Up The Empire
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Up The Empire

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"NYC indie-rockers return to make a racket at BAR"

By: Nick R. Scalia , Staff Writer 01/25/2006

"It's typically a show that requires earplugs," enthuses Up the Empire drummer Ben Lord, speaking of his Brooklyn-based quartet's attention-grabbing live act.

Bassist Dan Hewins quickly agrees. "Ben's a really loud drummer, so we tend to be kind of loud, too - there's a lot of energy there."

There's a lot of melody, too, something that you might not expect from a band that's so frequently described as a "noise-rock" act - and from New York, to boot. But while that tag might connote the kind of cooler-than-thou melodic obfuscation of bands like Liars, there's none of that pretentiousness in Up the Empire's sound whatsoever. In fact, you can pretty easily hum all three songs on their latest effort, an untitled 2005 limited-release EP (which you can hear online at www.uptheempire.com) that wraps a trio of very catchy tunes in a crispy shell of distortion, feedback, and cranked-up, insistent bass.

That balance, says Hewins, is the core of what Up the Empire is all about. "We're giving a lot of focus toward vocals and melodies," he explains. "The noise comes in more like a textural kind of thing." But, according to Lord, it's still an integral part of the band's sound, no matter how poppy the songs get. "It's definitely not an afterthought. A lot of times we'll actually start working with something that's just a noise part, and [the melody] evolves from the various layers that are happening there."

"The thing that I've personally wanted to try to achieve is sort of, if you took Sonic Youth and were able to throw them into the pop world full-on," he continues, and the comparison is apt - you can hear the jagged guitar sound of those avant-rock giants cutting its way across Up the Empire's songs, along with a bit of My Bloody Valentine-ish shoegazer haze (especially on the stellar Starfuck Me, perhaps this band's catchiest song so far) and the grungy melodicism of Dinosaur Jr.

And though it's true that all of those bands peaked in the late 80s/early 90s, these guys, like their kindred spirits in Deerhoof - whose producer, Jay Pellicci, they worked with on several tracks - manage to bring them together into a very now-sounding whole.

The band has been around in various incarnations for a while, originally formed by Lord and guitarist Chris Renn back in 1998 as a Louisville, Ky combo called Kilowatthours. The pair went through a revolving cast of additional members until the lineup eventually firmed up with the addition of Hewins in 2002 and guitarist Doug Keith in 2004. Then came the name change, which took a bit of brainstorming to figure out - the one they eventually went with is also the title of a Holly Golightly album, but Hewins admits that most of the band didn't even realize that when they picked it.

Lord describes Up the Empire as "probably twenty times more aggressive" than Kilowatthours, whose songs traded more in quiet tension than outright sonic bombast - except that, at their live shows, they usually ended up transforming their mellower material into loud, explosive rock performances. These days, though, "we're finally doing on record what Kilowatthours was doing live," the drummer says.

And with the solidified lineup also came one of the other unique aspects of Up the Empire's sound - the fact that everybody but the drummer sings. While Renn had handled vocal duties almost exclusively before, "we realized that Dan had a great voice, and eventually he started taking more lead vocals," says Lord. Eventually Keith (whose voice, the drummer says, has "a great Dinosaur Jr. quality") started contributing vocals, too, and these days it's roughly an equal-thirds split between him, Hewins, and Renn.

It's likely that vocal dynamic will especially come into play on Up the Empire's newest material, which they just finished recording for a full-length album due later this year. Hewins says the album will take things in an even more upbeat, catchy, "kind of danceable" direction, while Lord calls it "crunchy and driving."

You'll be able to decide for yourself this week, as some of that stuff will likely be on the bill as the band heads to New Haven on Sunday - returning to BAR after playing a Sunday night gig last year with Ume. This time, they're reuniting with old friends Calla, who Lord says they last shared a stage with two years ago in Dallas. And just as that band, which put out its critically-acclaimed 2005 album Collisions on the respected Beggars Banquet label, has come a long way since the two last crossed paths, it seems like Up the Empire will be hitting similar heights in the near future, too.

So catch them now while you can, but screw the earplugs - this band is worth the hearing loss.
- PLAY Magazine

"Up The Empire - Stars at Noon"

Up The Empire operate in the happy middle ground between noise rock and power pop. They're too melodic to be classified as just another NYC art-noise rock band and their too noisy to be given the power pop label.

Brooklyn's Up The Empire has previously recorded under the name Kilowatt Hours. In their previous incarnation, the music was more on the delicate and atmospheric side. Lucky for us, they traded in that sound for some serious noise pop.

"Stars at Noon" is the perfect synthesis of noise and pop. The angular quality of the introduction wouldn't sound out of place on a Fugazi album. The guitar solos are reminiscent of Sonic Youth. However, the overall structure of the song and the hooks in the chorus place it firmly in the pop camp.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that for us indie rockers you won't find three and a half minutes that sound much better than this.
- IRockCleveland Blog

"Seaside EP Review"

Formerly known as Kilowatthours this four-piece has stepped it up a notch and this time pulled out some high quality tunes. At times they take a shoegaze direction, but only in a dark and euphoric kind of way, bringing to mind fellow NYCer's Calla. Check out song #2 on the EP as it will hit you will mesmerizing guitars right away. - Crashinin'

"Up the Empire ups the ante"

You’ve already heard of Up the Empire. It’s just been a while since you’ve seen them.

Half of this New York City noise-pop quartet is Ben Lord and Chris Renn, two chums who met at duPont Manual High School. After graduation they formed the Kilowatthours and released two albums for ambient-rock label Temporary Residence. Two new members left, so Lord and Renn found new ones, and changed the name.

