[Photo credit: Sloane Morrison]
New York City-based rock band Upright Man is Aidan Dolan (guitar/vocals), Nick Katz (bass/vocals) and Max Yassky (drums/percussion/background vocals).
The group met while studying classical music composition at New York University where they played together on various projects ranging from classical ensembles to rock bands. Their strong writing chemistry spurred the formation of Upright Man. Combining elements of alternative, psychedelic, roots rock and classic rock with complex harmonies and time signatures, the band seamlessly intertwines influences like Pink Floyd, Radiohead, Crowded House, Little Feat, the Beatles, Led Zeppelin and XTC into a unique sound all their own.
Upright Man’s dynamic self-titled debut is due out on August 18th 2017. The album’s ten shimmering tracks were produced by Marc Copely (Roseanne Cash, B.B. King, Billy Squire) and Zev Katz (Jeff Beck, Hall & Oates, Aretha Franklin) and engineered by Bruce Sugar (Ringo Starr, Joe Walsh) at Avatar Studios and Sear Sound in NYC and at Blackbird Studios in Nashville.
Upright Man has crafted an exciting, ambitious, formidable album that immediately captivates and holds tight. The magnetic songs boast the hulking riffs and spacey twists of the eponymous “Upright Man” while the bombastic tribal beats of “Animals” and “Checked Out” throw you into a hypnotic frenzy. “Three Easy Pieces” mesmerizes with propulsive piano-driven swagger, “Agorognostic” paints a lush soundscape via sharp lyrics and vibrant instrumentation and “Designer Mind” and “Say What You Mean” offer sultry distortion-drenched stomps.
Interview with Upright Man
[Photo credit: Sloane Morrison]
Hello! Introduce us to the band and tell us a bit about your musical backgrounds.
Max: Hey thanks for coming by, sorry the place is a mess. We just moved in; no idea where the armoire is going to go and please excuse all the duvet covers on the floor. I’m Max, I play the drums. I always have and I’d say that I always will but that’s not true, eventually I’ll be dead.
Ha, ha! 🙂 Nice to meet you.
Nick: I play bass. My dad plays bass. He had me in music classes from the age of 4. It’s basically been and continues to be my life.
Sounds good 🙂
Aidan: Guitar and lead vocals here! I grew up learning guitar semi-formally, with a teacher that taught me mostly by ear and monkey see monkey do. It wasn’t until I was sixteen that I started formally learning the theory that I know Nick was swimming in at age 8. I saw that music was still a possibility in my life if I worked really hard at it, so I somehow managed to get into school for jazz guitar, then classical composition at NYU. After my college years, I reverted back to my aspirations as a teenager to be in a band, forming Upright Man.
Thanks, Aidan. It sounds like you three have quite similar backgrounds musically 🙂
Your self-titled debut album, “Upright Man” is coming out August 18th. I’ve listened to the pre-release version and enjoyed it. It has a very unique sound, and the collection of songs is quite eclectic. Did you have an idea of what type of album you wanted to produce, or was it more of an experimental record?
Nick: I guess you could say it was an experiment. We just wrote and recorded a boatload of songs, then picked what we thought were the best 10.
Max: We wanted to make a real rock and roll album.
Aidan: Through working on each others’ projects throughout college, we all became very familiar with each others’ writing styles. Naturally, we began writing together and next thing you know, we had written a lot of songs. But the sound and arrangements were so varied, we could’ve formed a trippy acoustic country band or an instrumental modern classical prog rock band. Through the process of recording many songs and playing many shows, we discovered what band we are really supposed to be, and it’s called Upright Man. We only stopped recording and planned to release the record once we felt like we had reached the point of sounding like a real band with identity.
It’s an accomplished album. Nice to hear something that is original sounding.
I know the album was produced by Marc Copely (Roseanne Cash, B.B. King, Billy Squire) and Zev Katz (Jeff Beck, Hall & Oates, Aretha Franklin) and engineered by Bruce Sugar (Ringo Starr, Joe Walsh) at Avatar Studios and Sear Sound in NYC and at Blackbird Studios in Nashville. How did it feel to be working with such renowned names on the album. Did you learn anything from them while working on the album that you could pass on to other musicians?
