It’s always a pleasant surprise to find a student band that doesn’t, well, suck, and it’s even rarer to find one that truly has its sound together. Enter Upstate Escape, a trio comprised of John Norwood grad on vocals and guitar, Chris Bentley ’10 (who also writes for the Daily Sun’s science Section) on bass and Ryan Silvernail, whom his bandmates describe simply as a townie, on drums. Their new album, The Balls Tight LP, features fast-paced, punk-inflected tunes a la Arctic Monkeys and Jet, with a nice dose of Ivy League irony mixed in. On Monday, the Sun sat down for a chat with John and Chris and explored everything from iTunes censorship to fat girls on bikes.
Sun: So how did you guys all meet?
John Norwood: Same way anybody meets these days — online. I put a post on Craigslist. Interestingly enough, this is the second incarnation of the band. Chris responded to my first ad, but there was another bass player who had access to the practice space, and I said “Chris you’re good enough, but the other guy’s got the practice space.”
I played with those two other guys for about a year, then I kicked the bass player out of the band because he had other stuff going on, and my old drummer left town. So then I sent out a second round and I picked up Chris and Ryan.
Sun: What are you offering an escape from?
Chris Bentley: Well, he’s escaping from Princeton [which John attended as an undergraduate].
J: I originally wanted to call the band Escape from Upstate, but my old drummer was like, “oh it sounds better if you just call it Upstate Escape.” So apparently the rest of the band thought that it meant we were escaping to upstate.
C: Because we’re both from upstate.
J: I guess I’m going to give the pretentious musical answer: Whatever it means to you, that’s what it means.
Sun: Balls Tight LP — care to elaborate?
C: Our drummer coined that early on in rehearsal when we were like, “Damn that was tight, man. Yeah, balls tight.”
J: I realized only after producing our album that it’s horrible marketing. I sent it to a whole bunch of different papers and the Sun is the only one that responded.
C: And [our song] Tit for Tat got edited. It was the expression “tit for tat,” but iTunes listed it as “T*t for Tat.”
Sun: Where do you guys record?
C: We record the drums in Ryan’s house, and it’s all on John’s laptop except for two songs.
J: We did a few tracks [in a studio], but we wouldn’t have the time or the money to do an entire album like that.
C: We’re college students.
J: We’re not making a whole bunch of money, so we decided to just do it ourselves. We recorded part in the practice space, part in Ryan’s house, part in my room.
Sun: What do you edit on?
J: A bootleg version of Cool Edit. It’s very low-fi.
Sun: Where did your song “Fat Chicks and Bicycles” come from?
J: I was in Auburn, New York, and there was a rather corpulent lady, presumably insane, riding on a bicycle, with headphones on so she can’t hear anything, rocking out to her music, doing circles in the middle of this intersection with no regard for personal safety. I decided to make fun of artists who draw inspiration from weird things and write a love song for this chick on a bicycle. But I got to the bridge and I was like, “I don’t know where to go with this.” And my old drummer was like, “Eh, get her hit by a bus.” And that’s how the song developed.
Sun: What’s your favorite chord?
C: Sharp eleven.
J: I don’t know. Augmented ninth chords are cool.
Sun: You have a song about zombies eating grad students. Are you really paranoid?
C: I’m not a grad student, so I’m set.
J: I honestly don’t remember what inspired me to write that song. At some point I was writing a song about zombies as an excuse to not study because you get bigger brains and you’ll be the first to go.
C: I think you said you’d written a lot of love songs and you thought you were being too sentimental or too serious, so you came out with a zombie.
J: Yeah, I don’t like writing love songs.
Sun: Why not?
J: Well there’s one love song on the album, and the day I finished it and gave it to the girl I wrote it for she dumped me. And plus, I try to write about stuff that most other people aren’t going to write about.
Sun: Who would you like to open for?
J: Most of the bands that I listen to are hard music, so we wouldn’t really fit with them.
C: Soul Coffin maybe.
J: I think that’s one of the few bands each of us agrees on.
Sun: You listen to harder stuff, John?
J: Yeah, Dillinger Escape Plan…
C: Ryan and I agree and then John listens to other stuff. We’re big Zappa-heads, big Aquarium Rescue Unit fans, Primus, a lot of drum and bass stuff.
J: Makes sense.
Sun: Sex, drugs and rock and roll: pick your favorite.
J: If I pick sex, does that mean there’s no rocking out involved, like I have to give up rock and roll forever?
C: That wasn’t the question.
J: Alright, sex.