Brooklyn’s Big Ups On Jodie Foster, Homemade Slime + Debut Album ‘Eighteen Hours of Static’
If you’ve been searching for a band that draws inspiration from a Jodie Foster flick — and the likes of the Descendents, the Jesus Lizard and Pissed Jeans — and loves to occasionally douse its fans in homemade slime, Big Ups may be for you. We caught up with the New York City rockers via email to find out how the band first formed, what their rowdiest gig has been, why the “hardcore” label placed on them isn’t necessarily accurate and what we can expect from their debut album, ‘Eighteen Hours Of Static,’ due out Jan. 14 on Dead Labour.
How did Big Ups start out as a band? You were all students at NYU together, studying music technology, correct?
Amar Lal: Joe [Galarraga], Brendan [Finn] and I used to play in an instrumental surf rock band called Aaron and the Burrs. When that band disbanded, Joe wrote a couple of short songs with the goal of playing out and around with a band and asked Brendan and I to play with him, since we’d already been playing together. He asked Carlos [Salguero] to play bass because we were all friends, and we started practicing in the recording studios at NYU, where we had classes. We’d record all of our practices, both to work on trying engineering things, and to be able to hear how we were playing. That was just over three years ago; for whatever reason, we’ve just kept playing together, although it took us around a year to decide to work on not sucking a lot.
Were you able to put your degrees to use when it came to mixing/producing the album?
AL: We all contributed recording and production ideas when creating the record, and I was lucky enough to get to mix the record. Our degrees were actually very helpful when it came to communicating about sounds with both the recording and mastering engineers. Outside of that, though, we’re all very aware of the problems of having “too many chefs in the kitchen,” so we try to let the engineers do their thing when possible.
You seem to be frequently labeled as a hardcore band, but from what I’ve read, you don’t really agree – why do you think you’ve been labeled that way? Do you mind it? How would you describe your genre?
Carlos Salguero Jr.: OK, so, full disclosure here, other than listening to a lot of s—ty screamo in high school (sigh), I’ve never been a punk or hardcore guy in the way we’re often described. I never really listened to any of the bands that our sound is often compared to until I joined this band, and I don’t think Brendan had either — not because I didn’t like them, but rather I just never had any exposure from people who had that taste. But since then, Joe and Amar have been kind enough to give me a Rosetta Stone for a punk crash course. That’s why I think it’s a little misleading when people describe us as hardcore because there was never really that intention musically or lifestyle-wise when we formed, like, “Yeah, we’re punx! And we wanna start a band and be the next Fugazi/Descendents/whatever.”
It was just us stealing studio time from our school because we couldn’t afford a practice space to work on our s—ty songs about pizza and high fives. Joe would do his thing at shows, and it’s grown or “matured” from there to what we are now, a little darker, a little more serious. But in my learnings about punk, I’ve also heard and seen videos of all these bands that we are often ascribed to, and I could see how that label often gets slapped on us. We aren’t the first ones on this path, and humans, especially those who write about music, like to categorize because it’s easy, and of course you’ve got to give your reader some point of reference. And I don’t think any of us really mind that label; it’s just not necessarily how we think of ourselves. Label it whatever you want, but if you listen or see us, you’ll know sometimes it’s fast, sometimes it’s slow. It’s soft and loud, sometimes drunk and sometimes serious. Regardless, we’re just doing what we want.
You’ve been likened to acts like The Descendents, the Jesus Lizard, Pissed Jeans … have they been your biggest musical influences? Any other acts/albums, in particular?
Joe Galarraga: I really love all of those bands, and I think they all inform the music that we make. ‘TMI’ definitely has a Jesus Lizard feel to it. But one of my favorite things about ‘Eighteen Hours of Static’ is that it is kind of a weird mix of songs that bring together a bunch of different sounds. ‘Body Parts’ reminds me of a floppy Shellac song. ‘Wool’ was heavily influenced by Fugazi. We also all have such varying musical tastes, and I think the way we write songs allows for everyone to insert their own voice and influences.
