Exclusive Song Premiere and Interview: ‘Ski Vacation,’ LVL UP

Published September 9, 2014

ABOVE: LVL UP

It’s stretching into Sunday evening, and half of LVL UP is stuck in traffic. Nick Corbo and Greg Rutkin are sitting in a car headed towards Brooklyn when their bandmate Mike Caridi loops them into our conversation on a scratchy conference call. The fourth player, Dave Benton, who co-runs the band’s label Double Double Whammy with Caridi, is somewhere out of town.

Known for pressing cuts from the likes of Frankie Cosmos, Porches., and Radiator Hospital, Double Double Whammy is weeks away from putting out LVL UP’s first LP since Benton and Caridi dubbed their very first tape, the sprawling, irreverent Space Brothers. Hoodwink’d, due to be released September 23, is a significantly more confident effort that soaks admiring nods to Guided By Voices and Sebadoh in the band’s unique and subtle humor.

We spoke with everyone except Benton from LVL UP about the new record and the challenges Caridi faces juggling an active band with a busy label. We’re also happy to premiere the fourth single from Hoodwink’d, the bright, elastic “Ski Vacation.”

SASHA GEFFEN: Your music has always had a sense of humor to it, but Hoodwink’d sounds noticeably heavier than Space Brothers. What led to the change in tone?

NICK CORBO: I finished my songs for the record last. I was having a hard time writing them, and then I went through a pretty heinous breakup with my girlfriend, and had to move, and I also lost my job, and I also crashed my car, all in a week. It was pretty heavy, so maybe my songs aren’t as funny.

MIKE CARIDI: We all spent a lot more time working on this one. The songs had been accumulating for a couple years, and the recording process we took a lot more seriously. Maybe that made it sound less lighthearted.

GEFFEN: What is your writing process like? Does each member write his own songs or is it more communal?

CORBO: We demo the songs on our own and bring them to the group and the group pieces them together and fleshes them out. A lot of that also happens in the recording process.

GREG RUTKIN: I don’t write any songs, but the way it’s been going, whoever’s singing will come up with a basic song and everyone else will come together and flesh it out. Except for “Ski Vacation,” which is something that Mike had ready to go but he couldn’t think of a vocal part, and Dave asked if he could try taking over. That was a weird one, because it was more of a collaboration, which was cool. It’s one of my favorites.

GEFFEN: How did the recording process for Hoodwink’d go differently from Space Brothers?

CARIDI: The first thing we put out after forming Double Double Whammy was the Space Brothers cassette. That was a super DIY release. We dubbed all the tapes ourselves and printed everything out in our school library. Since then, we’ve gotten a little bit more professional. Back then, Dave and I were both in separate bands, but in our spare time, we were sending each other acoustic demos, and then we would go into the student center after hours and record, just me and Dave and sometimes other random friends. We were going to do a split cassette with Nick, who was doing some solo stuff, and the songs that he was going to put on his side ended up on Space Brothers, and then our songs that were going to be on our side of the split are on Space Brothers. We just decided to merge them because they worked together. I think of it more as a compilation. With Hoodwink’d, we actually sat down and decided what songs would go on and fleshed them out together. It’s still self-recorded, it’s not a studio thing, but we worked way harder on it. That’s why the songs sound more cohesive. Space Brothers was recorded in a million different places.

GEFFEN Does it feel like the band has come together as a unit since the last record?

CARIDI: Totally.

RUTKIN: I was just talking to one of our friends and he said it’s very apparent whenever we hang out with him how much we all really, really like each other. A lot of people have told us that. We spend a lot of time together and know each other really well. We all feel really good about it.

CARIDI: We have a nice chemistry. I think it makes this album sound way more cohesive. It’s obvious that the three of us have different writing styles, but it still works because we’re all pretty much on the same page at this point.

CORBO: We all write songs separately for the most part, but we’ve all been marinating in each other’s songwriting for years now. Dave and Mike’s writing styles have had such a huge influence on me.

CARIDI: And vice versa.

CORBO: We’re all starting to become more cohesive even though we’re not writing together. I like that a lot. It’s really interesting.

GEFFEN: What are you the most proud of out of the whole process of recording this album?

CORBO: I know we keep talking about cohesion, but I’m really proud of the cohesion. Space Brothers had a mixtape feel, which I was totally into. But this one feels like a full record to me. It has a nice curvature, a nice playthrough feel. It sounds good as a whole.

GEFFEN: Mike, how do you balance playing in the band with running Double Double Whammy?

CARIDI: Dave and I are both losing our minds a little bit. It’s been very stressful. He and I have our division of labor pretty clear cut. He takes care of certain things and I take care of certain things. That is sort of a new thing that we’ve developed. We were both trying to do everything together until a few months ago when we sat down and were like, okay, here’s your strengths, here’s my strengths. It’s been a lot easier since then. But it’s definitely very busy.

For instance, I’ve been helping set up a show for our friend Luke, who used to play drums in Krill and now plays drums for this band called Brunch. They’re going on tour and he asked me to help set up a show. So I put together this bill, and Nick’s other band Crying is on it, and LVL UP is on it, and Mitski is on it. It’s a really awesome bill. We announced it yesterday and I got a text from Mitski, who we’re doing a record for, and she was like, “Hey, just saw that show. Didn’t know about it.” I completely forgot to just ask her if she wanted to play a show. In my head, it was all set. Dave and I do that shit a little bit too often now. But it’s cool. On the road it’s a little harder just because the orders stack up. But I’m subletting my room to two friends while we go on our October tour, and they are getting a discount because they’re going to help mail stuff.

GEFFEN: Has it all gotten easier the more you do it or does the chaos just pile up?

CARIDI: It’s very weird because we’re definitely getting better at it now. But there was this one week where everything was going wrong and Dave was out of town. I called a friend who runs another label, and I was like, “I don’t know what to do!” And he said, “As the label grows, that’s going to be your routine: figuring out really crappy things that happen.” In a way, maybe it’s going well because bad things are happening. It just comes with the territory.

LVL UP’S HOODWINK’D IS DUE OUT SEPTEMBER 23. THE BAND WILL PLAY AN ALBUM RELEASE SHOW AT BROOKLYN’S SHEA STADIUM ON SEPTEMBER 24 AND CONTINUE TO TOUR THROUGHOUT THE FALL. FOR MORE ON THE BAND, PLEASE VISIT ITS FACEBOOK PAGE.