Upstairs Downstairs

Upstairs Downstairs dropped the band’s eponymous second album back on October 1 via David Mitchell’s 20 Sided Records, producing what we previously dubbed “a gripping record from start to finish, pulling inspiration from a myriad of influences.” It’s a beautiful mish-mash of folk and shoegaze, among other genres, and the quintet is celebrating the album’s release tonight at Brick & Mortar as part of the first night of Social Studies‘ November residency at the venue, a show that will be opened by stalwarts of the SF scene Tartufi and which is presented by The Bay Bridged.

I had a chance to catch up with band members Tory Ford, Dan Caporale, George Slavik, and Isaac Bonnell on the eve of their record release show, discussing the recording of Upstairs Downstairs, their great stop-motion video for album track “Parkas Indoors”, and how their participation in Social Studies’ month-long residency came about, among other topics. Read the interview and get full details on tonight’s show at Brick & Mortar, below.

The Bay Bridged: I understand the new record was recorded at Faultline Studios here in San Francisco. When did the band head into the studio, how long did it take to record the album, and were most of the songs already written by the time you arrived at Faultline?

Tory Ford: We started recording it in December of 2012, and we had about 10 songs ready to go. We were writing a couple of new things based on scraps that had been evolving and wound up using those new ones and cutting some of the other better-prepared songs actually. So, I think about 75% of the songs that wound up on the album were well thought out ahead of time.

Dan Caporale: We had some epic studio sessions where a lot of creativity just kind of happened. “Ghost House” and “Consequence” were just sketches at first and were almost completely pulled together in the studio.

George Slavik: It’s fun when you get that opportunity to just follow a loose structure and see where it ends up taking you. There are those times when you walk back into the control room and say—”wow, now we have to learn how to play that!” On the other hand, there are those songs that do evolve the longer you live with them.

Isaac Bonnell: I’m thinking it was a few weeks’ worth of recording spread out over a year.

TBB: Kyle

[McGraw, the band’s guitarist] ngineered and produced the album during the Faultline sessions, and then eventually mixed it up in Portland. What’s it like having a band member in the those roles, as opposed to an outsider?

Ford: We are really lucky to have Kyle to work on the recording. I’m a bit of a pleaser, so if we’re working with someone I don’t know, I tend to want to make their jobs easier and their day go by faster. That doesn’t necessarily make for the best recordings. With Kyle, we just do things until they’re right and what we all want.

Caporale: The only downside is that by the end of the process you’re almost too close to it…after all the writing, practicing, playing, recording, and mixing, there is the danger of losing any objectivity of what the songs sound like to someone hearing them for the first time.

Slavik: I think it gets difficult when you have almost no constraints—it gets really hard to say “this is done.”

Bonnell: I think it makes things a lot more comfortable. We didn’t feel too pressed for time and that made things way more fluid and creative.

TBB: Is there one band member who is the driving songwriting force for Upstairs Downstairs, or is it more of a collaborative process?

Ford: I tend to write the bulk of the material, but only the basic music and lyrics. Then we work the songs out together and then it gets really collaborative in the arrangement process. When we get into that phase I think George and Isaac take over the reins and get the structure solidified. They both play a lot of different instruments which I think it’s helpful.

And then…there are some songs that I just have a shred of an idea and the band as a whole turns it into something epic. “Ghost House” is a good example of that and a good example of the kinds of songs we’re working on now.

TBB: How did you meet David Mitchell and get hooked up with his label 20 Sided Records for the release of this record?

Ford: Kyle met Dave through Lucas Boilon (Stirling Says) and the band Kyle and Lucas have called Future Space and. I had also seen Dave’s band Slow Trucks a few times and loved them. We wound up doing a song on the annual 20 Sided Records compilation last year, played some shows with other 20 Sided friendlies when they came through town, and had gotten help from them booking shows in the Northwest. So, I slowly realized the extent of the huge community that David had developed up and down the West Coast. When it came time to think about labels for the new album, 20 Sided seemed like a good fit and just felt right.

TBB: Last month, you released a video for the track “Parkas Indoors” that featured some incredible tape-based animation by Ric Carrasquillo of Squillo Studio. Why did you choose that particular song for the album’s lead single, and who came up with the concept for the video?

Ford: Well, we originally released a version of Parkas Indoors as a 7” and had engaged Ric to make a video for that version. He came back to us and said he had a really epic stop-motion idea and we had him just run with it. We’re glad we did! He’s also working on a new video for us that’s a combo of live action and animation. He’s also working on a new video for us that’s a combo of live action and animation.

Slavik: It was really great getting Ric to do the video because he’s known us for a long time and we all share a similar aesthetic. Each person in the band is either a designer or creative person, so I think we had a lot of trust in Ric and knew we should let go and let him do his thing and that the results would be epic.

Watch Upstairs Downstairs’ video for “Parkas Indoors”:

TBB: I previously described your latest album as ethereal and mysterious, as well as ranging from borderline shoegaze material to folk rock, and the album can be quite quiet at times, but in a live setting, your sound takes on a grander scale, filling the room with a soaring and powerful vocals and Kyle’s brilliant work on the guitar at the forefront. Do you perceive the band’s sound as taking on a different scale onstage and what’s the band’s approach to live performances?

Caporale: I think we still shoot for ethereal and mysterious when we play live, but there is also the responsibility to put on an engaging show. We work hard on enhancing the dynamics of the performance, where we push and pull the volume and energy to keep things interesting. We also like trying to blend the transitions of the songs to make for a more cohesive overall presentation, much like we did on the album.

Ford: I think our live show lately really represents what we’re doing as a band and the current level we’re playing at. I love the recordings, but I think now that we’ve lived with the songs a bit longer we’re able to push them a bit further in the live setting. I’m also stoked about Isaac playing guitar (rather than keys) on a few of the songs now at shows. Ever since I saw Juno (Seattle band late ’90s, not the pregnant teenager movie) the three guitar front has been my holy grail.

TBB: Upstairs Downstairs joins Social Studies on Monday for the first night of the latter band’s November residency at Brick & Mortar. What’s the history of the two bands’ ties to each other, and how did your supporting gig at Brick & Mortar come about?

Ford: Yeah, we are super hyped about the show! We knew some of the Social Studies folks from mutual friends and our rehearsal space is down the hall from them. They’re always positive and encouraging and fun to be around.

When we started thinking about our album release, Social Studies and Tartufi were our ideal line-up. It was important to us to get something together with other bands who were friends and would make for a great show. I’m good buddies with the Tartufi clan and Brian and Lynne have been huge support over the past few years. It was tough to try to get it all together with everyone’s tour schedules and whatnot, but Michael from Social Studies made it work by folding us into their residency night! Can’t wait!

The Bay Bridged Presents
Social Studies, Upstairs Downstairs (LP Release), Tartufi
Brick & Mortar Music Hall
November 4, 2013
9pm, $6 (18+)