On Friday, San Francisco indie/electro-rock collective The New Up – comprised of ES Pitcher, Noah Reid, Hawk West, Nick Massaro, and Art McConnell – released their new album Tiny Mirrors on Friday. With all of the hullabaloo around the much-anticipated title, they easily could have snubbed us. But we did get a few moments to ask them some questions – and get to know them a little bit better – just before the record dropped. So get a little glimpse into Tiny Mirrors – and the band themselves – below!
What was the first song/record you remember hearing, and who introduced it to you?
ES Pitcher: “Honeypie” from the Beatles’ White Album, which was practically playing when I came out of the womb. My four older sisters had a huge influence on what songs I was introduced to at an early age. I had a little performance piece that I would do to the song when I was like 4 years old…one of my earliest memories.
Noah: “Billie Jean” from Michael Jackson’s Thriller, which my older brother and sister played for me after they came home from school one day when I was 3 years old.
What made you pursue music?
ES Pitcher: Although 3 of my 4 older sisters – including my dad – played the piano, I took dance lessons starting in the 2nd grade and pursued it very seriously, getting my degree in dance and dancing professionally for a short period. However, I was always obsessed with music and having 4 older sisters, I was constantly exposed to music that I still love to this day. At some point I came to terms with the fact that, because I love music so much, I wanted to be inside of it and learn to play guitar and sing. I began taking music theory classes, but what really prompted me to learn to play guitar and sing was writing my own songs.
It all came to a head when my sister’s friend came to a restaurant I was working at in Chicago and I asked him about buying a bass, because I was starting to learn the bass as well. He was in a popular Irish rock band in Chicago at the time called the Drovers, and he asked if I was interested in auditioning as the singer. Up until that point I had only sang in the shower. Next thing you know, I was playing my first show at a sold out House of Blues in Chicago. It’s kind of tough when you have that being your first show…needless to say they haven’t all been like that ; ) but from there, I felt I had no choice but to play music.
Noah: I come from a family of musicians, my father and cousin both played bass professionally growing up, and as a kid I toured with my dad in the summers because we couldn’t afford childcare on a musician’s salary (he wasn’t a songwriter, so he just got paid the journeyman’s wage). I started seriously playing musical instruments when I was about 5 (although I’d dabbled in them pretty much from birth), and in kindergarten a musician came into my class to give a presentation on stringed instruments. At some point she asked for volunteers to come up and try practicing vibrato (holding the string down while gently moving it up and down to create a singing quality) on the strings of a cello, and when I raised my hand she picked me. When I tried it she seemed surprised and said “wow, you’re a natural”. That was when I knew I wanted to play musical instruments.
But what really kicked in my desire to pursue music professionally is when the band I’d formed in middle school played the 7th grade talent show. I’ll never forget the moment we finished the song – everyone in the whole auditorium stood up and cheered and went wild – and that was the moment when I knew this was what I was going to do. And by the way, we won the talent show.
What’s the official origin story of The New Up?
The band formed slowly over a number of years, rather than in one spontaneous moment. It started off between ES Pitcher and Noah working together acoustically, meeting serendipitously in the parking lot of a music festival in Indiana (at the time Reid lived in Charlottesville, VA and Pitcher lived in Chicago) and then hooking up musically after Reid moved to Chicago a few months later. After a short time of honing their songwriting together they met Hawk West, who brought a whole new element to what the sound could be. After a move from Chicago to SF and an iteration or two with different drummers and bassists, who were adding their own flavor to the sound and really changing it to something different than what Pitcher, Reid, and West had originally envisioned, the three founding members decided to take the sound into their own hands and pursue a purer creative vision. The culmination of that refining of the process really hits it’s stride on the new album, Tiny Mirrors.
Your track “Falling From The Sky” has gotten quite a bit of attention, and we can see why. Do you think this song serves as a relevant pre-cursor to the upcoming album?
The answer is simultaneously yes and no. As we did with “Falling From the Sky”, we tried to infuse each song with raw, real emotions and to connect with the listener by creating the most evocative soundscapes we could, using as many layers of depth and meaning as possible without convoluting them. In addition, we wanted to convey our own original feel while maintaining an air of familiarity with every song. So in those respects, it was our goal to paint all of the songs with these same colors throughout the album. With that in mind, though, our intention was also to create somewhat of a concept album that would take the listener through the range of emotions that one might experience over the course of any given week, month, or year. We worked diligently to get out of the way of the emotion of the music and let it take on all of the complex elements of the intense but beautifully exhilarating and fulfilling journey we are all on. In a nutshell, we’re hoping listeners will find a strong emotional connection with each song on the album, while also using the music to observe themselves experiencing this range of emotions that make up the completeness of what it means to exist in today’s world, and as a result gain understanding of themselves and the world through the music.
