Interview by Joseph Hett
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. 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.
Upright Man on Tour:
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:
MRM: Where do each of you hail from?
Nick: NYC baby!
Max: Fairfield CT. Tony Shalhoub lives there. Unless he’s dead or moved, in which case he “lived” there.
Aidan: Oyster Bay, NY!
MRM: What are your musical backgrounds?
Nick: I’ve been studying music since I was four years old, it’s not so much a background as foreground.
Max: Cloned from the DNA of Mozart and Matzah. I hit the scene with the supreme dream of eating chocolate cream off Cher’s dance team.
Aidan: I started playing guitar and singing when I was 12, which is a bit late compared to kids like Nick. I was taught by my first guitar teacher mostly by ear and with a CD player, rewinding a million times until we figured out the right chord voicing or guitar riff. Going to NYU allowed me to develop a more formal foundation in music theory and classical music. Still, starting by learning with my ear shaped my way of viewing music forever.
MRM: The band met while studying classical music composition at NYU. Could you explain how you formed this unique kind of rock group?
Nick: I have two words for you: Progressive Rock. As long as you have a sense of humor that shit is cool as fuck.
Aidan: In college, I took my classical compositions and wrote them for Rock Band, creating some crazy modern instrumental prog rock fusion trio for my senior recital. Nick and Max were in the band. Playing that stuff for a long time might have driven us insane, so we instead turned to rock and roll in space.
Max: We tolerated each other and that has taken us surprisingly far.
MRM: How would you describe your sound to people not familiar with Upright Man?
Max: It’s what god listens to in the elevator to hell.
Nick: We’re the children of people who grew up in the 70’s and we grew up in the 90’s. Take all that rock and make a stew out of it. That’s Upright Man.
MRM: How has being in NYC influenced that sound?
Nick: Probably our cynicism.
Max: There’s a car horn solo in one of our tunes and most of our lyrics are about Italian-American heritage.
Aidan: That would be probably be best conveyed by writing and recording our next record living on a farm. I’m sure it has a big influence on all of us in an indirect way.
MRM: Who are Upright Man’s influences? I hear many of them in your music.
Nick: XTC, Crowded House, The Beatles, The Who, Cream, Genesis, Yes, Gentle Giant
Max: Jon Brion, Wilco, Radiohead, Queens Of The Stone Age
MRM: Your self-titled debut album is coming out on August 18. Was it fun making this record?
Aidan: Making records is the best. When I’m in the studio for Upright Man, the rest of the world sort of fades away. It’s all consuming and anything feels possible.
Nick: It’s always fun making your own records. Other people’s records can get a little hairy.
MRM: How was it working with legendary producers Marc Copely, Zev Katz and the phenomenal engineer Bruce Sugar?
Aidan: It was inspiring and we knew we were in good hands! I’ve worked with Marc, Bruce, and Zev before and having them onboard for the record created a sense of trust and familiarity that helps a lot when you are recording.
Nick: I’m telling my Dad you called him a legendary producer, he’s gonna laugh his ass off.
Max: The folks at XL Johnson And Sons really took us to a bigger place and helped make our hard rock rock hard.
MRM: My favorite songs from the new album are the rocking “Elysia,” “Upright Man” and “Animals.” Could you walk us through your song writing process?
Nick: They all basically come from little seeds that we play around each other, usually one of us is playing something and the others will go “Oh, that’s cool. Let’s do something with that.” And then we take that, write some related material, and then expand and make variations.
Max: Those three tunes are funny choices to ask about the writing process since they, more than any others, had several complete lyrical overhauls. The lyrics for “Animals” were written top to bottom in the hallway adjacent to the control room of Avatar B 15 minutes before we went in to sing them.
Aidan: We basically never start with the lyrics. Usually someone will bring in an instrumental idea with a melody for a section of a song or something like that and we’ll either finish it right then and there or spend weeks taking the ideas home and coming back together with lots of options until it’s done. “Elysia” was originally a guitar and vocal idea that I had floating around. We finally got together as a team of three on that, wrote the chorus and lyrics and filled in all the cracks. That’s one of the great things about being in a band- you don’t have to write everything or be a control freak.
MRM: What can fans expect when they come to an Upright Man show?
Max: I will take my pants off, for you.
Nick: We play what you hear. Ain’t no fancy bullshit.
Aidan: A big ol’ ruckus.
MRM: I see where Upright Man opened for Robert Randolph & The Family Band and will be opening for The Fabulous Thunderbirds soon (along with solo shows). Upright Man is on a different wavelength than those bands. What kind of reactions have you all been getting?
Max: Well, we signed a few autographs for folks who didn’t know who we were but thought that by proxy we must be the singing dancing shit of the world. But it was extremely humbling being asked to sign and sell one of our T-shirts to festoon a wall of band merch for this midwesterner’s newborn baby’s room.
Aidan: I think to some of those audiences, we sound more generally like young dudes playing rock and roll. Some guy said to us, “You guys sounds like Nirvana” – which was close enough. A lot of the older audiences are really there to listen and end up digging our music. The blues audiences usually react well to the guitar solos and the song “Upright Man”.
MRM: Since the formation of the band, do you have any mind blowing stories to tell us? (The raunchier the better!)
Max: Give it time, we just got started. It’s normally at least a few years before a band’s first alleged sexual assault scandal.
Nick: Well, there was that one time at band camp…
MRM: Oh, almost forgot to ask. What is the origin of your band name?
NK: Hugh G. Rection.
Aidan: Homo Erectus.
MRM: What is the ultimate goal for Upright Man?
Max: Total and complete world domination. A flag in every town. A sticker for every baby.
Nick: For every set of ears that might enjoy what we do to experience what we do.
Aidan: To find the people in the world that will dig our music!
MRM: Anything else you would like to add?
Nick: Thanks for taking the time to speak with us!
Max: No, thank you.