Nick: Stay in your lane. And do lots of preproduction. Efficiency during basic tracking helps everyone out. Once you get to overdub land is when you can start messing around a lot and experimenting. When it comes to basics, get all that out of your system before you’re paying out the ass for studio time.
Max: Learn how to tell when you’re chasing your tail. If you don’t ever try weird ideas or go for more amped up and inspired takes, your music will be boring. I think a lot of time gets wasted arguing over whether or not we should try recording something interesting. 20 minutes spent arguing about trying something that would take 15 minutes to track is stupid. On the other hand, convincing everyone to try something that will only take “2 minutes”, which winds up taking 5 takes, is worse. Know what kinds of ideas are going to bear fruit quickly.
Aidan: Marc Copely became a great friend and very influential mentor to me when I graduated college and joined a band that he MD’s. Zev happened to be in the band with us at that time. Most of what I’ve learned, particularly from Marc, was very non-verbal, so it’s hard to do it justice by describing it in words. A couple months after graduating college, I found myself in LA at Capitol Studios playing a session that was engineered by Bruce Sugar with Zev and Marc. I saw how when you have an amazing group of musicians come together, you don’t need to pre-compose what is going to be played. The real magic of great music happens when you let the music and musicians breathe so that spontaneous, genuine personality comes through in the moment. I saw how important that was to all these amazing musicians and engineers around me and it changed my very “classical” way of looking at things, in which I was used to composing and controlling everything.
Awesome. Some very interesting tips there!
Which bands do you think have influenced your sound?
Nick: Honestly, every band I’ve ever heard and really listened intently to. All music has something to offer every musician.
Aidan: I can agree with Nick on that. Pink Floyd, Zeppelin, The Beatles, Radiohead are all really obvious, but strong influences. Still, somehow hearing random pop music on the radio or listening to and learning old country music is just as influential to my writing as anything else.
What music are you listening to these days?
Nick: A lot of XTC, Genesis, Gentle Giant, Little Feat as well as a lot of Stax stuff – been real hard for the Al Jackson/ Duck Dunn combo lately. They just know exactly where 2 and 4 are and it’s amazing. I was listening to my dad on “Roxy Music Live” the other day too – made me realize how I often take his influence on my playing for granted. He definitely had the most effect on me as a musician – which stands to reason, but I don’t say it enough.
Max: My good friend in a band called Growing Stone just hipped me to a country singer named Jason Isbell. I’m usually late to the party on most musical acts.
Aidan: I’ve had the unique opportunity to see my brother’s band, TAUK, grow over the last fifteen-ish years. They started playing together around age 13 and they are still going strong. I find myself going back to a lot of Los Lobos and Crowded House recently. We’ve been listening to some Punch Brothers as a band on tour as well.
Which of the songs from your album are your favourites to play live?
Nick: “Animals,” “Designer Mind” and “Upright Man.”
Max: Our cover of “Carry On My Wayward Son.”
Aidan: “Upright Man,” “Checked Out” and “Elysia.”
What upcoming gigs do you have?
We will opening for the Fabulous Thunderbirds on July 20th and 22nd as well playing some shows down in Ocean City, Maryland this August. Once our album is out on August 18th, we’ll return to New York to play a celebratory show on August 23rd at Bowery Electric!
If you could tour with any other band, who would you choose and why?
Nick: Current: Dr. Dog – I never tire of seeing them live. I’d watch the show every night. Former: Little Feat.
Max: Beck…or St. Vincent. Besides loving both of those musical acts, Joey Waronker and Matt Johnson are two modern drummers who I’ve constantly asked myself “what would they do” any time I’m not sure what the right move is drumming-wise.
Aidan: Maybe selfishly, TAUK. I’ve known those dudes for a long time and it would be hilarious to end up on a tour together. Gentle Giant too. I think playing for their crowds would inspire us to do some weeeeeird shit.
