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It's hard to put your thumb on Ubiquitous Synergy Seeker. Ours is admittedly a world where things are constantly being examined, labeled, named, and methodically grouped neatly in one place or the other. When something comes along that won't be put under a thumb, what then? No, chaos doesn't consume the earth, but it does often leave people wondering where to place the duo with a sound that is equal parts science and art, a convergence of gentle melody and driving beat. Like a science experiment set to music, what they do melts down acoustic rock, EDM, Dub, Hip-Hop, Orchestral, and Pop transforming it into an entirely new element. It explodes, it implodes, and it is a pure chemical reaction.
Just know that if figuring out USS is your main concern, you might be waiting for a very long while. Vocalist/guitarist Ashley Boo-Schultz and hypeman/turntablist Human Kebab have always existed hanging in a sort of myth-like state, allowing the music they make together to first speak for itself, and empowering listeners to take from the sophisticated sound whatever they will. While USS is on a constant quest for meaning, the interpretation of it is largely up to you.
Hailing from the periphery of Toronto, at the edge of where the suburbs meet the country, there was an instant clash and connection between the two musicians when they met working at the same golf course in the mid-2000s.
"We're walking examples of simultaneous opposite juxtaposition," says Ashley. "When we met, Jay had just graduated university and I had just dropped out of college. He's a hyper-extrovert, and I'm a hyper-introvert. I'm always looking in, and he's always looking out. It became glaringly obvious right away that we needed one another: The message and the messenger."
Their creative collaboration that began in 2005 evolved naturally over time, but it wasn't until a friend issued them a challenge to take their music more seriously that things took a legitimate step forward. "Our friend Brian kind of said to us, 'you know your friends love you guys, but it's time to stop messing around and do something,'" Ashley explains.
"So he dared us to record our best song and give it to everyone in Toronto who we possibly could. We did, and before you know it our music was being played in between Radiohead and Coldplay."
USS' debut EP Welding the C:/ (2008) was a hit at alternative radio, and immediately blew critics away. "I was confused about how a band could emerge so fully-formed out of nowhere," said Alan Cross.
The truth is that while the band has often been touted as an overnight success, USS' early career was a slow build over a long period of time. "When our song 'Hollow Point Sniper Hyperbole' was on the radio we were roofers," laughs Human Kebab.
"We were roofing in Collingwood and the conditions were complete garbage, we were staying in the worst hotel, and we'd have drive back to Toronto to play shows. We played a show during TIFF at 2 AM, and then had to be back on the roof at 7 AM."
Around this time, in fact, the future of the band seem in flux while the duo took a break to pursue separate paths just as Welding the C:/ was exploding on radio. Ashley moved to a silent meditation monastery, while Jason headed west to Alberta to work on an oil pipeline. "It was an important time for us because we still had work to do on our own," says Ashley. "So we split apart. I needed to focus inward, and Jay went and worked on music production, honing his craft."
Cliché or not, what's meant to be will always happen in the end, and so Ashley and Human Kebab eventually reunited and began to traverse the country in support of the EP, eventually breaking through to headline 102.1 The Edge's Next Big Thing Concert Series, to a record-setting crowd of over 2600 people, and earning the band two CASBY Awards -- for "Best New Artist" and "Best New Group", respectively.
Their renewed commitment was worth it because a year later, in 2009, USS released its debut full-length album Questamation, which debuted at #36 on the Nielsen SoundScan and produced two hit singles "Laces Out, and "Anti-Venom", also garnering the band a 2009 CMW Indie Award for "Favourite Duo/Group".
"That whole period of our lives felt like our Annus Mirabilis, like Einstein," reflects Ashley. "It was a time where we had been toiling for years and then all of a sudden that vindication of all of that work and commitment was real."
A second EP called Approved followed in 2011, expanding the duo's success even farther as its three singles "N/A OK", "Yo Hello Hooray", and "Damini" each became Top 10 radio hits and propelled the band to play for across Canada, the United States, and Mexico, while reaching new territories including Austria, France, Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, and even winning new fans in as far off and exotic locations as Singapore, and India.
Approved marked a continued growth in the band as they enlisted producer Tawgs Salter (Lights, The Midway State, Walk Off The Earth) to bring the minimalism of their debut EP into a newer, bolder and more powerful sound. "Yo Hello Hooray" particularly resonated with fans and was a window into USS' mastery of dichotomies for its ability to parallel an upbeat texture with winsomely delicate lyrics.
If Approved was an invitation for the masses to dive into the depth of character within the band's universe, then with its second full length album, Advanced Basics, their musical experiment evolves into a study in contrasts; listening to it feels like tumbling down a rabbit hole while being held up to the light.
"There is always a movement from dark to light in the music that is going on," says Ashley. Nowhere is this more evident than on the album's debut single "This Is The Best" where its razor-sharp lyrics sound off like a dissonant confession written in the throws of emotional highs and lows. "This is the best/this is the best/my head is such a fucking mess," sings Ashley.
The track slapped radio awake, quickly becoming a Top 3 hit on Canadian Alternative Charts as a teaser for the complete fearlessness and lack of inhibition of Advanced Basics, a record that was both a challenge and a blessing for USS to create.
"It was a turbulent time, it wasn't always easy. The record was coming together as I was coming together," confesses Ashley, who candidly admits to doing intense personal work to overcome challenges with mental health and wellness while recording the album.
"Nepal" explores human contrasts on an even deeper level, with a feeling of attempting to hold humanity to account for its failures, while cutting deeply into a personal search for answers. While "Built To Break" feels like the sound of vulnerability coming to a head, which is what -- if anything -- USS has become known for; sonically eliminating any pretense of separation between itself and its audience.
"All I have ever wanted to be was a consistent and balanced person who was available to nurture and support other people," says Ashley. "That process of trying to become that person was this amazing realization, and the music is the process of becoming balanced and happy." This sentiment flourishes in songs like "Hydrogenuine" where lyrics implore a gentle mantra of nurturing, "I am simply here to assist and remind you."
Advanced Basics sound's heavy and it can be at times, but in true USS form, it is never overwhelming. "The album is like a fortune cookie hug from mom, in melodic form. Something to help you find the little pieces and make you feel better," says Ashley. Appropriate for a duo that has likened its own music to the campfire after-party, having said "it's like you're at Nirvana Unplugged in the middle of a rave."
So with Advanced Basics, is the campfire still going strong? "Definitely, yes," laughs Ashley. "It's still the after-party. The morning always comes, but not in this dimension."
Perhaps we are all sitting together waiting for dawn to overtake us, and USS will be the ones to play us home when the sun finally starts to rise. Until then, USS is content to take us through its Möbius strip evolution of sound, expanding outward in to a universe that doesn't exist for names, or labels, but simply exists because it always had, and always will.