INTERVIEW: New York Rockers Upright Man
New York City-based rockers Upright Man are currently on the road and performing some East Coast dates promoting their self-titled debut album due out in August. Their music is an eclectic blend of alternative, psychedelic, roots rock and classic rock. Upright Man is known for their complex harmonies and time signatures. Taking influences like Pink Floyd, Radiohead, Crowded House, Little Feat, The Beatles and XTC, Upright Man has incorporated them into their own sound and created something they feel is unique and special. The band features Aidan Dolan (guitar/vocals), Nick Katz (bass/vocals) and Max Yassky (drums/percussion/background vocals), along with touring member Ryan Slotnick (keyboards). The core members Max, Nick and Aidan spoke to SoCalMusicToday to discuss their new album, the music-making process including writing songs, working with producer Marc Copely and engineer Bruce Sugar in the studio, the instruments they play, their favorite and least favorite venues they have performed at and more.
Can you briefly describe Upright Man’s music-making process?
Nick: Go in a room, make noise, refine, repeat.
Aidan: Our writing process is never quite the same. Sometimes we just get in a room and make a lot of noise, coming out with some working ideas. Other times, different combinations of us as pairs or individuals bring complete song ideas to the band to pick apart and put back together. It’s really a back and forth between those two things. Once we leave the noise making room, we all come back together the next time with a huge array of options of where to take the song. Writing together is a great way to avoid writers block or falling into a similar writing pattern.
Who writes your songs? What are the main themes or topics for most of your songs? Do you think these topics will change over time?
Nick: We all write together for the most part. There isn’t a focused message, we write about how we’re feeling at the time, or about something we see going on around us, so yeah, the topics will and do change.
Aidan: Though a lot of our songs start with instrumental ideas, lyrics always end up being a huge influence on the writing of a song. Often times lyrics just very simply try to get a feeling across that other people can relate to. We don’t ever try to force a viewpoint or corner a song into meaning the one thing we want it to.
Max: A group of trained monkeys. We just edit the lyrics to make the banana metaphors less obvious.
What are your rehearsals generally like? Do you have a set time each week in which you practice or are rehearsals more spontaneous?
Nick: We tend to book rehearsals a few days in advance when we wanna really practice. Otherwise we just hang and jam and sort of rehearse that way.
Aidan: When a gig is coming up, we get a lot more focused and structured in rehearsal. We run sets through and do detail work on songs that are already happening for us live. When a gig is not so near, we tend to come in with some more radical ideas, cover songs, or just no plan at all.
Max: We’ve rehearsed at Euphoria studios in NYC a lot. We tend to go pretty structured on the rehearsal end of things but we do jam out hard sometimes.
The band met at NYU taking classical music composition classes. How has your music evolved since you first began playing music together?
Max: It sucks less.
Aidan: In college, by the time we had written something and brought it to each other, we were all so composition minded that we treated each other’s music as a classical piece to be played exactly as it was written. In the formation of Upright Man, we sacrificed the sacredness of each other’s writing to come together and be more free as a band together. It’s only rock and roll anyway.
Nick: Well, the first music we played together was this really out classical influenced long form stuff, so yeah, it’s changed a lot.
How did the band come to work with producer Marc Copely and engineer Bruce Sugar on your self-titled debut album?
Aidan: I met Marc about four years ago playing in a band that he was MD’ing. Being fresh out of college and a bit of a deer in headlights around him and many other accomplished musicians, I sort of began to study under Marc. Not like we ever sat a desk together or even gave me a lesson. It was more of a monkey see, monkey do thing and I became a lot more confident and talented through that guidance. We ended up playing a record together that was produced by Joe Walsh from the Eagles. His main sound engineer (as well as Ringo Starr’s) is Bruce Sugar. That’s how Marc and I met Bruce. Once the idea of Marc producing Upright Man came up and we were ready to record, Bruce became part of the team we assembled for the recordings.
What was that experience like and working with them in the studio? What did you learn from them as band and take away from it?
Max: I think I had the option of showing up like a kid and doing whatever, or showing up like an adult and assuming those responsibilities. So I wound up doing a lot of research on different drummers and styles that we were trying to put in our music, especially since I come from a different place of musical inspiration usually.
Nick: I learned how to do a really good drunk guy voice.
Aidan: The studio can be a touchy time when people feel like it’s time for their vision to be realized, or at least given a chance to be heard. We simply don’t have time to all be thinking so independently on such a team project. Marc is one of the funniest dudes I know and has an ability to diffuse any uncomfortable situation with an incredibly vulgar joke, that for some reason is only funny when he says it. We try to keep everyone positive, open to new ideas, not dwelling on their personal artistic preference, and cracking a healthy amount of dick jokes.
