Big Ups

Big Ups Talk Aliens, DIY Scenes and Homemade Synths

Paula Mejia

By Paula Mejia

on 04.07.14 in Features

File under: Melodic post-hardcore for thinking and moshing simultaneously
For fans of: Double Dagger, the Melvins, Descendents
From: Brooklyn, New York
Personae: Brendan Finn (drums), Carlos Salguero (bass), Amar Lal (guitars), Joe Galarraga (vocals)

Believe it or not, eardrum-punishing combo Big Ups began during a classical composition class at NYU as a surf-rock combo called Aaron and the Burrs. But during their frenetic recording sessions, the group found themselves moving away from those twitching, razor-wire riffs and toward what would become their signature sound: fuzz-drenched guitars, knocked around by thrashing drums. The Burrs eventually dissolved, and Big Ups were born.

The lyrics on the group’s excellent Eighteen Hours of Static cover a wide range of topics, from atheism to science fiction to taking out the trash. While tracks like “Justice” have the anthemic roar of punk rock, other songs venture into darker territory, accompanied by fits of ambient noise. That’s especially true of the menacing “Wool,” which fiddles with time signatures and dynamics in a way that recalls Slint. Live, they demand physical response, vocalist Joe Galarraga’s volleying from bellowing murmur to confrontational shriek.

Paula Mejia chatted with vocalist Galarraga about aliens, burgeoning DIY scenes and pulling an all-nighter to build the world’s most ambitious synthesizer.

On the phrase “big ups”:

I never say “big ups,” it’s not in my lexicon. It’s a weird phrase, two words put together that have come to mean something intangible. I don’t think it necessarily will translate to other languages. It’s a very English kind of phrase. It’s a really stupid name, but it’s too late to change now.

On NYU’s Music Technology program:

The program was one of the best things to happen to me at NYU. There was such a good, communal vibe about it. Every week the whole program would meet in one small room, we would have people lecture to us and we’d share projects. People would play tracks they’d recorded, talk about some synth they’d been working on. And between classes, everyone would hang out, listen to music together. It was a really good, inspiring program and that kind of overlaps into how we work as a band too.

On hand-building crazy synthesizers:

I was really into making analog synths in college. For one of my projects I built this step sequencer that was half digital, half analog, with 16 different notes and so many different knobs. I pulled an all-nighter the night before it was due, soldering on the floor of my dorm room inhaling all these terrible fumes. I got to class the next day, turned it on and it didn’t work! Then I grounded it with my finger on the circuit board, and it went on. The professor was like, “Great, it works. You can get an A.” After that I immediately thought, “I don’t want to touch this stuff again for a while!”

On science fiction:

Carlos and Brendan are really into The X-Files and Lost, Amar has read a bunch of the Carl Sagan books, and I was really into Star Wars as a kid, so science fiction is definitely a thing for us. And while I don’t think [an] Independence Day [scenario] is going to happen, I’d say, odds are, there other forms of life out there. If you think about how big the universe is and how little we know about it, I do want to believe. Yeah, I’ll say it: I believe in aliens!

On his latest inspiration:

The Pharmakon record Abandon is totally my kind of thing. It’s very repetitive and rhythmic, and her vocals are so out there. It was a record I had been waiting to hear even though I didn’t know it existed. That record was a revelation to me. Not that we’re trying to turn into a noise band, but we want to further incorporate a lot of non-musical sounds into our music — things you can’t put a note to.

On building communities through music:

We recently played the Exploding in Sound Records showcase at Baby’s All Right in Brooklyn. That show was incredible — 14 bands I look up to and respect, like Grass is Green, Krill, Porches, Roomrunner. I’m a giant Roomrunner fanboy. I love all the EiS people and [co-owners] Dan and Dave, who are so supportive. We aren’t on that label, but Dan asked us to play. That’s really exciting to me. EiS is beyond New York, but when a show like that happens it makes you feel like you’re a part of something special happening.