If you could pick one song from the album that sums up what Upright Man’s music is all about, which one would you choose? Why?
Nick: I think a big musical point we want to make is actually that you can’t do that for us. We don’t want to be a band that can be summed up in one song because that means all our songs basically sound like that one. I think we’ve seen a tragic death of album listening in the digital age – it was something I realized studying symphonic works. All the movements are related, the piece is meant to be listened to as a whole – to isolate those portions of it is to deny yourself the full experience of the art because your perception of what you hear is affected by that which you hear before and after. All I’m saying is that the artist chose that track listing for a reason and it’s worth paying attention to because it can expand your understanding of something you like on its own. I’m not saying only listen to albums all the way down, but it’s worth it for everyone to do at least a few times with any record that contains songs you like.
That’s a very good point.
Max: I’ve always had mp3 players with insufficient memory to put whole albums on it, so I’d pick and choose my favorite tunes. The problem is that I wind up missing gems and depriving myself of some really amazing tunes. Looking back, I left “When The Levee Breaks”, “Missing The War”, “I’m A Wheel” and “Actor Out Of Work” off of my iPod for space reasons. So now I try and take in whole albums, especially with bands that try and present all of the work as a unified, competent catalogue of shit. We’re trying to do that and singling one tune out doesn’t really make sense.
Aidan: I agree with these dudes! I’m big on listening to whole albums.
Me too, actually. Although, I’ve often heard bands say “such-and-such a song sums up what we are about at this moment in time”… or something to that effect 🙂
If you could change one thing about the music industry at the moment, what would that be?
Nick: I’d love to figure out a way to be just an artist. You have to do so many things that aren’t music these days in order to be a musician. It reminds me of a Mitch Hedberg joke, it’s something to the effect of: “I was in Hollywood the other day at a meeting and they said ‘Mitchell, you’re a great comedian, can you write us a script?’ And I was like ‘I got into comedy to do comedy man.’ That’s like if you’re a chef and you work your ass off to be a great chef and one day your boss comes up to you and says ‘Alright, you’re a chef, but can you farm?” In reality though, it’s more like, “Alright you’re a chef, now can you go stand on the street and hand out coupons for the restaurant to get people to come inside?”
Ha, ha! I can relate. Sadly, it’s very similar in the independent publishing world.
Max: I don’t have a clue. But the way that the music industry interacts (or more specifically DOESN’T interact) with higher music education is wack. For sixty thousand dollars a year, which in a class of 30 students equals the signing bonus for Jessie J, your education should reach incredible depths of practicality and theory. Instead, maybe you take 7 courses that offer more than your high-school did, get to play 2 minutes of your music for Pharrell, and graduate with a handful of meaningful relationships and a useless degree.
Apart from your own, what are some of your favourite albums releases this year?
Aidan: Not this year, but the Radiohead album “Moon Shaped Pool” has grown on me. I wouldn’t say I’m on the frontier of discovering new music and keeping up with recent releases!
I’m assuming you mean the Kendrick Lamar album, and you’re not just swearing at me (?) 🙂
What was the last band you saw live?
Max: Robert Randolph and The Family Band. Awesome show.
Nick: Daisy The Great, they played after me at The Bowery Electric last night. They were pretty great.
Aidan: Neil Diamond. That dude can still really sing.
Neil Diamond’s awesome 🙂
Any other news you’d like to share?
Keep an eye out for our pre-release tracks from the album that will be coming out along the way to our release on August 18th.
Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer my questions. Wishing you every success with the album!
Pre-order your copy of “Upright Man”:
Catch Upright Man on the road:
6/26 New York, NY @B.B. King Blues Club (w/ NRBQ)
7/20 New York, NY @B.B. King Blues Club (w/ The Fabulous Thunderbirds)
7/22 Boston, MA @Cabot Theatre (w/ The Fabulous Thunderbirds)
8/17 Ocean City, MD @Fager’s Island
8/23 New York, NY @Bowery Electric
Upright Man social media links: