?
It’s more of a business maneuver. It really puts you in a better position and now that the music [business] is changing and evolving so much it’s leveled the playing field for the smaller entity to have more of an interest on the backend, like as far as being in control of the record itself and being able to make more money from it with the sales. It’s really a functionality and necessity to some degree with how the music business has evolved.
What were the three worst things about being on a big label?
The politics. The red tape. And the confusion with departmental things. You know every department has to be onboard to get things going down properly.
And the best things?
Larger budgets for the making of the record and the marketing and promoting. And definitely the distribution opportunity. A major label is obviously going to be able to get to a lot more people. There’s just more money, when they’re willing to give it to you, to do things with.
You have performed at innumerable Gay Pride events and even provided the theme song to Sydney’s Mardi Gras last year. Do the drag queens ever approach you and say, ‘let’s do a song together?’
No, not really. Most of the drag queens are just happy performing my material. I’ve been told I’ve made certain ones a lot of money!
Is there something special about a Pride audience?
The energy is really, really tangible. The kids are really up for the live shows and they’re looking for their divas to bring it, have fun and live those moments with them.
Finally, is love the only drug because it’s less expensive than cocaine and ecstasy?
It’s absolutely less expensive in the beginning but then it can end up costing you anyway. It can cost you, baby. It can tear your house down!
Wouldn’t it be great to be a love dealer?
I am a love dealer! What are you talking about?