What has been your biggest challenge as a band and how have you been able to overcome it?
Max: We had a pretty big fight over Super Smash Brothers; we stopped playing that game.
Nick: This question.
What’s your ultimate direction for Upright Man? Are you seeking fame and fortune?
Max: To inspire everyone to be a homo erectus.
Nick: it would be nice if a lot of people liked our music – who doesn’t want to be loved, right? I think the real motivation is personal growth though; we are all of the mind that education never ends, especially for a musician. Every door you open just leads to another room with more doors.
Aidan: It was the dream of an Upright Man to be loved… We also have the compulsion to write music constantly, so we need an outlet for that.
What advice do you have for people who want to form their own bands?
Nick: Don’t do it.
Max: Yea don’t do it. Unless you can get a talented team of monkeys to write your lyrics…
Aidan: You have to be crazy to really do it. It’s not a solid plan A. Be prepared to be in a van alooooot.
What can you tell me about your instruments? (i.e., Are you subject to brand loyalty or will you play with whatever’s available? What made you choose the instruments you have now? Was it cost or was it a style/model/brand/color preference?)
Max: The Yamaha Recording Custom that I play has been in Aidan’s family for a while, and it’s the brother to Isaac Teel’s Yamaha Recording Custom. Isaac is the drummer for the killer jam-band Tauk. I believe he just started playing Pearl as part of an endorsement. I love Yamaha drums though, their hardware is great. I appreciate any drum that’s made well / with love.
Nick: I’ve played the same bass since I was about 16. It’s a Lakland Jazz Bass that was a gift from my father. I love the way it feels, it’s a really great live bass, versatile sound, easy to play, and it’s a tank. I use other stuff on our records as well – there’s a Fender P, a Guild Starfire Bass and a Silvertone Dolphin Nose Bass as well as a Sadowsky P that has a Jazz Bass Body on the upcoming release. Oh, and my Lakland is on the record as well, it’s not just for shows.
Aidan: I’m a sucker for vintage guitars. My main axe of choice would be my 1966 Guild Polara. It’s a very unusual looking guitar and has an actual kickstand built in the back of it! Everything about it from the firebird headstock to the SG like body and badass whammy bar has a huge amount of character and individuality. Though I didn’t purchase this guitar till we were halfway done with the record, the way it plays and sounds was a huge inspiration for the guitar writing on the rest of the record.
Upright Man has toured a lot and you have upcoming shows this summer leading up to your August 18th album release. What have been your favorite and least favorite venues, and why?
Max: There’s no reason that a bad show on our end should translate to a bad venue, but I didn’t really love our show at Legion Bar in Brooklyn. Confusion about the backline, small stage, yunno how it goes. We did have a great few shows at The Brooklyn Bowl and Funky Joe’s.
Nick: Well I don’t wanna put anywhere down, there are some pretty gross back rooms at bars in Brooklyn that we’ve played which suck, but on a positive note, we just had an awesome gig at Antone’s in Austin. That is a great place.
Aidan: I’d have to agree with these guys. Some under-equipped Brooklyn venues were a logistical nightmare. We played a show at a bar in Long Island with 2 people there and we setup up the whole stage, sound system, mics, and mixed it ourselves too. Pretty low reward for that one. The venues from this recent run of opening up for Robert Randolph & The Family Band were a big step up for us in terms of size and quality. Antone’s in Austin was amazing.
Which songs do you perform most frequently? Do you ever play any covers? Do you have a set play list?
Nick: We pretty much play the whole record, we’ll usually tailor the set to our audience a little bit, but we get most of the songs in. We do a cover of “Happiness is a Warm Gun,” but we actually have a three-hour set coming up on August 17th at a bar in Ocean City, MD so we’re about to learn a whole bunch more.
Max: Our cover of “Happiness Is A Warm Gun” has become a staple for us.
Aidan: We generally play our record down. There are more originals we have that didn’t make the record but do occasionally make it onto the live show. Our cover of “Happiness is a Warm Gun” will never be played anywhere close to the same way twice. Instead of ending the song where the Beatles do, we open it up into a spacey jam reminiscent of Pink Floyd and go off to outer space in a different direction each time.
Upright Man on Tour:
6/26 New York, NY @B.B. King’s
8/17 Ocean City, MD @ Fager’s Island
8/23 New York, NY @ Bowery Electric
About Upright Man: