Ultra Bra is a Finnish pop music group founded in 1994 and split up in late 2001. Their music is heavily influenced by the political songs of the 70s, but most of their songs don't have any political message. For English-speaking people the name "Ultra Bra" is probably associated with the Gossard-manufactured push-up bra, but the name can be also be thought to be Swedish, meaning "ultra good".
Ultra Bra, as it became known to most of the Finns, consists of 12 (yes, 12) people.
Based on my own knowledge of the band and the biography on Ultra Bra's official website (http://www.musicfinland.com/ultrabra/). The rough translations of album and song titles by me.
In the autumn of 1994, Olli Virtaperko tells Kerkko Koskinen about a political song contest, organized by Democratic Youth League of Finland. A couple of songs are soon written and recorded for the contest. Anna Tulusto, Arto Talme, Kerkko Koskinen, Olli Virtaperko, Maija Vilkkumaa ja Isa Lehto sing on the tape sent to the contest. Hardly surprising, the group wins the contest.
In January 1995, there's interest of getting the group to perform live. A group of musicians is gathered for the vocalists (Tulusto, Talme, Virtaperko and Terhi Kokkonen, Vilma Melasniemi and Petriikka Pohjanheimo). The only musician still left in the band is Joel Melasniemi. This group has its first live appearance at Maailma kylässä festival in May 1995.
As a prize for winning the song contest the group gets a chance to record a single. On the way back from the studio, the tired musicians invent a name for the group, "Ultra Bra". The single, or actually a 5-track EP, titled "Houkutusten kiihottava maku" ("The thrilling taste of temptations") soon reaches Radiomafia playlist and the band starts to gain media attention for their original style.
Both Petriikka Pohjanheimo and Vilma Melasniemi decide to leave the band. As a replacement, Vuokko Hovatta is hired as a vocalist. Additionally, Tommi Saarikivi, Antti Lehtinen, Jan Pethman and Ilmari Pohjola join the band.
In December 1995, Anni Sinnemäki presents her first lyrics to the band. Sinnemäki was later elected to the Finnish parliament in 1999, and her work for one of the most popular Finnish bands at that time was probably one of the reasons for her success.
The band starts touring, but they also begin to record their first album. "Vapaaherran elämää" ("Baron's life") album is released in September 1996. The album is praised in the media and Rumba magazine chooses it as the album of the year. The band is also highly successful as a live act and almost without an exception, their gigs are sold out.
The band takes a break of touring for recording their second album. The album is titled "Kroketti" ("Croquet") and it's released in 1997. After the album release, all Ultra Bra's gigs (without an exception) are sold out. In 1998, Ultra Bra takes part in the Finnish trials of Eurovision Song Contest with "Tyttöjen välisestä ystävyydestä" ("About friendship between girls"). The song doesn't win, but becomes a summer hit anyway.
In 1998, Anna Tulusto leaves the band. Kerkko Koskinen tells in an interview that she was kicked out because she sang so badly that they had to turn her microphone off in their live appearances. Later he apologizes his statement.
Ultra Bra begins to work on their third album. "Kalifornia" ("California") is released in March 1999 and achieves a gold record on the week it's released. The band tours around Finland, with massive concerts in Tampere and Helsinki where the 12-person band is backed with a string section of at least a dozen musicians.
After heavy touring, the band is supposed to take a break. It doesn't turn out that way as they start already working on their next album. They also release a hefty load of singles.
Before releasing the album "Vesireittejä" ("Waterways") in late 2000, the band decides to quit. However, they also agree that they won't talk about their decision before the spring of 2001. When they finally tell about their plans of splitting up, it's on the covers of all major Finnish newspapers.
As I'm writing this, the band is just on their "The Last Waltz" tour which is going to end next week with 5 consecutive concerts in the famous Tavastia club in Helsinki. They have also just released a greatest hits double CD, titled "Sinä päivänä kun synnyin" ("The day I was born"), with b-sides and rarities on the second CD, a home video with all their music videos accompanied by a live concert (recorded in Tampere, November 2000), and a huge 200-page sheet music book with every song they've ever recorded.
In a recent interview Kerkko Koskinen says that he won't say that the band would never perform again. He also says that the band is not splitting up because of arguments. But I guess it was probably difficult to manage the schedules of 12 busy professional musicians and it was actually quite surprising that the fun lasted so long.