New York City-based rock band Upright Man – Aidan Dolan (guitar/vocals), Nick Katz (bass/vocals), Max Yassky (drums / percussion / background vocals) – released their dynamic self-titled debut album in August 2017. 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.
Rock ‘N’ Load thought it would be rude not to talk to this quirky trio about all things … Upright?
Nick: We’re all ordained priests in the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Penne marriages cost $40, Linguine is $60, and Fettucini goes for $100.
Max: And we definitely don’t offer reach-arounds in the confession booth.
Aidan: We are the most recent incarnation of the Upright Man.
Max: Also cooking up some pasta. Yunno because of the earlier joke.
Aidan: We are in the demo process in our home studio. We are also planning some live in-studio videos as well as a new epic video with the makers of our last video music video, “Ecstasy.” Check it out here:
If you were to say one of Upright Man’s own songs perfectly sums up what you are all about which song would that be?
Nick: It’s gotta be “Upright Man”:
Max: Hard choices. Probably “Ecstasy.”
Aidan: “Upright Man.” Especially the lyrics.
Who inspired you guys respectively to pick up your instruments and become musicians?
Nick: My parents had me in music lessons from the age of four. I started playing bass when I was 11 cause I wanted to be in a band, had friends who played drums, guitar and keys, and happened to have a bassist for a father, turned out I was pretty good at it, so the decision was pretty straightforward really.
Max: I guess everyone in my family was musical in some way. They were all predisposed to be supportive of anyone who showed a love a music.
Aidan: My dad always had guitars laying around and started a band as a side project when i was a kid. My brother, who plays bass, had a band as well starting around the age of 11 that is now still going strong and named TAUK. Though I had music around me for a lot of my life, it wasn’t till I heard The Beatles around the age of 12 that I really wanted to pick up the guitar.
Was there any one particular song that made you want to play, if so what was it?
Nick: Probably the whole Beatles discography, I used to listen to Magical Mystery Tour on repeat when I was a kid.
Max: For writing, “Liebestraum” by Franz Liszt. For drumming, “Moby Dick” by Led Zeppelin.
Aidan: “All Along the Watchtower.” Still does!
Tell us about the New York music scene at present, Do you feel there is enough support / opportunities out there for young up and coming bands like yourself to gain exposure?
Nick: That’s funny bro. New York is an oversaturated mess of greedy club promoters that do nothing to help promote and shit bands that seem to draw people because they dress well. Many musicians live by the following adage: People hear what they see… and only in LA is that more true than in New York.
Max: The drummer of either Manage or Owl Kill came up to us after we played at Stanhope House and said, “I normally just have a ‘whatever’ attitude about other bands we play with but you guys were actually awesome to watch!” I think that attitude comes from many people having their own dreams and expectations, which grind against the reality of there being too many people shouting into the void. I’m not nearly as concerned about fucking exposure as I am about the sadness that has deeply wounded the profession of making music.
Aidan: There are opportunities for exposure, but only at whatever level you have proved yourself to be at. NYC doesn’t lend itself to growing your fanbase through shows unless you are making progress elsewhere– like playing shows and growing fans outside the city and developing content on the internet. It’s partially because of the oversaturation in NY. People won’t generally just go out to a venue to see what the music is like without knowing who they are seeing in advance. There are so many exciting things to do that you have to compete for that attention, and to a venue, you are worth how many people you can bring out.
People from the UK etc may look upon the American market & vice versa with rose tinted glasses, Do you feel with the nature of the industry today and advancements in social media / internet that either may offer any such advantages over the other anymore?