What inspired that track, specifically?
Simply put, looking around the world at Syria, the xenophobia that seems to be pervasive now, the lack of ability to think in a long-term way as a species, and all of the other ways that we seem to be going backwards – away from the prospect of having a world where we all live with dignity – was the inspiration for not just this track, but for the album as a whole. They say you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone, and that’s been true with this period of globalism over the past 70 years or so. We didn’t know how much we had been moving toward a world where everyone can be assured of the basic elements of survival until we saw what the prevailing winds were bringing us in this seemingly new error of rolling back of individual rights. In fact, the song “No Fly Zone” also really hits on that very point, taking on the concept of borders and how they are created arbitrarily, with no regard to those living within them and used by the wealthy and powerful for their own gain, with devastating effects on the less fortunate.
What are you most excited about regarding the album release?
The hope that it could inspire in all of those people out there that feel that they’re alone in feeling alone and hopeless. There aren’t enough artists out there these days talking about things that may be considered political, but that we feel are just human. LOL, I guess politics is just the art of interacting with other humans with different interests, right? But really, in the spirit of U2, Bob Marley, Pink Floyd and so many other greats that have come before us, we intend to use this album as a way to inspire others to never give up hope, and to pursue positive goals with vigor.
How do you imagine people enjoying the album?
Kind of funny you ask that. On the inside cover of the hard copy of the album (yes, we actually still have our music available in a non-digital form), there is an excerpt titled “Some things we hope you feel while you listen…”, and the first thing on that list is “The wind through your hair as you drive through the hot desert”. It goes on to note things like “winning doesn’t create real happiness”, “the power to change the world and yourself is in you”, “fear and hate, hope and love are two side of the same coin”, “blame is a diversion from the truth”, and “the inevitable is definitely NOT inevitable”. It could be confused for fortune cookie wisdom, but if you think about those things as you listen you’ll really get the meaning.
So to answer the question directly, we imagine people doing things like riding a roller coaster, skydiving, on a summer road trip with the top down on a hot day, or taking part in a revolution. The music is meant to be a soundtrack to the moments in your life you wish you could bottle up – the ones where you feel free for a moment or two – so that whenever you listen you feel empowered and are reminded of the fact that you can do anything you really put yourself into. The fact that that sentiment and so many other important ideas have become cliched (or even ridiculed) is exactly what we’re fighting back against, and what we want to help listeners reconnect with by being unafraid to appreciate those feelings again.
What’s your idea of the perfect venue?
A house party with a big stage, a great sound system, and a house full of people that are fired up to get down. There’s something about playing a party where everyone is there to have the maximum amount of fun possible that gets us totally in the space to play like we’re out of our bodies.
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve consumed on tour?
A doughnut shaped like a penis. There’s a spot in Portland called Voodoo Doughnuts, which I think is kind of famous at this point. You can actually trade weed for a donut there, but they have a donut called the “cock ‘n’ balls doughnut”, and it’s of course filled with cream. So when you take a bite of the tip the cream totally squirts into your mouth. For some of us that was a more familiar sensation than others…LOL
What’s up next?
What’s up next depends a lot on what happens now. We’re pushing hard to make the biggest splash possible with this new album in the US, but we’re also making a huge push to make it a big success in the UK and EU. We’ll be doing a lot more touring in the spring and summer, with some East Coast dates planned for May and June. After that, as long as everything goes as planned, we will be doing a UK/EU tour. We’ve already got the team in place to make it happen, so it’s much more likely than not that it will happen, but of course we don’t even know if we’ll still be alive in June, so we can only be so sure that anything’s gonna happen, right?
After that, we’ll hunker back down in the studio in the Fall to start recording the next album and we’ll probably stop touring for a bit so we can focus on that. If everything explodes with this album, that whole timeline may get pushed up sooner by a bit, which we would welcome.
Tiny Mirrors is out now. Keep up with the band here.