The Upwelling is an American band. What it means to be an American band has changed over time, just like the American dream itself. Once an ideal banking on “you get what you earn,” the dream has been into its own inversion: “what can I get for nothing?” The same can be said for the ethos of American bands. With record labels, managers and booking agents now a dime a dozen and your big break being just a matter of getting the right person to notice your Myspace page, bands have become lazy. What used to be about getting out there and doing it is now just about finding someone to do it for you.
The Upwelling are an American band in the classic sense. The “your destiny is your own” sense. Not this “hard work is for suckers” shit. The breadth of work, trial, and toil that has lead to the long-coming completion of their first LP, An American Stranger, is not only commendable, its an admirable call back to the days when a band worked to work, not to achieve. The Upwelling are a rare breed these days, and though it’s sad that the old-school is now refreshing, it’s one of the things that makes listening to them so enjoyable…
Where so many found reasons to shelter and disconnect themselves in the wake of 9/11, Ari Ingber instead felt the proclivity to create, and began writing songs as a means of dealing with the immense tragedy he and his fellow New Yorkers faced. Though the inception of the singer/guitarist’s inspiration was founded under such intolerable circumstances, the resulting endeavor read true of American optimism and buoyancy. Recruiting brother Joshua Ingber on drums, the two set out to live life doing what inspired them. It was then that the Upwelling was conceived and the final ingredients were in place for the band to scale far beyond what even Ari could have envisioned sitting with his guitar on September 12th.
The following months and years showed the band beginning the process of making their own on their own. Self-releasing a 5 song EP which earned itself a place on Virgin Megastore’s “Virgin Recommends” series (a first for an unsigned band and for an EP), the band then honed the honors of Spin.com’s “Underground Band of the Year,” Karma Productions’ band to tour Ireland, and the distinction of being a “Rave Review Band at SXSW” in Hits Daily. Without any representation the band garnered themselves tours with the All-American Rejects in the U.S., U.K., and Europe, as well as a slot as the sole support on Third Eye Blind’s 10-year anniversary tour, not to mention additional support spots with Metric, Ben Kweller, the Wrens, The Stills, We Are Scientists and VHS or Beta.
All the work and attention eventually led their to their signing with the All- American Rejects’ label Edmond Records (a subsidiary of indie stalwart Doghouse Records), and the wrangling of producers Jason Hill (Louie XIV), Stephen Jenkins (Third Eye Blind), and Tyson Ritter (The All-American Rejects). The recording process with Stephen Jenkins even led to Ari co-writing “About to Break,” a single from Third Eye Blind’s forthcoming full-length (their first in six years). Though the band’s endearing work ethic can’t be underlined enough, without the music to back it up, its moot. The Upwelling do not fail in this capacity. The cream most certainly does rise when it comes to the quality of the band’s songwriting.
Even in brief conversations with Ari about music, its instantly apparent the brevity feeling and instinct hold in his outlooks on songwriting and recording. This isn’t a guy worried about constructing a perfect hit, or following the all-too-popular trend of trading soul for polish. This is a guy who believes that the process is as important as the intent, and that the tracking of a great song starts when he feels like he’s making something special. Precision is secondary, and when listening to the disarmingly frank-yet-effective musicality of songs like “Paris”and “Who Needs You,” its hard to argue with such perspective.
The Americanism that spirits the band’s operation also peers through in Ari’s modern-storybook lyrics. Where their peers may try to mire their lyrics in trudging metaphors and banal vagueness, Ari finds surprising effectiveness in shooting it honest and pointed. “American Girls” perfectly captures the torment of a modern American man raised to abide the mythical chivalry and romanticism demanded by American women, even when said ladies don’t necessarily deserve it: “They want a kiss like the movies. Like their under the sky on the 4th of July. An honest kiss just won’t suffice. They will want to remember for the rest of their lives.” “Losers” finds a man unable (and unwilling) to run with the NYC jetset, languishing amongst those willing to throw away their income and septums on $20 martinis and a mile of cocaine.
But the record’s most tragically poignant and uniquely American lyrics come during the album’s closing epic “Ladder 116.” Written on that day following the Twin Towers attacks, the song is replete with lush, sometimes Floyd-inspiried synths and what are hands-down Ari’s most powerful vocals on the album. The song fluently paints a canvas of the morning a gorgeous day was ravaged and destroyed. The emotion of the vocals backed by the canter of the
music hypnotizes the listener, and what is close to six minutes of arching dynamics seems to go in half the time, leaving the listener satisfied with a truly completed record — the scope of the experience fully realized.
An American Stranger is a noteworthy record. That’s all it comes down to. To find a rock record these days that offers such variety, feeling, and humanness (both in sprit and execution) is far from regular. Not to mention its ability to ensnare fans of a variety of genres. Anyone from a Frank Black courter to Chris Martin’s stalker to a Tyson Ritter swooner would not be out of place singing along at an Upwelling show. That’s a pretty remarkable thing is this age of invitation-only internet sub-genres. It’s nice to see indie rock still have a life without pretension.
But regardless of all this gesticulating, the Upwelling just pride themselves in being a hard-working band, and that’s what is great about them. They will most certainly be coming through your town, driving themselves, loading themselves in, and making sure that the old-style ethic of the American band lives on. It’s good know someone is keeping it on life-support.