Nick: My mother is English, and I’ve spent a lot of time over there throughout my life. The difference I see, honestly, is the same difference you see between Brits and Americans across the board; They’re more educated than us and it reflects in their taste. They also don’t have a society where half the people are dominated by a culture of poverty and a social welfare system that stymies people’s socioeconomic mobility by making you take whatever the first shit job that comes your way in order to continue to qualify for the barely beneficial benefits you need to feed your kids you had as a teenager because no one ever told you condoms actually work because your shit abstinence only sex ed was severely underfunded due to the fact that school funding is based on property taxes by district, so poor neighborhoods get shitty schools and rich neighborhoods get good schools only compounding the cycle of undereducation and enforced poverty which leads to a life of crime followed by what is essentially slave labor for private prison owners. So from a music standpoint, people who haven’t had access to education and really have other shit to think about don’t make for the most intellectual consumers. It’s understandable, complex music takes mental energy and a good majority of Americans aren’t afforded real leisure time by our society – we get breaks enough to recharge a little bit so we can go back to work, not actual time off to utilize our energy in non work related ways. Also since the late 20th century neocon apocalypse shepherded in by Nixon and Reagan, arts education has taken a disgusting sideline in this country. Did you know that the flute was invented like 15,000 years before agriculture, the wheel, domestication, even science? And you’re gonna tell me that which is the first fundamental need of humanity after survival isn’t worth the money to teach to our children? The difference between the British and American markets are as deep as the differences between England and America. One is an ancient country with generally reasonable people in it who use their collective wealth to benefit their whole society – albeit with an older generation that has something of a nationalist bent (though having had the living shit bombed out of them by the Nazis as children, who can really blame them?), the other is a puritanical post-genocidal kleptocracy run by an orange Nazi apologist and built by stolen people. You can hear it in the music. I know that doesn’t really answer your question, but I just spent like 25 minutes writing it, so I’m just gonna leave it.
Max: I’m not sure I understand the question. But Nick I track that; although isn’t every country “Stolen” in some regards? Can you actually say that stolen is anything other than a frame of reference? It hurts because you have empathy and appreciation, awe and knowledge to see what devastation is. You know it’s easier to destroy than to build. But no one people has come forward to unanimously end such undesirable human behavior. And it’s human, not American, not British, not Palestinian, not Greek. I agree that the way many cultures on earth are the result of appropriating/subjecting the conquered cultures before them is an undesirable trait of human beings. But it is one of the major ways humans have grown. I wouldn’t boil it down to “one country does this but this other country doesn’t”. Every country is either a simmering or boiling sea of humans tumulting through questions and uncertainty. Homogeneity only postpones questions and struggles of an individual. There’s much hope for better ways of growth, but I don’t believe that growth will be reached by merely being angry with any person or society for such undesirable behaviour as subjugation. We’re in the ankle of our development as a species. The future will teach this period of existence as “early humans; from walking upright to the birth of the internet”. We have not escaped ourselves yet – our human nature – like we try to escape the wind by building houses or the wear of life by taking medicine. I’d find it easy enough to believe that all of our distinctions as people can be boiled down to “anthropologic”, which precedes (and begets) cultural differences. Those cultural differences are so minute, relative to the difference between a slug and a frog – or a finger and a tongue – that they only seem large and inescapable because we are utterly inundated with ourselves.
Aidan: I have played a few tours in the UK with a different band and can definitely say that there was an excitement about us being american, especially when we played in small towns at the only pub that everyone hangs out at. The crowds in Europe seemed to be opened to some more experimental stuff and generally listened attentively. I don’t think that eithers particularly advantageous besides that the one you haven’t been to is an untapped market for more growth if you can make it over there, plan a tour, and keep coming back
What path have you guys taken thus far to build up your current fan-base?
Nick: Every available one. It’s an odd thing, the internet. I still haven’t figured out what makes people choose to like things. So many people follow us on Facebook or Instagram and then write stuff like “good luck with your music, i haven’t heard it tbh” on links to our Spotify, so that’s nice. It’s like, dude, it’s right fuckin there, just hit that little triangle and then contribute something meaningful to the conversation please?
Max: Haha. I haven’t even seen those comments. I don’t enjoy engaging with social technology as much as I do just reading a book or writing music. But I’ve gotten into a lot of social media in order to help us be more successful.
Aidan: Definitely all of the obvious ones. There is no problem finding us online if you want to, but getting new people interested in us is always tricky. The best and most preferable path to building our fan base is always playing shows, but when we’re home, we always try different ways to engage people on social media. Lots of online interviews 😉
What advice would you have for anyone starting out today? What’s the best piece of advice someone gave you when you realized you wanted to be a musician?
Nick: Have a plan B. There are so many musicians who deserved more than what they got. Success in this industry is a long shot even if you’re great. Remember kids, people hear what they see.
Max: Build a massive picture of what is required to make music. This is a team effort that can bring up and enliven hundreds just from one endeavor. Consider what goes into running a music festival let alone a New York club gig. If you don’t love the idea of being on the phone with a promoter, or if you can’t appreciate the role of a sound engineer, then you’re a pain in the ass to every other musician and creative person.
