When Big Ups formed in 2010 — after Galarraga, guitarist Amar Lal, and drummer Brendan Finn met during an NYU summer class — most of their songs were “really silly songs about Calvin & Hobbes, pizza — stuff like that,” Galarraga confesses (they even did a mock cover of “Respect”). But eventually they, along with bassist Carlos Salguero, came to a realization: “I feel like a joke band can only sustain itself for so long until the joke isn’t funny anymore,” Galarraga told us over beers.
In stark contrast to the frontman’s famously wild, maniacal behavior on stage (which will be on display during a sold-out show at Baby’s All Right tonight and during upcoming shows at Death By Audio and Silent Barn), Galarraga carefully reflected on a variety of topics during our chat; among them, Balti pride, gleaning inspiration from Jodie Foster, and trying to make the world a better place.
A lot of the songs on the record are older songs, like “Goes Black” and “Atheist Self Help” — we’ve been playing those since 2012, 2011 maybe. It never occurred to us to make a full-length until Derek from Dead Labour said, ‘Hey, were you guys planning on doing an album? Because I’m starting this label…’
I wanted to do a full-length record, but it wasn’t really something I thought about. We were just doing seven inches, but I’m really glad we had this opportunity, because we already have a bunch of new songs [for a follow-up].
We recorded [Eighteen Hours of Static] in February, almost a year ago… We originally planned on having it out May or June of last year, so it’s kind of crazy, but it’s finally out. I guess that’s just how things happen, though.
I think it’s a natural progression. Some of it is a little different. We have one song we’re working on where I actually sing notes, instead of screaming or talking, which is kind of weird. But I don’t think if we were to put out a new record people would ask, ‘What band is this?’ It’s still consistent with what we’ve been doing.
That’s a reference to the movie Contact that we all watched one night. We were in Maryland — where I’m from — on a mini-tour, and after the shows we went back to my friend’s place and watched this movie. Basically at the very end of the movie — spoiler alert — Jodie Foster travels through space. Everyone who’s viewing this experiment is like, ‘You didn’t go anywhere,’ and she’s like, ‘I was on this planet for eighteen hours.’ Then they listen to her headset and say, ‘It’s weird, because it recorded eighteen hours of static.’ So it’s like, did she actually go to space? Did she not?
Matthew McConaughey is also in [the movie], he plays a priest, so there are all these themes of faith and science and how they intermingle. At first the name was totally just a joke. But the record does touch on what’s real, what’s based on our perception, how to deal with reality, also, religion — so ultimately the name was a joke, but it actually fit well with some of the things we talk about on the record.
A lot of the stuff on the record is very serious, but at the same time, there’s something to be said about not taking yourself too seriously. I hope it’s a record that people think is fun, even though it’s dark.
When I was in high school, there was this huge, thriving scene in Baltimore. I hadn’t moved to New York yet, so I got to experience all of these bands. I went to Whartscape [Music Festival] in 2007 with a bunch of my friends, and I didn’t know what I was doing. It was in this alley behind this gallery, and I just sort of went with it. I saw Future Islands, Beach House, Blood Baby, and Yukon, with Denny Bowen who’s now in Roomrunner and was in Double Dagger … Double Dagger were my main influence for wanting to do more of a punk thing, and that’s where I first found about them.
There are just so many bands from Baltimore, so many musicians, and so many people doing interesting things… I was inspired by that atmosphere. I couldn’t believe that people were just starting these bands and creating these festivals with no corporate sponsorship. It was crazy that could even happen.
Before that I was listening to bands like Sleater-Kinney, Sonic Youth, the Grateful Dead… but then I found this Baltimore thing that I didn’t even know was happening. Without wandering into that, I don’t think Big Ups would exist.
Yeah, there’s Roomrunner from Baltimore, Two Inch Astronaut from Colesville [Maryland]… there’s definitely a really interesting history of music in Baltimore. I’m always on Wikipedia looking up bands from Maryland. I have a lot of hometown pride — let’s put it that way.
One thing I always find so interesting about New York is that it’s so big, and there are so many people in bands, that it’s hard to get to know everybody. Like, how many bands are from Brooklyn? I can’t see them all, I can’t go to a show every night of the week. There are also so many different places for bands to play. We’ve been lucky — we’ve played a lot of great places like Death by Audio and Silent Barn. But there are definite separations between genres and groups. You won’t see certain people at certain things.
There are definitely a lot of — for lack of a better term — “Millennial” themes on the record. “Goes Black,” for example, addresses issues like growing up, worrying about the future, and all the anxiety that goes along with it. Are these things that you think about often?
Those are things I think about often, because everything’s a big question mark. I don’t know if that’s something that necessarily applies to just people of my generation, but I feel like it’s definitely something that’s gotten a lot of attention because there aren’t a lot of jobs, and a lot of young people are in this place where they’re wondering, ‘What am I doing with my life?’ Whereas, in past generations, you went to college, came out with a degree, found a job, etc… so now young people are questioning traditions. Like, ‘What do I actually want from my life? How do I make myself happy?’ I guess that’s something that’s uniquely Millennial. Growing up, my parents told me, ‘You can do anything you want.’ Sometimes I believe that, but sometimes it’s like, if I tried to do what I want, I’d be really broke!
Maybe not everyone has the luxury of thinking about that… but I guess that’s what “Goes Black” is about, sort of mitigating these things. Am I going to look back on my life and feel like I’ve wasted it? Or am I going to make the best of my time, and make sure I’m happy, and that I’m contributing to society in some way? Just putting yourself out there in a way that hopefully makes the world a better place. Which is extremely idealistic, but I’m a very idealistic person.
That’s one thing about the record in general; it asks a lot of questions, because I don’t know what the answers are. Is this the right thing? Is this not the right thing? How can I be effective in making everyone’s lives better? That’s something that’s plagued me since I was in high school — the world fucking sucks, but how do we make it better?