An Interview With Big Ups

Big Ups is a band that delivers energy-fueled stompers with shrieking guitars and breathtaking rhythms. We talked to them before they went out to a month long tour in Europe. Check it out.

Punchland: How did you guys meet?

Big Ups: We all attended the Music Technology program at NYU. We had several classes together, but we didn’t really start playing music together until Brendan, Amar, and myself came together with Nick Reynolds (now of Buffalo’s Space Wolves & countless other bands) to play instrumental surf rock as Aaron and the Burrs. Later, that band slowly dissolved (but is back now), and we recruited our good buddy Carlos and became Big Ups.

Punchland: How and when did you get into music and who are your influences?

Big Ups: I’ve been into music for as long as I can remember. I played piano and drums for the school band starting in the third grade, and later picked up the guitar. There are numerous influences I could cite here, but I think I was most influenced by the Baltimore music scene of the early/mid 00s. I was excited by their DIY ethos, experimentation, and passion- musicians like Ecstatic Sunshine, Double Dagger, Ponytail, Videohippos, and WZT Hearts, to name a few.

Punchland: What was the process to get to Big Ups? Was there any other iterations of the band? Different names, sounds, etc?

Big Ups: As mentioned before, there was Aaron and the Burrs. All of us have been in different bands since high school. Big Ups’ sound has definitely changed, too. At first, the band was a novelty. Over time, we started to take it more seriously, and you can hear that in the songwriting, I think.

Punchland: Favorite Big Ups song?

Big Ups: A rare B-side called Spiderchildren. Often requested by Andrew Emge at all of our shows. It may never be played again.

Punchland: You sound like a band from the 90’s. Very grungy. Is that intentional? Do you identify with any scene going on right now? Or any scene from the 90s?

Big Ups: It’s not intentional. I definitely listen to a lot of guitar rock from the 90s – Polvo, Jawbox, Weezer, Nirvana, etc. so it’s inevitable that it somehow influences our music. In terms of identifying with a scene, I don’t think we align ourselves too particularly. We’ve played hip hop shows, we’ve played big clubs, and we’ve played basements. I think what’s most important to us is playing with people we like at places that are welcoming.

Punchland: What’s your gear set up?

Big Ups: It’s pretty simple. Drums, bass guitar, guitar, and one vocal. Amar has a myriad of pedals that he uses to get all of those alien sounds. Carlos has one distortion and a really nice Ampeg bass head. No frills, really.

Photo by Andrew Markowitz
Photo by Andrew Markowitz

Punchland: How was the process of getting your first record together?

Big Ups: We never really had talked about making a full-length until we were approached by Dead Labour to make one. Once we decided that we wanted to do it, we basically just recorded all of the songs that we didn’t have online or on 7″, and then wrote a few more tracks for the sake of diversity. Ultimately, I think it makes for a pretty good album, but that wasn’t necessarily by design.

Punchland: The writing is a little poignant. Like a diary of existential crisis. Almost nihilist. Is there a reason why? What’s the writing process?

Big Ups: The record generally focuses on ‘the bad’, yes, but all of it is stuff I have noticed from daily life. So many people I know- family and friends- dedicate their lives to trying to make the world a better place- giving back to the community, teaching, making art, etc. I just find myself surrounded by conversations involving mental health, poverty, injustice, and a myriad of other ‘heavy’ topics. I like to think about these things and question systems. It’s sort of unexplainable, but the topics of the songs are mostly inspired by journaling, discussions with friends and family, etc.

Punchland: How do you guys put a song together? Is this something where all members are involved in the creation process or just a couple of you guys decide how things are gonna play out? Divide and conquer style?

Big Ups: It really depends. Some songs are written by one person, and some are written more collaboratively. They ultimately get altered as we learn them until we get something that satisfies all of us as the final iteration.

Punchland: How involved are you in the music community in Brooklyn? I noticed you sort of play with the same bands in several gigs.

Big Ups: We’re pretty involved. On pretty much any night of the week, you can probably find one of us at Shea Stadium, Death By Audio, or Silent Barn. We play with a lot of the same bands because these folks are our friends, and we like the music their making! I love going to a show and seeing a band that I’ve never seen and thinking to myself, “We have to play a show with them…” The music scene in Brooklyn is very saturated and there are so many bands, but I think I learn to appreciate that fact more and more everyday. It’s just exciting to see so many people making music and enjoying themselves. It’s nice to go to a show and be reminded that there are so many creative people around doing cool things.

Punchland: Where was your first show? And how things are different now with a new record and a boat load of great reviews? The record sounds great, by the way.

Big Ups: Glad you like the record! Our first show was on the roof of the apartment building where I still live in October 2010. It was with Flagland, and it was their first show, too. Our bands are literally twins, though definitely fraternal. Things certainly are a little different now that the record has come out. We aren’t playing five shows in Brooklyn a month like we used to, and I kind of miss that, but now we’re trying to tour a lot more, and it just isn’t possible to play that often in NYC. In some ways, things haven’t changed that much. Like I said before, we’re all at shows all the time, and it’s good to be surrounded and supported by such good folks.

Photo via Big Ups' Facebook Page
Photo via Big Ups’ Facebook Page

Punchland: What’s the deal with the record’s title?

Big Ups: The record’s title is taken from a line from Carl Sagan’s Contact. We all watched the movie together after a show we played in Baltimore, and it just kind of stuck as the best title we came up with for the record. All of the rest of them we’re way worse. The line also references a crucial point of the movie that shows a merging dichotomy, and this idea is represented in many of the lyrics on the record, and in the album artwork by my good friend Austin Redwood. The paintings are named “Ordo Ad Chao” & “Nutrisco et Extinguo” – “Order to Chaos” & “I nourish and extinguish”.

Punchland: You talked about touring more and how difficult it is to have more shows in New York City. Can you expand on that? What are the plans for the near future?

Big Ups: Well, simply put, there are weeks and months when we aren’t in the city, so we just can’t be playing as frequently in NYC because we aren’t necessarily around as much. Recently, we’ve been trying to use our time off the road to work on new songs and ideas for our next release. There just isn’t enough time in the proverbial day to do everything that we want to do! In the near future, we’re going to be back on the road! We’re headed to Europe for all of May, and have a few shows in NYC for Northside Festival and Fucked Up’s record release in June. A few little weekend tours here and there, and hopefully we’ll get to some new recording towards the end of the summer/early autumn.

Tag Brum
Tag Brum
Tag Brum lives in Brooklyn and writes things from a computer whenever wi-fi is available. You can follow him on Twitter @tagbrum.


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