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Ultra Vega

IMPACT WEEKLY (Dayton, Ohio)
Philosophy Of Music - Serendipity, synchronicity lead to release of John Shough's first CD
A lot of things had to align before John Shough released "Ultra Vega", his first collection of songs. "For the first time in my life, the timing has felt right to put a record out," Shough said. "People were always asking me when I would put something out because I used to play songs for people all the time. But it never seemed right. Now, it's just like something clicked."

Once Shough decided the timing was right, his next hurdle was releasing the record. He didn't have much time to think about it before Big Beef Records' owner Andy Valeri stepped in and offered to help. "Andy comes along, working with Real Lulu and somehow hears some of the songs and says, 'Well, maybe we should talk about this," Shough said. "The more it developed, it has grown to seem like it was the right thing to do even more."

The album is Shough's first, and it's the first in a series of four albums to be released by Big Beef Records comprised of a group of approximately 120 songs Shough wrote between October of 1995 and the present. "I thought, 'I can roll with this. I feel like I'm doing something right, I want to stay with it.' So we got a little more active in the recordings (in 1995)," Shough said. "Part of my life is sort of digesting life and expressing it in music. When I'm crafting the songs, they're always in my head and I write them over time."

Shough, who doubles as the chief engineer for Cro-Magnon recording studio, was able to tinker with the songs until they pleased him since he was already in the studio. "I'm really blessed. I've got the luxury that if I start a song and lose the vibe of it, I'll shelve it and I might try again a year later," he said. "I think that uniqueness comes out in these songs. I can't tell; I'm just too close to them. I know that it seems different from a lot of the other music I hear. I don't know if it's just my own madness or isolation or what, but it just comes out. "One thing that probably applies here is the fact that I've been influenced by a lot of music that nobody has probably heard and probably on one ever will," Shough continued.

Shough's music is what Valeri calls "progressively retro." At times, it's Paul McCartney-esque; at others, it sounds more like Guided By Voices' Bob Pollard, someone with whom Shough has worked extensively in the studio. However, he has developed his own style, one incorporating myriad influences, including elements of spacey dream pop, rough-edged shoegazer rock and Western music. The combination works extraordinarily well on tunes such as "Purged," "Out To Sea," "Falling The Wall" and "Gone Fishing," all great examples of Shough's ability to take one part of a situation and turn it into a song open to multiple interpretations. "There's that sensibility, that understanding in the nature of John's music - what it's about, how it relates," Valeri said. "You talk about the spacey elements of ti and it doesn't necessarily mean a genre or style - just the innate nature of the quality of everything it is."

Call it mystical pop - Shough's songs sound like songs that could or ought to have been written before. "One night it hit me: I don't write about getting drunk, drinking or partying, or a girl or a relationship. I think that's a little boring," Shough said. "So I don't write about the whole experience. I might write about a few seconds, or a minute or a small part of that experience, but I don't try to bite the whole thing off with one song."

It's possible that approach might have developed because of all the cliches Shough had to suffer through as a recording engineer. "I want to feel like I'm sharing the vibe of a song, or the essence of a song, with the person who wrote it," Shough said. "I like to feel like, 'Yeah, I know where they're coming from.' You don't get to do that with every song you hear. But certain songs that you hear, you're like, 'I think they wrote that for me.' I think that would be the best compliment you could give a songwriter - where people can actually relive it in their own ways."

Shough's main collaborator has been keyboardist Brett Owsley (Kommandoz OGC). Owsley, guitarist Jeff Robertson, drummer Todd "Tea Sea" Carll and bassist Dennis Mullins make up Shough's live band, also called Ultra Vega. "Brett actually was the one who pushed (the idea of playing live)," Shough said. "I'm paraphrasing, but he'd say, 'I'm a dual creature. I need to perform. When are we going to do that?' I wasn't ever going to have a band. I never thought of it."

Owsley won out and Shough began performing his songs live; however, it's the creative process that remains Shough's priority. "My thing is just writing the music and getting the expression out," Shough said. "It would be nice to feel like people appreciate that and relate to it. Ultimately, if it could enrich or improve one's life, that would be the ultimate compliment." - Sara Farr

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