Aidan: Music school does very little to prepare you for being a professional musician. It must be a given that your a good musician to be successful. As musicians, we would love to just be playing all day and get paid for that, but the music business and promotional aspects of being successful are equally consuming and important.
With the music industry always changing and evolving, what are the things you like and don’t like about it?
Nick: Record companies. Ever since Lionel Chess, musician’s contracts have been exploitive. Also, to be honest, I’m pretty pissed at our pathetic union for not having pushed proper negotiations with record labels and studios in order to properly protect the musician’s rights to benefit from their work. Now, with streaming services defining one play as .00000000001 cents, and being our sole source of mailbox money, we’re even more fucked, and if you think this congress and president are doing shit to help musicians out, I’ve got a bridge you might be interested in. All the while, the union is just busy losing millions of dollars from the pension fund and getting in fights about fucking 54 Below, where literally none of us actually want to have to listen to these fucking Broadway singers with three names sing their favorite Mariah Carey songs.
Oh sorry, you asked for things I like about it? That’s funny.
Max: Still constructing a picture of what the music industry is or does. I have very little ideas about it. Seems more like a club than a tool.
Aidan: I like the music part. At least some of it. From a personal lifestyle perspective, the need for constant engagement in order to stay relevant and build followers is very contrary to what I naturally enjoy, like playing guitar. The fact that social media is at our fingertips, all the time, makes everyone hungry for more and more bits of entertainment in a compulsive way. Though I really don’t enjoy chasing numbers on social media, there are elements of the internet that allow bands to build value for themselves in an organic way, which is great.
If you could change anything about it, what would it be?
Nick: I think my above comment makes it pretty clear. Unionize major label recording. You shouldn’t be able to publish a record without being in the union. Renegotiate record label contracts across the board so they actually benefit the people doing the work. Kill the idea of work for exposure, with fire. Fund music education.
Max: Holy fuck. Ahem. Yes. Kill the idea of ‘work for exposure’. If you’re not sure what that is or why you should want it dead, burned, and then shot into the sun, imagine hiring a plumber to work on your kitchen sink and telling them, “I can’t pay you, but if you do a good job I’ll hang your sign on my lawn and consider letting you fix the toilet.”
Aidan: I agree with Max in that working for exposure is something that is really common when establishing yourself in the the music industry and frustrating when other professions are a lot more straight forward. That to me is a symptom of a larger part of music legislation. I won’t pretend to know exactly what exactly needs to change to be fair, but the industry is changing rapidly with all of the technology that music consumers are using to listen and purchase/download music on. The laws needs to adjust to the way we are consuming music as a society. It’s particularly hurting the value of recorded music, causing most bands at our stage to treat our album as an free promotional hand out for our brand. You could buy a copy if you want, but its also free everywhere.
I always say everyday is a school day, what’s been the most valuable lesson you guys have taken away with you on your journey so far?
Nick: Take every golden opportunity to keep your mouth shut.
Max: I don’t feel like “my journey” is partitioned into moments of my day or who I am working with. It’s all part of the same trip. I’m alive, I’ve found love more than once, and a small fraction of people who I admire believe in me and elevate me. So whatever I’ve done or whatever I’m doing must be the most valuable take away so far.
Aidan: Ignorance of your limitations does not equate to freedom from them.
If you could go on tour with any band who would that be?
Nick: XTC. Too bad Andy Partridge doesn’t play live anymore.
Max: Mr. Bungle.
Aidan: Crowded House.
If you have written any song by any artist alive or dead, what song would you choose and why?
Nick: “Close to the Edge” by Yes. Or Shostakovich 5. And why? They’re beyond the scope of my artistry.
Max: I love the music I do because it exhumes such feelings from me that it’s almost as if I conjured the song. As if I never would have heard it unless I was capable of feeling what it wanted me to feel. Every song I’ve ever loved, I’ve wished I’d written it. Of course I’m glad it never fell on me to write those songs or they never would have been existed. It’s a painful and bewildering experience that happens every time I listen to music I love. And it’s why I write.
Aidan: “Catherine Wheels” by Crowded House.
What does 2018 have in store for Upright Man?
Max: Gigs! Several bad jokes in a van on our way to somewhere that isn’t New York. Deep thoughts. Maybe new music? Definitely new content to ogle over.
Aidan: we are planning a long run of shows now while playing them consistently in the New York area. More videos coming as well!
Any last words?
Max: Don’t shoot.
Upright Man social media links: