LVL UP Open ‘Closing Door’ Video, Stream ‘Return to Love’
At the midway point through a conversation with each member of LVL UP, it dawned on us that we had all been in the same room at the same time before. The band was describing the student center at SUNY Purchase, where shows took place almost nightly during their communal enrollment, when I mentioned a show I had attended there while on tour with a handful of bands back in 2012. LVL UP opened it, and drummer Greg Rutkin brought up a review of that show he had read afterward, which mentioned his band as the unmemorable opener.
“I remember that show, being nervous people wouldn’t like us," he admits. "And then there was a local review with blurbs about each band. Pianos Become the Teeth: 'so amazing, they killed it'; Touche Amore: 'holy fuck'; Tigers Jaw, et cetera. And then it got to us: ‘opening band, didn’t care about that.' So, it went exactly as I expected.”
Almost certainly, that review wasn’t verbatim, and given LVL UP's penchant for self-deprecation, it might not have even been negative at all. But we dove into what’s changed since then and how graduating can (and should) be the death knell for a band whose existence relies on the proximity and ease of collegiate life. LVL UP have defied and are defying common sense, graduate school and real life. For better or worse, for now.
On record and in person, the band is striking in their honesty, which almost makes you feel transparent. You might worry about being called a fraud if you have to try even a little bit. Emboldened by the tight-knit nature of what’s left of a Brooklyn DIY music scene fueled by inclusiveness and general goodness, the band has managed to burrow into their own space by sounding like not a single one of the peers they may be sharing a house with.
I caught up with them outside of a dive joint in Raleigh, N.C., during the weekend known as Hopscotch Fest, and aside from waxing nostalgic about genre trends of the very recent past, we covered everything from their appreciation of “nature shit” and how it informed their new album, to how annoying it can be to play a set at midnight once you hit a certain age. I gave them a brief tour, introducing them to everything from local restroom signs touting “we don’t care” as the gender of choice (Hopscotch practically doubled as a big middle finger to the state’s current bathroom bill turmoil) to the roaring sound of cicadas, which surrounded the venue and baffled the band.
Below, check out both the full stream of LVL UP's new album, Return to Love, debuting on Sub Pop tomorrow, and the band's video for "The Closing Door," directed by Rob Kolodny from House of Nod. They're followed by our Q&A and LVL UP's autumn tour dates.
You guys all grew up right outside of New York, right?And some of you live at a punk space together?
Greg Rutkin (drums): I’m the only one who lives there. David Blaine’s Steakhouse.
Nick Corbo (bass, vocals): I graduated a year before everybody else. We all went to school in Westchester County at SUNY Purchase. Everyone was there for one year. After that, I forget. Some people went home; I was there until I moved to the city.
GR: Yeah, I moved to the city almost immediately after graduating into David Blaine’s. It’s expensive, but any shitty job that you get pays you enough to make it work. None of us have any money.
You guys all have side jobs in NY?
Mike Caridi (guitar, vocals): We all just quit them, but we’ll probably get more when we’re done touring. Disposable jobs.
NC: Nothing cool. I feel like this is the career. All the other stuff is just making coffee and sandwiches.
GR: I had a good job at an electronics factory. It wasn’t a good job, but it was steady with benefits. But this is worth it. I don’t want to be moving boxes forever.
Are there a bunch of band members all living together in David Blaine’s with you, Greg?
GR: Yeah, there are. I play music with a lot of different people there.
I know there have been some collaborative sets.
GR: My roommate Cameron, in particular, has musical ADD, so he just always has a million projects. One of which I’m involved in.
NC: Lately, things have been picking up for those bands. Mitski, for example, who took off. Porches is very busy. Some of the other projects we were in have started to find other people. But the community is very active. A lot of inspiration.
GR: It’s very inspiring to be around those people and to be so collaborative, but also it fucking sucks. It’s really loud and no one cleans up. It makes you want to move anywhere else in the world sometimes.
By the time you hit your mid-20s, it’s not really fun anymore.
NC: That’s another balance. You’re surrounded by stimulus, but also not comfortable at all. Sometimes serenity is boring, and sometimes you sleep on a floor.
GR: Another thing that’s nice is that I don’t have to go see one of my friends' bands if I don’t want to. Which is sick.
NC: You’re turning into a crotchety old man.
MC: I don’t like leaving the house. I want to stay home and cook. Netflix.
NC: One year, I strictly kept track of the shows we played or were involved in. It was around 200. When we’re home, I don’t want to go to a show.
GR: There are some, and I’m like, “Man, that is such a sick show,” but I am not going to go.
NC: When we were in college, there were shows literally every night. Coming from a small quiet town where there’s nothing going on and still loving it — and not being jaded at all — is nice.
You guys seem to treat your band super pragmatically, like a relationship you know needs a ton of consistent work. Is that a fair assumption?