“I’d have to say that I think it comes from, and is about, change of power,” Lord says of the band’s name. “It’s most often seen as a means of overthrowing something that’s not going right.”

What is going right is the buzz, the shows and the energy Up the Empire has been generating since Renn, 28, relocated to New York from Louisville in 2003. “I had to move, otherwise they would have fired me,” Renn said. “It’s good though. I needed a change.”

New York is not exactly foreign territory. Lord attended college there and stayed after graduation. The other two members, Doug Keith and Dan Hewins, have lived there for years.

Lord, now 27, said that if living in New York affects the band’s songwriting, it does so in ways they don’t realize.
“People are the same everywhere. You can find the exact same types of stories in Louisville that you can find in New York. We just get a lot more of them,” he said.

“Our world is pretty small here. Everyone finds their own small town within the big city. You see the same people every day; you go to a lot of the same bars all the time. Because of that, your mentality doesn’t change all that much,” he said. “You just have way more options at your disposal at any given time. I’m able to take in so much more than I feel like I could anywhere else on a very regular basis. The number of bands going on at any given time is astounding.”

Which makes playing live a different animal. Audiences in New York are hungrier, Renn said. “Playing here is odd because people just want everything now.”

“It’s true,” Lord says. “Daily, you’re facing the fact that you’re not the only show pony in town. You’re not even one of the 10 show ponies in town. You’re a brown horse in the middle of the damn magical show-pony stables, and you’ve got to find a way to grab people’s attention.”

Sounds like a homecoming gig might be in order: Up the Empire plays tonight at Uncle Pleasant’s, as part of a Midwest and East Coast tour in support of the EP. The Slow Break and The Photographic round out the bill. What else are you gonna do on a Wednesday night?

Up the Empire’s first proper recording under the new name is The Seaside EP, a four-song opening salvo released in February that churns and burns around the centerpiece “Stars at Noon.”

“The goal is for the music to be honest. That’s all,” Renn said.

Seaside was recorded by Dean Baltulonis (The Explosion, Paint It Black) and Jay Pellicci (Deerhoof). The spooky opener, “Careful What You Say,” the band members did themselves. Using different producers for the EP was part of an experiment, Lord says.

“I really wanted to find the right person for the right song, try to create some different kind of magic each time,” he said. “In the end, it hampered the process for us, though. Really slowed us down.”

A possible fall release is scheduled for Up the Empire’s first full-length, Light Rides the Super Major, which the band has been recording in New York.

“The songs are, in one word, thick!” Lord said. “We’re just really trying to bridge that sonic gap between your heavier bands, like Queens of the Stone Age and Sonic Youth, with more pop-driven melodies. It’s really something akin to Dinosaur Jr. with less solos and more singing.”

Asked where the title comes from, Lord stays mum. “It’s a secret.” - Leo Weekly Louisville


Light Rides The Super Major - (The Cougar Label)
Releases May 2007

Seaside EP - (The Cougar Label)
Released Feb 2006.



As the latest one-hit-wonders change on the front pages like a revolving door, what is to be said of who remains?

Built as a collaborative unit that has seen growth and
evolution over their past few years, UP THE EMPIRE challenges genres and brings light to the ideals of a band based on passion, integrity and congruity. So now that you’re thinking of every band du jour, stop! Turn a 180, and prepare to rock out to the thick sounds of a heavy driving rhythm section, furious guitar tracks and as many as three and four earnest voices at a time. To describe the style that results, one could toss around terms like prog, rock, noise, pop, and indie in reference to the Brooklyn based quartet. However, with bold sounds reminiscent of Dinosaur Jr and Queens of the Stone Age, with undertones of Wilco and even Tom Petty worked in, the category of American Rock N’ Roll is more true to the quality this self-made and cohesive band achieves.

After the release of their highly acclaimed EP, Seaside,”
UP THE EMPIRE saw praise from the media and fans nationwide. More recently, the guys spent 6 months recording with producer Jim Bentley at The Fort in Brooklyn. The result, “Light Rides the Super Major,” clearly illustrates the group’s signature vocal harmonies and dynamic, often bass-as-lead, guitar rhythms. This full-length release goes further than previous works by kicking up the caliber meter a few notches with most tracks recorded live with no reverb and little alteration. And the integrity we noted earlier? Making up the band’s sound is no one songwriter or one voice, simply a strong group collective drawing off each member’s diverse backgrounds, collaborating, then growing together. This is especially noted in the growth of their most recent works with Bentley where you can hear a spacious and natural sound. This musical honesty also rings true in their work ethic: There are a lot of self-made bands but to also manage, produce, and hell, these guys even do most of their own booking - that takes a certain type of pride and responsibility that “fair-weather” band members can’t provide.

Just when you thought you could dance a little and assuredly state that UP THE EMPIRE is defiantly noise-pop, the quartet prove that the title of rock be more appropriate with their aggressive, gritty rhythms. Then, more genre-bending throughout the album, sneaking the listener a taste of some of the more folks-y roots of the group, and (not to spoil the ending) the album closes with –yep – more ass kicking.

So now that you are salivating over some good ol’ honest music from a band that is less glitz and glamour
and more about staying power, what’s next? The new full length “Light Rides the Super Major,” on The Cougar Label, is set for release in May 2007. For those of you who just can’t wait (we don’t blame you) UP THE EMPIRE has the next few months packed with shows for your pleasure including an appearance at SXSW in March. Hello 2007, UP THE EMPIRE has arrived!