Indie rockers Big Ups showed us their raucous life on the DIY tour circuit

By
Photography Montana Elliot

Published May 9, 2018

Joe Galarraga, lead vocalist of post-hardcore band Big Ups, tells me they have a problem not being at least a little silly all the time. The four college best buds (Galarraga, drummer Brendan Finn, guitarist Amar Lal, and bassist Carlos Salguero Jr.) are about to release their third and best album, Two Parts Together (out May 18 on Exploding in Sound Records), and we’re on the roof patio of scrappy Brooklyn DIY venue The Glove a couple of hours before their wild and fun set. We’ve just had a decidedly silly chat about some photos on their camera rolls, which you can see below, involving lots of bad scents, the trash under the ladder at David Blaine’s The Steakhouse, an encounter with Mike Kennerty of All-American Rejects, and a shrimp pillow.

Big Ups have a goofy and charismatically self-deprecating stage presence, and when they played their hottest new song that night, “Imaginary Dog Walker,” Galarraga noted that, “This is a song about what would happen if I walked an invisible dog,” literally. They’ve always been interested in this kind of mischievous thought experiment, melding their harsh, capricious sound to fanciful literary and philosophical concepts. Galarraga has written pensive ragers about national parks and songs about gardeners that are tributes to idealism, and their album titles include Walt Whitman and Carl Sagan references.

Two Parts Together continues this flirty intellectual bent, while Big Ups explore new sounds (strings, piano, field recordings), structures, and tempos more than ever. This record is also more focused on interiority than their past releases, on the different, puzzling facets of the self. “Am I the same person/I was when I was dreaming?” they ask on “Fear,” a subdued standout about not knowing which part of yourself to trust. “Which version of the world/Is the one that’s worth believing?” And the first single, “PPP,” is a flip on a psychic reading. You can almost hear it reflect and refract, drums rising and guitar echoing around Galarraga’s wails of, “Look into the crystal/And see what you wanna see.” There’s nothing like a singalong anthem that simultaneously gives you an existential crisis and makes you smile.

BRENDAN FINN: This photo is inside our friend Nick Dooley’s homemade camper, in a food co-op parking lot in Vermont. I don’t know what Carlos is looking at. We were passing through Burlington and we went to go see them. We ate lunch inside his tiny homemade camper van. It was an experience, ‘cause it smelled kinda bad in there.

AMAR LAL: There’s a composting toilet in the camper, and it’s on the back of a pickup truck. It was funny.

FINN: It was funny! And I managed to snap this great photo of Carlos looking… so afraid. I don’t know what he’s looking at! And the next photo is zoomed in on him. The food in his mouth… That was just a funny day.

FINN: This is Carlos with the Idiot’s Guide To Playing Drums.

SALGUERO JR: I found this book in the trash, late at night.

FINN: This is Dingle gin. It’s from Ireland. Our band friend Jack Insley brought it back for us. This was in D.C., we were staying at his house. We played a first show of a tour there, at DC9. They got us food, and after the show my burger had been sitting there for the whole show. And I ate it. And then we went back to Jack’s house and I drank a bunch of Dingle gin. We stayed up pretty late, hanging out, and the next morning I threw up the gin and the burger everywhere. Maybe subconsciously I was trying to drink away the food poisoning, and for a minute I blamed it on the Dingle. But it wasn’t from the gin, it was from food poisoning. And that’s the end of the story.

LAL: This is a picture of a picture. From our first out of town show. There’s Mike Quigley from Washer, and Carlos, and Joe. They were “Asher Roth’s backing band” — that’s the running joke. We had taken a Bolt bus to Philly to play in our friend’s basement. Probably early 2011. We’re right by the Market and 30th Street Station.

JOE GALARRAGA: This is Brendan’s wife Noel, from like, three years ago, on the roof of our old building. Brendan and I used to be roommates a while back. Everyone used to hang out on this roof. There were a bunch of other people in bands who lived there, [DIY venue] David Blaine’s The Steakhouse was there. There was a lot of hanging out on the roof and a lot of playing of games on the roof. Especially this one game called Ninja, where everyone gets in a circle and you have to try to like, slice the person next to you, and they have to dodge it but you can only move a little at a time. Anyway, this is just a funny picture. They had only been dating for a few months, and now they’re married.

FINN: And now we’re married! We got married in December. The funny thing about that building is that the trash was right under the ladder, so every time you climbed down it just smelled so disgusting.

 

FINN: This is a good one of our friend Tom, from England. My parents have a cabin in the woods, and that’s the lake when it’s frozen. Tom wanted a picture of him smoking cigarettes, looking “cool,” as he says.

LEAH MANDEL: How do you know him?

