Ui began in the summer of 1990 when Sasha Frere-Jones and Clem Waldmann played together for the first time at the now-defunct Dessau Recording Studios on Murray Street in downtown Manhattan. (Cost: $15/hour.) The full band played their first live gig in February of 1991 at the Pyramid Club where people were known to dance on the bar. In July of 1993, Sasha, Clem and then-new member Wilbo Wright entered the then-new Excello Studios in Brooklyn to make a record for the Leeds-based Hemiola label. Wilbo drove in from Trenton with a pickup full of instruments including, but not limited to, a banjo, a synthesizer, a tuba and a timpani. The tuba and timpani never reappeared but the banjo and Korg MS-20 synthesizer became permanent Ui fixtures. The band mixed during the wee hours of the morning at Baby Monster Studios on 14th Street with Stevie McAllister. Of the 13 songs recorded, seven became The 2-Sided EP, released on vinyl that December.
The band futzed about New York for a year or so. In late 1994, a member of Tortoise invited Ui to join them for a brief tour of the East and Midwest in the spring of 1995. Tipped off by Cece Stelljes, representatives from Southern Records attended a show at Chicago Filmmakers somewhere in the middle of that tour. At a Lounge Ax show the next night, Southern honcho Danielle Soto offered Ui a deal. Pens came out and glasses were raised to a future of teeny tiny BMI checks. The band returned to the East Coast and rehearsed regularly at a ciderhouse in Pennsylvania surrounded by very loud frogs. (Cost: $0.) The full-length debut Sidelong, recorded in both 1994 and 1995 by Greg Frey, was released in 1996.
Over the next six years, Ui toured Europe and the US, once as Stereolab's opening act. During a stay in London, Ui and Stereolab recorded the popular (read: contains singing) Uilab EP. After recording Lifelike in 1997 with the long-suffering Frey, the band took off a year.
Refreshed, the band was invited in early 1999 by Roman booking agent Pietro Fuccio to tour Europe. Ui began writing new songs (some of which appear on Answers) and released an EP to prime the pump of commerce in unifyin' old Europe. The tour took up most of November, 1999. Fun as the whole tour was, recording four songs at the BBC Studios for John Peel's show was an unmatched highlight. (Songs recorded: 'John Fitch Way,' 'Get Hot, You Bum,' "Bad Ear' and 'Please Release Me'.) The London show at the Borderline was good, too, except that, minutes after the show ended, the club management swept the audience out and replaced them with dry ice, 'YMCA' and three or four 'dancing' students. It was done very quickly: a Mission Impossible-style transformation.
Back home, songs were written slowly and expensively at Complete Music Services (Big Mike's) in Manhattan. (Cost: $22/hour.) For no good reason, Ui played a show at the Knitting Factory in February of 2000 and recorded some new songs with Greg Frey several days later. In January of 2001, New York musician Erik Sanko (Skeleton Key, Lounge Lizards, Yoko Ono, John Cale) accepted an invitation to join the band. The ruckus was on. Working in a converted thermometer factory in Brooklyn, the band embarked on a satisfying writing jag. (Cost: $0.) After a summer break, the band reconvened in the fall of 2001 and recorded Answers in February of 2002 at a church in Stuyvesant, New York with producer Bryce Goggin (The Amps, Spacehog, Pavement, Ramones). Answers was mixed at the new Trout Studios in Brooklyn, New York and finished in May of 2002.