Ultra Naté is the true definition of a music-lover, someone who has transformed their passion for music into a full-fledged career. Born and raised in Baltimore, the singer, songwriter, DJ, and producer exploded onto the scene in the early 90’s, impacting the genres of electronic, dance, and pop music for decades on end — and continues to do so to this day.
In fact, Ultra Naté was one of the first house music artists to ink a major label deal when she signed with Warners UK, and was recently named one of Billboard’s Greatest Dance Artists of All Time.
In describing herself, Ultra Naté states, “I’m a club kid at heart. Still, 30 plus years later. I’m a Baltimore girl through and through. I am an urban hippie. I love natural things and natural medicine, fitness and yoga, eating clean. I have a strong spirituality. I love dance music, I love house. All things musical are beautiful and magical to me, and tell amazing stories and connect us all as individuals.”
She continues, “I am a lover of life. I am an eternal student of life. I am a bit of an alchemist because I combine all of those things and use it towards my platform, and in the creative field of making music. Which happened by accident. But in that accident, I found an amazing purpose of being able to utilize all those areas of my life that are important to me. To make people happy and to speak to them in a really direct and authentic way through my art. That’s me in a nutshell.”
Now, she continues on releasing banger after banger, as evidenced with her newest release “DANGEROUS (So Dare Me).” The song serves as the lead single from her ULTRA [DELUXE] album, which dropped September 15th.
Sheen spoke with Ultra Naté via Zoom, who was in high spirits in her hometown of Baltimore. Read below as we discuss her love for music, new music, working with Paris Hilton,
What was the moment you fell in love with music?
From the beginning. From my earliest recollection, I’ve always been bobbing my head to something. I’ve always been learning a song very quickly, when I hear it once or twice. I’m singing along to it automatically. I’ve always been there. I don’t know exactly at what point it really got on my radar, I guess until I became an artist and was suddenly considered a professional at it that I had to start thinking about that.
But I clearly remember being a little kid and digging through my mother’s 12 inch records and all of her amazing albums. Really studying the artwork, learning the faces. Loving the costumes and the music, all of the different emotions that you felt through it. Playing her vinyl and really connecting through music visually as well as emotionally. All of that shaped my creative juices when I became an artist to do it. That was really what I relied on as my school, because I never had any official teaching or studying. It was all off the cuff in that moment, and it’s been off the cuff ever since.
How’d you get your name?
It’s all my mother. Ultra was her idea. At the time, she was working to come up with something that was unique, that you wouldn’t hear every day. She brainstormed and came up with Ultra, then the Naté part was inspired by a perfume from France..
What’s your recording process like?
My recording process is always different. It really depends on the project itself. There’s no really one way of getting it done for me, because I’ve been an independent artist for so long. Even when I was signed to a major, I still operated independently. [laughs] But definitely being a totally independent business and artist for the last 20 years of my career, I work in a lot of different ways. Sometimes, I’m inspired by a song that will pop in my head, in terms of lyrics or a melody. There’ll be no track idea, no music concept behind it.
Then I’ll build it around some music concepts, either from the ground up or working in collaboration with someone. They may have tracks. I’m into my song and apply it to their track, make it work around that. Maybe find a few nuances here and there. But generally, I may hear it in that context. Sometimes, I work with people from the ground up. We get in a room together and start vibing. Maybe we start on a keyboard or guitar, and build a concept from that. You have to be a sponge when you’re making music.
You just dropped “DANGEROUS.” What were the vibes?
“Dangerous” is inspired by The Pointer Sisters, who I’m a big fan of obviously. I covered their song “Automatic” way back in the early 2000’s, as one of my album projects. I had a lot of great success with that, people still love that version of “Automatic.” I love and respect them so much, and love their sound. They were always the unsung hero of black female voices in a way.
In this moment, we need those voices again. We need to feel that authenticity in the voice, that that emotional connection. That soul and that grit in there. It just jumped out.
It’s been in my archives really for 8 years now, as a possibility. It was brought to me originally by a producer/DJ named Nino Fish and his partner at the time. We loved it, but it was never finished. We hadn’t found a home for it, so it was lost in the archives of all the songs I have. Because I write a lot. I put out music, on my tenth album now. But there’s always songs that haven’t seen the light of day just yet, that are still waiting for the right moment. The right collaborator, various various things.