FINN: Our booking agent in England—he and Tom were in a band together. So our first time we ever went to England he said “Tom should drive you around!” ‘cause at the time Tom was driving bands around. And since then he’s taken us out almost every time we’ve gone over there. We’ve gotten so close with him he’s come to visit us a bunch, he was at our wedding. He’s just a very good mate and a very fun person.

LAL: I’ve got a good one from South Dakota. We were on tour with this band Pears, and we had all watched the movie It together. There’s that whole thing where they make a pact at the end to meet back at the same spot in nine years, and so we all made a pact in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, right by these huge waterfalls that all smell like feces, because there’s a sewage treatment plant there.

SALGUERO JR: A lot of smells we’ve been talking about.

FINN: It smelled so bad. It just reeked.

GALARRAGA: On the same tour, in Oklahoma City, we stayed with the guitar player from the All-American Rejects. And here’s his Moon Man. So that’s kinda crazy! We got there and it was pretty late, and I had been drinking. At night, I really wanted to get a picture of it, but I was like, not sneaky enough. I kept trying to go in the room and take a picture secretly, because I didn’t want to be the person who was like, nerding out about the Moon Man. But then I couldn’t do it, so in the morning we had to wake up at 7:30 because we had to drive to Albequerque, and I ran in there really fast to get a picture of the Moon Man from the All-American Rejects guitar player.

MANDEL: How did you end up staying with him?

GALARRAGA: It’s one of those funny things that just ends up happening.

SALGUERO JR: Someone knew him. I have his phone number still!

GALARRAGA: Someone was like, “Oh yeah, you’ll go stay with Mike, from All-American Rejects!” And I was like “What?” And then before I knew it, we’re in the car and we’re gonna go stay at his house. Weird, small world stuff. Even though there’s such different worlds in the music industry, it’s smaller than you think. He had a really nice place that was filled with arcade games and records, but other than that pretty sparse. You could tell he was like, “I am a collector of arcade games and records.”

LAL: He had the Platinum Record for their record from when they had sold like, so many million ringtones of the record.

GALARRAGA: A million downloads of the “Swing, Swing” ringtone.

MANDEL: Did you like the All-American Rejects?

GALGARRA: Not really, they weren’t my thing. It was kind of inescapable, if you watched TRL. I remember the “Swing, Swing” music video. I really liked Sum-41, though.

SALGUERO JR: I have this Pez dispenser, of Emperor Palpatine. There was this brunch place in Baltimore, the Paper Moon Diner, and it’s just filled with different Pez paraphenelia. That’s a memory.

FINN: This is a photo of Amar and Joe from my wedding. I like it because Carlos described it as their criminal file photo.

SALGUERO JR: It’s attached to a dossier.

FINN: Exactly. It’s like, “These are the known affiliates.” Joe has a very serious look like he’s saying, “We have to do something about the Argentina situation.”

GALARRAGA: This has nothing to do with the band but it’s a photo I took when I was in California. It’s a bunch of monks taking pictures of each other in front of the bridge in Big Sur, the classic bridge that’s in that Reese Witherspoon show [Big Little Lies]. I just thought there was something about this that’s poetic, I can’t put my finger on it. They’re just all posing in their monastic robes.

 

GALARRAGA: Here’s another good tour photo. This is a bed I made. Sometimes I like to take a picture of how shitty my sleeping arrangements are. I have this awesome shrimp neck pillow, and there happened to be a Cry-Baby pillow. Great, wacky, weird-ass movie. So I took the Cry-Baby pillow and the shrimp pillow, and then there’s a couch cushion and my sleeping bag on the floor. This was in Boston. Obviously we’re really blessed to go on tour and stuff like that, there’s bigger fish to fry, but it is pretty hilarious sometimes that I’m like, almost 30, and this is what I’m doing. This is my life.

FINN: Bigger shrimp to fry.

FINN: I got one of Joe taking a selfie with a bunch of Mallo cups in a gas station. That tour he just kept buying Mallo cups! They have little cards in them and you collect Mallo points.

LAL: And if you send in Mallo points then you get more Mallo cups!

FINN: Funny thing about this photo—he’s also wearing a camo jacket because he didn’t pack a coat for the tour, and it was cold and Neil O’Neal gave Joe his camo jacket. I think Joe grew very fond of that jacket.

GALARRAGA: I had to give it back.

FINN: Well, yeah, but I remember you liked it quite a bit.

FINN: Here’s Joe driving a bus in the sky. It was at City Museum in St. Louis. He’s on a roof, you can tell he’s like ten stories up. That’s a cool museum, I wanna go back. They have all this crazy shit. They have planes you can crawl into, too.

 

TWO PARTS TOGETHER [EXPLODING IN SOUND RECORDS] IS OUT MAY 18, 2018.