Uni and her ukelele is a one woman extravaganza; a self-proclaimed neo-vintage, pop raconteur/ chanteuse.
She’s a serious performer who doesn’t take herself too seriously, and drags punk rock back to the 1920s, where it belongs. As you might be able to ascertain from the moniker, Uni plays with a ukelele, and boy does she play it well.
Porky was privileged to catch the Goddess of Uke at Mighty Mighty in Wellington, New Zealand, during the Southern Hemisphere winter. Dressed like a purty party gurl, Uni played mainly her own songs and mixed them with stuff like Bruce Springsteen’s Dancing In the Dark (I am sure it was that but by that stage the whisky had hit hard and I was mesemerised by the big breasts and bigger rears of the, ahem, support act, the Real Hot Bitches).
Bruce would have been impressed. How do I know this? ‘Cause I get the impression he would appreciate a hot chick in 1920s gear stringing along to a ukelele.
Before Uni began recording ahead of her West Coast tour (America not places like Greymouth and Westport in New Zealand) that takes in dates like the Second Annual Great Handcar Regatta and Claude’s Birthday Party, Porky caught up with her (the ukelele was sadly unavailable).
Porky: How old were you when you received/ bought /stole from a museum your first ukelele and what was the first song you mastered. Tell us about how you got started as a recording/ touring artist.
Uni: A lady never gives U her age, let’s just say I was in my 20s when I got my first ukelele for Christmas. The first song I wrote on my uke was Tell Me That My World Is Pink Not Blue which is the last track on the album My Favorite Letter Is U.
This is like a two-part question, ’cause my music career started long before I picked up a ukulele. Back in the day, I was a back-up singer for Johnny Otis (US rhythm and blues artist). I have also been in swing, country, soul and electro pop bands. But it wasn’t until I started playing the ukulele, when I began developing my song writing. I recorded an album with Johnny Otis, and did a bit of touring.
Now I am recording and touring non-stop. I love it!
Porky: The upcoming tour takes in a lot of wonderfully-enticing shows in all sorts of places. How did some of those gigs come about, for example, the Handcar Regatta?
Uni: I have just played the Handcar Regatta! It was Grand!
I get alot of my gigs by word of mouth. I play many different kinds of shows from indie pop to folk nights, to burlesques and comedy shows. I play childrens’ parties, weddings and birthday parties. So I have alot of options with what I do. It keeps me busy.
Porky: You’re also recording before hitting the road, is this for a full album?
Uni: Yes! I’ve been in the studio for the last year working on my next album. It will be full length. Zack Proteau of Octopus Audio has produced my last few albums (I’m On My Way and As Gold). We are working on making a power-packed-pop album that we are hoping will drop Spring 2010.
I have many special guests, for example, this summer I was in Ireland, and I had the lovely opportunity to play with the Henry Girls from Donegal. They are three sisters that play harp, accordion and fiddle. They so happened to be performing at the L.A. for the Irish Film Festival this month (September), so during this short visit, they cut a few tracks on my next album. It’s magic!
U can check them out at http://www.myspace.com/thehenrygirls
And just so U know New Zealand, if each and every citizen gave me a dollar, I would have more then enough to put this album out.
Porky: Does the uke ever get jealous of all the attention you receive and get grumpy about her work not being given the proper appreciation?
Uni: If Sally Luka gets jealous, she shouldn’t because sometimes she gets more attention then I do. So I think it would be fair to say, I get jealous of her sometimes.
Porky: At your gig in Wellington recently, Porky was impressed that you bled for the audience. Rock und roll. Do you often suffer finger cuts and other injuries?
Uni: Ha ha! I still have blood stains on my ukelele! I often get blisters from playing but that is the first time I have ever bled for Rock. Other injuries are loss of sleep and broken hearts.
Porky: There appears to be a bit of a revival in interest in the ukelele. What’s the appeal of an instrument that perhaps has more of an association with Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? than post-punk.
Uni: I think there is a revival with unique instruments in general, such as banjo, musical saw, accordion and my second favorite instrument, the harp. I feel the ukelele has been getting really popular in the last few years. I think we are living in some heavy times, and the ukelele is the perfect instrument to lighten and liven things up a bit.
Porky: At the Mighty Mighty gig you played Springsteen’s Dancing In the Dark and I heard you do The Smiths’ Please Please Let Me Get What I want on Radio New Zealand earlier in the day. Are these songs made for the ukelele and what would be five songs you would include on The Best Uke Songs in the world .. . ever? Any feedback from the original artists?
Uni: I like throwing a cover or two in my sets. I tend to pick songs the audience can sing-a-long to. I just recently learned Paul Simon’s You Can Call Me Al – that’s a good one!
I pick covers that I like to sing, but that doesn’t mean they are the greatest songs to play. I like the way Jake Shimabukuro (ukelele virtuoso from Hawaii) plays While My Guitar Gently Weeps. That would be on the top five.
I haven’t heard back from any of the original artists I cover. I hope not! Because they will be asking me where their money is.
Porky: Continuing on that theme what’s the most obscure, or unusual track you’ve covered?
Uni: Well ….. it’s not obscure, but I absolutely love singing and playing Roy Orbison’s Crying.
Check Uni and her Ukelele on myspace: www.myspace.com/uniherukelele
Donate a dollar or better still buy one of her excellent albums, of which My Favourite Letter Is U is the finest to these ears.