Joe, I’ve read that you sometimes don’t want people to be able to read/understand all of the lyrics to your songs — do you intentionally sing them in a way to mask them?
JG: I don’t really. I try to follow what Brendan, Amar and Carlos are doing in terms of dynamics, so often I’m either whispering or screaming. I don’t mind if people know what the lyrics are, but I didn’t want to include a lyrics sheet with the album because I do like the idea of a little ambiguity. I like listening to songs and not knowing what they’re about and just discovering how they make me feel.
From the looks of your video for ‘Goes Black’, your live shows get rather rowdy – are they typically that wild? What’s the craziest moment/injury that resulted from one of your shows?
CS: Our shows can get pretty rowdy sometimes, but never like Lamb Of God, Wall Of Death crazy. Wild is cool as long as no one gets really hurt! But I was an EMT for a bit, so I will save you if you get low-to-medium hurt, though my license has expired… My personal favorite Rowdy Boys Show Experience was at one of our earliest shows at the old Silent Barn in Ridgewood. It was a f—ing freezing night. We hung out in the lobby of a Papa John’s before the show to keep warm. (Lol — I just said that Papa John’s has a lobby.)
Anyway, Joe’s good friend Austin, who has been a major visual artistic contributor to our band (he drew and painted the cover of the LP and EP), had secretly brought a giant bucket of homemade slime into the venue. Some time halfway during our set, he poured it all over Joe and the people up front. It was madness from there on out. People slipping and falling all over and sliming each other. No one who watched us left without some gak on them. I’m pretty sure there’s some s—ty YouTube footage if you get curious. NOW EVERYBODY — CIRCLE PIT!
The album title ‘Eighteen Hours Of Static’ was inspired by the film ‘Contact’ – why did you decide it was a good title for the record?
Brendan Finn: Well it certainly has a nice ring too it, and when I think of Jodie Foster flying through the cosmos, I can’t help but believe that those eighteen hours of static truly inspired us to explore our minds and seek the truth. I want to believe there is more out there, ya know? This record is like space, it’s deep, man.
What’s the story behind the album artwork? What’s the image of/who painted it?
BF: A good friend of ours, the aforementioned Austin Redwood, painted the album cover and back cover. Again, coming back to the motion picture thrill ride ‘Contact,’ the cover is a space beach, similar to the one Jodie experiences towards the end of the feel-good hit of 1997, ‘Contact.’ To me, though, it is so much more than a space beach. Amar also contributed to the artwork on the inside sleeve, and I must say it’s pretty stellar – it really is out of this world.
Your album was recorded in the span of 72 hours – did you take many breaks, or did you power through to get it done? Did you intentionally try to pack it all into a short period of time?
JG: We all definitely had time to sleep, but there were some very long days. Particularly, I remember a day where we all were at the studio until 4AM, taking down microphones, moving sound barriers, etc. with our engineer, Charles DeChants. We did the whole thing in three days because, well, we couldn’t really afford anything else.
You guys promote quite a few fellow bands that you know/like on your Facebook page. Who would you say are the best new acts (aside from yourselves) to come out of the punk/Brooklyn music scene in recent years?
JG: This is a really hard question because there are so many bands in this city. It’s hard to list names because I always feel like I am going to forget a band I love that’s really obvious. Right now, I’m obsessed with Big Neck Police. I think they all go to Bard College, but we’ve played with them several times in Brooklyn. Check them out! You won’t be sorry. I try to catch every PC Worship show that I can. That’s one of the first bands from this city that really blew my mind. We’ve been playing shows with Flagland since day one – literally. Our show was also their first show. I’ve heard their new record, ‘Love Hard,’ and it’s a doozy. I also love Vulture S— & Low Fat Getting High; we try to play with those folks as much as possible. The So So Glos, Sleepies, Shark?, EULA, Butter the Children, Palehound — there are a lot of great bands here. I sometimes find myself being really cynical about the music scene in Brooklyn, but it’s good to answer questions like these to remind me that everything doesn’t suck.