Big Ups: Jam Band Weedeaters and Jesus Lizard Fanatics
The twenty-something, NYU-bred noise-rocking brainiacs in Brooklyn's Big Ups are nestled in a corner booth at Greenpoint's Manhattan Inn, downing Buds while barely looking old enough to drink, cracking wise-ass all the way. They shoot down their own goofy name ("It's a really bad band name"), squash the hardcore punk comparisons (Black Flag? They "don't hear it at all') and they even bestowed a silly nickname upon guitarist Amar Lal he's not exactly fond of (or wants printed here).
Photo Danny Krug Big Ups
See also: The 10 Best Bars in Greenpoint
But that's not all of Big Ups' shenanigans. The drummer (Brendan Finn) is really a bass player and the bassist (Carlos Salguero) is actually a guitarist who just picked up a bass in 2010. But standing front and center--stalking, convulsing on and pacing DIY stages--is one Joe Galarraga, Big Ups' brainy-cum-dorky front-man (dude bleached his mop blonde and burned his head in the process) who's spewing of nerdy speak-yelp downer-isms conjures images of Steve Albini, while the mightiest of twitch-heavy and totally infectious serrated quiet/loud Shellac-sized post-punk fury forges full speed ahead.
Big Ups play Glasslands this Saturday, November 30 and December 14 at Brooklyn Night Bazaar
Meanwhile, Big Ups are firmly planted in the middle of Brooklyn's vibrant, yet vast, scene that includes Shark?, The Hairs, Low Fat Getting High and their buds in Flagland and Vulture Shit. But come January, Big Ups will up the ante big time when its flat-out blistering debut LP they call Eighteen Hours of Static [Dead Labour] is unleashed. It's eleven insanely slanted yet hooky tunes evoke everything from the noisy post-hardcore screamoid stamp of D.C.'s Black Eyes to Shellac and the Jesus Lizard's meticulous edges to Nirvana's noise pedal-hopping histrionics.
We gathered the Big Ups dudes over beers to chat about, most importantly, their love for Phish, The Dead, Steely Dan, Double Dagger and how listening to jam bands passes the time on the road.
So, Big Ups, huh? Where did that come from?
Joe Galarraga: It's a really bad band name.
It's not that bad.
Amar Lal: We were young.
Brendan Finn: It's memorable.
Galarraga: It came from the fact that at the time when we started this band, there was lots of bands that were plural bands but they had no article, like "the." Then Big Ups is a plural band name but it's also a phrase. That's really it. I just thought it was really silly. We were going to be called Big Ups or Noodles and we decided on Big Ups.
My vote is for Big Ups.
Galarraga: Yeah, well. Neither of them are good.
I was going to ask if there were any backup names.
Galarraga: Noodles was the backup name. But I think there's a DJ out in Idaho named Big Ups...
Lal: ...I thought there was a DJ named Noodles. That's a sweet DJ name. DJ Noodles!
Galarraga: There's an Ed Helms movie, I think, and there's a fake boy band named Big Ups in that.
Salguero: Search engine optimization was pretty terrible...
Galarraga: Yeah, we got some angry emails from fifteen year-olds kids being like "Did you name your band after that move? You asshole!"
Big Ups sounds like a bar name. "Let's get beers at the Big Ups!"
Lal: Where would the Big Ups be? That's the thing.
Galarraga: Definitely somewhere in the U.K.
So all you guys met at NYU, and according your press release, you bonded over Cat5 cables?
Galarraga: Yes we did. We were all in the music technology program but we were coming up with a way to tell "the origins of the band" so "we met while assembling Cat5 cables in New York," which basically means we went to school together.
How was the program?
Galarraga: It was pretty awesome but I don't feel like I remember a lot of the stuff that I learned, but...
Lal: This band is the most significant application of my degree--put it that way.
So you are applying the valuable knowledge learned at NYU and Big Ups is the result.
Galarraga: I'm an audio engineer, technically, but I do podcasts and it's not the kind of thing that I'm constantly building cables and amplifiers--I just kind of show up. I put up microphones, I record and that's what I do and that's it. Actually, it could have been the kind of thing that I could have learned, for my job, in an online tutorial in a day to figure out what I do. It's not as complicated as it could be.
Salguero: Amar mixed the whole record (18 Hours of Static) so he probably knows the most.
Lal: I recorded the early (Big Ups) stuff but we had a friend, Charles DeChants, who recorded the new record at Excello (in Williamsburg), which was an amazing experience and I ended up mixing it...
Finn: ...it was a cold experience because they didn't have the heat on and it was February.
That was a long time ago since you recorded 18 Hours of Static then.
Lal: We finished it in July.
Then how did you hook up with the Dead Labour label?
Galarraga: Yeah, so, Dead Labour was started by Derek Evers who runs and founded Impose Magazine and he was like "I want to start a new label" because he had Impose Records but he didn't want to just keep putting out everything with the word 'Impose" on it. He wanted to make some sort of separation in things that he does. We're the only band; we're the first record they are putting out.
I know Derek because when I was actually on college, I interned for him for a whole year. I would just go to this apartment and ship out packages and stuff. Since then though, he's gotten an office and it's pretty sweet. Derek has been very supportive (of Big Ups). I remember back when we had just formed the band about that time...
Which was when?
Galarraga: 2010--that was the fall of our pre-senior year (at NYU). I knew that Derek would book shows, for Impose events. So I was like "Yeah, I have a band, you know, you should get us on it" and he'd be like "Yeah, yeah, yeah." Finally, he saw us and ever since then he's been super supportive.
Has it always been the four of you?
Galarraga: Yeah, yeah. There was a quick minute...
...we had a friend (Drew)...
Salguero: He played guitar and asked to join the band.
Galarraga: So, yeah, we'd have two guitars. But then he quit before we ever practiced with him so he was only with us for two weeks. Drew then said "Here's the thing: I have to work on stuff for my other band so I quit your band." I was like "Oh, okay (laughing)." His band (Montes Rook) is awesome, though. Amar actually played in that band also.
Salguero: They (Joe, Brendan and Amar) were all in a surf rock band.
Galarraga: I played bass in that. It was Brendan's friend from Buffalo and he was living here for a while. He's a mastermind genius and he ad written all these surf instrumentals songs. Then there was a summer and he was wanting to play shows. So he knew Brendan, Brendan knew Amar and Amar knew Nick. So it was Brendan playing drums, Amar playing guitar and I was playing bass. That same summer, I went home to Baltimore for two months and I was hanging out with my mom and working at the farm so I wrote the first batch of Big Ups songs and then I came back (here) to go to school.
Did you write all the guitar parts?
Galarraga: The guitar parts, mostly. Back then the music was very different. It was so much more simple and very formulaic...
Salguero: Three chords...
Galarraga: Three chords, pop punk kind of stuff and then the vibe kind of changed. I've never played guitar in the band but play (guitar) outside of the band. I wanted to be in a band and there were all these bands with front-men that I really liked and I was like "I want to do that."
What bands with front-men inspired you?
Salguero: What bands is Joe gonna say?
Lal: Is there one band that starts with a "D?"
Galarraga: (Laughing) There's this band Double Dagger...