Big Ups were never meant to be taken seriously. The self-proclaimed “joke band,” as singer Joe Galarraga has described them, first got their start writing songs about pizza and Calvin and Hobbes. At a certain point, though, things had to change. “I’m still figuring out how to ‘grow up’ better,” Galarraga now admits. Somewhere along the road, his band succeeded in doing just that.
In early 2014, Big Ups released ‘Eighteen Hours of Static,’ a keen portrait of contemporary 20-something life. At the time, ideas for a follow-up had already been brewing. Thus began the band’s evolutionary tale, one that’s been playing out across venues from Brooklyn to Europe throughout the past year. At first a motley crew of college kids, all music tech majors at NYU, Big Ups have slowly transformed into one of New York’s finest punk bands.
At the time of their DIY interview, Big Ups had just wrapped up recording with Roomrunner’s Dan Frome in Galarraga’s hometown of Baltimore, Maryland. As of yet, the follow-up to ‘Eighteen Hours of Static’ is still untitled, and isn’t attached to a label, either. For the time being, the guys are doing the damn thing themselves, which provides its own set of challenges, but ultimately, the most creative freedom.
“The world is still an awful place,” Galarraga said, after a stroll across the bare, chilly promenade. “Life isn’t easy. What has changed since the last album is the vantage point.
“[‘Eighteen Hours of Static’] looked at things from a more macro perspective, while the focus with the new one is more dissecting,” he explained. “It looks at how identity factors into how a person interacts with society, and how these seemingly small events lead to something bigger, like culture. It aims to see how a person perceives to fit into a bigger framework, and how their place in that structure colors their ideals, beliefs, feelings, and actions.”
'Goes Black', from the 'Eighteen Hours of Static' album.
Big ideas, yes, but the approach is deeply personal. For all the anger, aggression, and frustration that comes with Big Ups, there’s also a softness, which undoubtedly stems from their collectively positive outlook; there’s nothing didactic about their music, and yet, their message of hope has always been clear. As Galarraga states, “I can’t say that I’m getting any better at understanding society’s ills, but I’m looking to know myself better.
“I think the lyrics I write are often political in content, but actually more personal in terms of context. It's not necessarily my intent to make any sort of grand political statement, but rather I write about the things that preoccupy my mind.”
In terms of specific lyrical inspiration, it seems natural that Galarraga would gravitate towards an array of diverse, deeply affecting art: from the poetry of Walt Whitman to contemporary political punk. “It’s not about putting on an act,” he explained, though it does have to do with “deciding who to be each day.” It’s more an issue of “identity,” an idea first birthed at a show with Washington, D.C. band Priests. The Priests track “Lana,” named for Lana Del Rey, captures the tumultuous nature of assuming an identity; whether that be sad, ecstatic, confused, or a complex blend of them all.
“The last record was all about questioning why things are bad,” Galarraga said. “This one is about figuring out how to change that.”
"I can’t say that I’m getting any better at understanding society’s ills, but I’m looking to know myself better"
— Joe Galarraga
Galarraga and Finn recently moved into the same Bushwick building that houses David Blaine’s The Steakhouse, the off-beat apartment venue run by members of local bands such as LVL Up, Downies, and more. During part of our interview, Lal and Salguero played the new record, while Galarraga skateboarded around the living room and Finn assembled materials for building the literal room-inside-the-room he’d been planning to use as his bedroom. As expected, the environment is an encouraging one; surrounded by other artists, it feels like a fresh, motivating new start.
And at first listen, Big Ups’ new material sounds truly fresh. Even in its roughest, earliest form-- the rare, momentary glimpse DIY was afforded-- the tracks sound sleeker, more sophisticated, and entirely ambitious. Longer, more potent songs create balance between loud, aggressive moments and tense, quiet ones, with plenty of room to shock and surprise. Lyrically, they’ve expanded, with Galarraga taking the more simplistic themes of the band’s previous record and adjusting them to fit his new mindset.
It hasn’t happened yet, but if a major label came calling? There would definitely be a lot to consider. “I’m glad we haven’t reached that level of success,” Finn admitted. For now, the band remain an intrinsic part of their small Brooklyn community, crossing each benchmark of success as it comes. Regardless of what’s next, it’s bound to be serious.