“DANGEROUS” had been there, had been waiting for its moment in the sun. I brought in the A-team, and we got in cahoots with Les Bisous, who were brought to us through another channel and got Armada in the mix. Okay, we’ve got the perfect soup now. Now’s the time to release this as part of my next album, and collaborating for the first time with Armada which is something we’ve been wanting to do for a while. This seemed like the perfect track to do it.
What can we expect from your deluxe ULTRA album coming in the fall?
My tenth album ULTRA dropped last summer in August. We still had songs that we wanted to make part of that project, that weren’t quite ready or finished when we wanted to release. So we’ve been working on these deluxe versions with a couple of new songs. One that I just finished writing a couple weeks ago called “Unbreakable,” that I’m really, really proud and really love. People are going to really love that as well.
There are the songs that were part of the original album, like “HAPPY FEELING,” “RESTLESS,” “THE GARDEN.” All of the songs that were there, you knew and love from the original version, and are now embellished with these new works and some remixed versions in there. It’s chock full of goodness, ready to happen.
How is it balancing being on the road and being a mom at the same time?
I’ve done it for so long now. My son is 17, about to turn 18. It’s the way we’ve always known it was going to be, because I’ve been an artist long before he came into the picture and that wasn’t going to change suddenly. We all as a family navigated that space. We knew what we were doing. It certainly does take a village to raise a child. Thankfully, I had an amazing, amazing, amazing village. He’s an amazing kid. He’s had the great experience of being able to travel on the road with me sometimes.
He’s got his great experiences already at such a young age of being to many, many different cities. Many countries. Having relationships and friendships with people of all walks of life around the world. To me, that’s really special to be able to bring that kind of experience to a child so young. There’s the benefit of academia, I’m very much into academia myself. But there’s also the real world application of learning and the only way you can get that is by truly experiencing the world. Understanding what other cultures are like, what other people’s lives are like, and interacting in that space. I’m very proud of the life I’ve been able to give him and the experiences I’ve been able to give him because of my art and what I do for a living, and being a touring artist.
Love seeing you host Paris Hilton’s podcast. How’d that happen?
Paris has started this new podcast. I didn’t have a thing to do with it until one day, I got this mysterious email out of the blue. I had no idea that Paris knew anything about Ultra Nate or my music, any of my life. One day back in January, I got this email from her partner Bruce. Basically an introduction and letting us know that Paris had been a long-time fan. That she had a personal relationship with my song “Free,” and how it empowered her through her own journey of trauma and healing and had been her mantra for so many years.
At this point, she was about to create this new podcast called The History of the World’s Greatest Nightclubs. That’s based on the relationships and the culture that music in general has created through club culture. How it’s revolutionized, how we party. It’s a 12-part podcast series, there’s a different club that’s featured every week. It drops every Thursday on iHeart podcasts, Apple podcasts, wherever you listen to podcasts.
They wanted to enlist me to be the host, which was amazing. Like really? Okay. It was so stunning in that moment. I bugged out for a little while like wait a minute, is this really happening? Is this email going to disintegrate in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1? I’m trippin’ right now. I can honestly say in hindsight, that it was the easiest deal that ever happened in my life and career. Especially being in the music business, things are always “hurry up and wait.” Or “here’s a great idea,” but then it’s gotta get tossed around. It’s gotta get negotiated, it’s gotta go through all these machinations before it becomes fully realized.
There was none of that with this. They already had all the research done, all the stories were done. It was clear what their intention was. It was approached with so much love and authenticity, it was an amazing project. I felt so married to it right out the gate, because it was telling my story as an artist, as a kid that grew up in Baltimore and stumbled into club land and how it changed the trajectory of my life. Brought me this sense of family and community, and love and friendship and art. Creative juices everywhere, bouncing off all these different kinds of people.
It was my story, as well as the story of so many other people around the world. Putting it in such an amazing way and context that people could take in every week and live those stories. Whether you’re a part of that scene, you’ve heard about the scene, or you have no idea about this culture at all, it’s engaging for everyone. So of course, I said yup! Sign me up. I’m here for it.
The rest is history. It dropped in mid-July. We are at episode 8 this week. People have been loving it. We’ve asked people to leave us a rating and review. I go and I read them, just to see how people are reacting to it. I’m getting so much love, so many really amazing responses to it. People are fully engaged with it, it’s something to be super proud of.
