Life Arranged on the Ukulele: Q&A with Eat My Uke
Four years since the release of the first Eat My Uke arrangement on YouTube, thousands of fans continue tuning in weekly to see what Stan Hill and his trusted ukulele have conjured up. Having transformed almost 150 albums to date into creatively reimagined ukulele medleys, today we are digging into Eat My Uke's brand new, all-uke medley of Nobuo Uematsu's beloved Final Fantasy VII soundtrack! We took the opportunity to pick Stan's brain about the art of arranging any and every genre on the ukulele. Watch the full video here:
When did you first pick up the ukulele?
It was actually a totally unexpected thing. During the early days of forming my band Bud Sugar we would just hang out and jam on instruments. I had been playing the guitar for about 12 years at this point. We had guitars, bongos, glockenspiels and laptops and it was all groovy. Things started to get serious and we needed to take some promo shots. Our idea was to gather as many instruments as we could and immerse ourselves in them. I borrowed this cheap, off-brand bright blue ukulele from a family member, it sounded terrible but looked great in the photos. I had no intention of playing it as it was constantly going out of tune. However, my mate Buddy tuned it up and he managed to get it to stay in tune long enough to play a simple chord sequence. He wrote a song and it sounded perfect on the uke, I knew we needed to upgrade. I went out and bought a Kala Exotic Tenor and it just stuck to me like glue. From that point on, I was a ukulele player.
What is your process when arranging an album on the ukulele?
The first and most important step is to take my time and listen to the album in full. I will sometimes go out for an early morning walk and soak it up as much as I can. I always want to capture the essence of the songs so of course, I need to listen to them, ha! Next it's a case of chopping up the parts of the song I want to include in Logic Pro. Then I get to work on recreating the drums and bass for my backing track and that’s all done through MIDI. Next is just a case of figuring out how I’m going to play these songs on a ukulele. Sometimes it's a very straight forward riff or vocal line that I’m following. However, it can be such a nightmare when you have multiple instruments all playing great sounding stuff, and I sit there with just my 4 strings thinking, “How on earth is this going to work!?”
Have you ever received a shout out from a favorite band after arranging their album on the ukulele?
Yeah, I have been very fortunate to be recognised by some of the artists. One of the standout ones was Guns N’ Roses. I did an arrangement of their Appetite For Destruction album and somebody who runs their social media must have seen it as I woke up to a gazillion notifications. They had posted it on their official Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages. That was super special as it was Slash who originally inspired me to play the guitar. Other notable people who showed me some recognition are Vampire Weekend, Fat Freddy’s Drop and Radiohead.
Which album arrangement are you proudest of?
Often the ones I am most proud of are the albums that really forced me to test myself on the instrument. More often than not, it’s the bands that have sublime guitarists in them. One that stands out is Electric Ladyland by Jimi Hendrix. It’s not just his pure agility that’s hard to replicate, but his intricate timing too. It's honestly like he has 7 fingers per hand! So yeah it felt great to be able to let rip up and down the fretboard on that one. Johnny Marr from The Smiths proved difficult too, I did an arrangement of their Queen Is Dead album. Another proud moment was when I arranged the Oasis - What's The Story Morning Glory album. I originally started the albums on a ukulele project by just doing my top 50 albums of all time. That meant a whole year of weekly uploads. A big commitment and one that I completed the moment I uploaded that Oasis Video. That was album 50 and it felt amazing to put in all the time and work and actually complete the project.
What gave you the idea to combine Final Fantasy VII with the ukulele?
It’s something I have wanted to do since I first started to play instruments. Me and a group of friends were obsessed with the game as teenagers. One of the things that I particularly enjoyed about it was the soundtrack. The Composer Nobuo Uematsu is often looked at as the Beethoven of video game music. His pieces take you right into the game and add so much depth to an already fantastic game. Some of those songs are the soundtrack to my childhood so it was only a matter of time before I combined them and the ukulele. The idea really came to the forefront of my mind recently as a remake of the original game has just been released.
What turned out to be the greatest challenge with this particular project?
Ha - these songs were the perfect example to the struggle of turning a 40 instrument strong piece onto a 4 string tenor ukulele! I I would say that’s the hardest thing. Combining all the important parts and trying to play them at the same time. Especially when they are being played at a fast pace.
What should we be keeping an eye out for in the future of Eat My Uke?
I'm soon to be approaching over 150 albums arranged on the ukulele so the next milestone after that will be 200. I also just recently launched my own membership website where people can have access to all the tabs/backing tracks of everything I create. My band Bud Sugar are planning to continue our march upon the UK music scene with a single and music video release for our song Snowflake. I'm also planning a UK vs. USA ukulele challenge with one of my favourite ukulele creators Banana Cactus. On top of all that, I just plan on continuing to take the ukulele to places it's never been before and keep pushing myself to become a better musician.