Everyone was amazing and so supportive, because I’d never done anything like this before. But they made it so seamless and so easy to get on with it, and put myself in the stories as well. Having a voice in the stories as a co-executive producer was amazing to be in that space. I’ve loved it. I’m going to miss it when we get to Episode 12. I’m going to mourn the whole thing like oh my god, are we done? I look forward to this every Thursday.
What’s been your favorite episode and why?
That’s so hard to say. I’m probably going to regret this, but maybe the episode on Les Bains Douches, which is the story of the club in Paris. Because its history is so long and so deep. This club was started in the 1800’s and went for so many years. The building is still there. It’s no longer a club, it’s now a hotel. But it’s gone through many incarnations in that time.
It became a beacon of opulence, sophistication, beauty, luxury, music, and creativity always at the center of all of it. It was a really amazing story to read. When I read my scripts before I recorded to familiarize myself with the material, it really took me on a journey. That one was the most surprising. Obviously there were episodes that were closer to my heart and experience, like the Warehouse which was based on a story of Frankie Knuckles, who was my mentor and very good friend.
Because I’m so aligned in the house music community, I was part of that story. The pioneering of Larry Levan and the Paradise Garage story, and Frankie and the Warehouse story, how I’m a product of those situations and those stories that came along. I’m part of the next chapter of how that progressed through our culture. It’s different reasons and it hits me different ways through all of them.
Any beauty go-to’s?
I have lots of beauty go-to’s. Of course, when you’ve been in the business as long as I have, you gotta figure out how to get it done. One of the big ones, I always have a really good primer. Because the skin is for doing makeup and especially now that we’re all these HD cameras. I always say HD is no one’s friend, because it shows all the blemishes. laughs] All of the things, you really got to be on point. The first place to start is having that first layer great, so the skin primer is always a good place to start.
There’s a few great ones around. Pat McGrath has a really amazing one that gives you a really beautiful texture to the skin. Another one of my beauty go-to’s would be my MAC eyeliner. I’m still wearing a bit of liquid liner called Point Black. I haven’t let that go yet because it’s so amazing. I don’t know if I could ever really let that go.
Another thing I’m heavy into now, I’ve fallen in love with and it’s genius that they’ve finally done it, is the lash liners that are the glue, but they’re also a liner. Let’s take the guesswork out of it. Let’s take the extra step out of it. Having your liner also be the glue for your lashes, come on.
Game over! When you’re in a rush to get on stage, it’s like I gotta slam all this together. It’s saved my life more than one time to have a really good lash liner.
Anything else you want to let people know?
The beginning of September was my party Deep Sugar’s 20th anniversary. I’m extremely excited at the fact that we’re even here 20 years later. I never saw that coming when I started the party 20 years ago with my two best friends, DJ Lisa Moody and Jonathan Knox. Lisa is no longer here with us, she was my DJ partner. We learned the art of DJing together. We learned on our Baltimore family’s ears, they were our community and our support system. I always give them the love and the kudos for that, because they really fully embraced us when we decided to step up to the turntables and start DJing.
A lot of people could have been very critical because of who I was already, as an established singer, songwriter, recording artist. They could’ve judged me extremely harshly in that way. But my family here really gave me a lot of love, a lot of light and full support. They always supported Deep Sugar along with it, because I started the party simultaneously with when we started DJing. Now we’re at 20 years, which at the time, I never thought about what’s going to happen in 10 or 20 years?
I just knew that we needed to bring this to our scene in Baltimore, and keep feeding the community because this is the community that created the opportunity for me to stumble into club culture and find a different path of what I was planning on doing with my life. Which was to go into medicine. I stumbled into the club, fell in love with dance music culture, sound system culture. Started making friends, met The Basement Boys and started recording demos for fun.
Ended up with a major label deal in the UK with Warner Bros. Part of my journey with creating the party of Deep Sugar is to keep that music scene alive, vibrant, and thriving for the generations that are coming behind us. I’m very, very proud to now celebrate 20 years. We’re doing an Emerald City costume ball, so we’re off to see the Wizard next week. [laughs] And an afterparty, so it’ll be very long night next Saturday.
Photo Credits: Karl Giant