NC: We openly acknowledge this is one of the longest — if not the longest — relationships that we’ve all been in. I don’t have friends I kept from, like, high school, so for me at least … I met Dave in 2009, and everyone else the next year, so it’s been a six- or seven-year experience. It happened naturally; plus, we started touring even before this band, and are now only spending more and more time together. So, things just become familiar.
GR: I think we have a healthy way of looking at it. We have breaks where we don’t see each other that much, but before we go into anything big, we have conversations about total commitment to "x" amount of years.
It almost feels like the signing to Sub Pop was like, “Stay together for the kid.”
NC: I think I know the article you’re referencing. The one that was like, “No one will let us break up.” I think the headline was a little misconstrued. It was exaggerated. There were definitely moments where we were like, “Are we gonna do this anymore?” But there’s more humor in it than what was translated.
MC: We just joke around about ending it.
NC: But there were moments. After you graduate from college, that’s a crazy time. We did this for two years all in school together, and afterwards Mike was thinking of grad school, which would have been the end. But it was never like, "I’m sick and tired of this." Now that this new thing has happened, the signing, and we’ve been doing this for so long, it was like, "Are we committed to this?" The answer was yes.
Dave Benton (guitars, vocals): We all asked originally, "Are you in it for two years?" Something like that.
MC: Let’s try this until we’re 25, and then readjust. We’re 25 now, and it’s, “OK, can we do this until we’re 30?”
NC: There are peaks and valleys. There was a valley the other night sleeping on some college kid’s floor. I’m 26, and this house was gnarly. So, you do have these existential moments where you’re like, "What am I doing?" But there are peaks where things are so good I can’t believe they’re happening. We don’t even tour that often. But once you get to three, four, six months a year … your home life deteriorates.
So, is it difficult for others to understand that other relationships may have to come second?
GR: I’d like to not think of it that way.
NC: I don’t think it’s second place. It’s a balancing act. We’ve all lost jobs and relationships to this. Better or worse. It’s pretty much a polyamorous relationship with your band and other partners. You spend a lot of time in separate mind spaces.
DB: It’s just communication. There are moments, like next year: We’re probably going to wind up doing these big tours back-to-back in the U.S. and Europe, and we don’t really want to do it, but we know we have to. It’s two months straight, and we don’t totally want to do that, but we do want to give it the biggest try we can.
GR: We have a good opportunity. We want to make a mark, but we don’t want our lives to fall apart.
Who did the artwork?
NC: Me and Dave.
It seems in line with some of the weird natural imagery mentioned in the lyrics. What’s the significance?
NC: I drew it, and we made some weird watercolor stuff and scanned it all. We all worked together on it. We get a lot of questions on this, but the truth is we were just riffing. I was drawing landscapes, and when the time came, I used a landscape. People can draw their own associations to it, and so do we sometimes, but it’s just … we thought it looked nice.
MC: Yeah, I just think we thought it looked cool.
NC: We like nature shit. I wish we were in nature shit more often.
When was the last time you did nature shit?
NC: Pretty often.
GR: I just went to the Grand Canyon. It was sick as hell.
Do you guys make pit stops on tour for nature shit?
MC: It’s in Virginia. We had a show in Harrisonburg once, and I was driving and secretly just navigating to Foamhenge. It’s a life-sized replica of Stonehenge made out of foam. There’s a giant wizard. It’s in the middle of nowhere. It looks like shit.
LVL UP on TOUR
Sept. 22 — Burlington, VT @ Arts Riot ~
Sept. 23 —Durham, NH @ University of New Hampshire
Sept. 24 — New York, NY @ Market Hotel %
Sept. 25 — Philadelphia, PA @ PhilaMOCA
Sept. 28 — New Haven, CT @ Bar
Sept. 29 — New York, NY @ Bowery Ballroom ^
Sept. 30 — Kingston, NY @ BSP Kingston
Oct. 11 — Minneapolis, MN @ Dagger
Oct. 14 — Missoula, MT @ Palace Lounge
Oct. 15 — Boise, ID @ Neurolux
Oct. 16 — Olympia, WA @ Track House
Oct. 17 — Seattle, WA @ The Black Lodge
Oct. 18 — Portland, OR @ Analog Cafe
Oct. 20 — San Francisco, CA @ Bottom of the Hill ^
Oct. 21 — San Francisco, CA @ Bottom of the Hill ^
Oct. 22 — Pomona, CA @ VLHS
Oct. 23 — Los Angeles, CA @ The Echoplex ^
Oct. 24 — Phoenix, AZ @ Rebel Lounge
Oct. 26 — Denver, CO @ Hi Dive
Oct. 28 — Bloomington, IN @ The Void
Oct. 29 — Gambier, OH @ Kenyon College
Oct. 30 — Louisville, KY @ Zanzabar *
Nov. 1 — Nashville, TN @ The High Watt *
Nov. 2 — Birmingham @ The Syndicate Lounge *
Nov. 3 — New Orleans, LA @ Siberia *
Nov. 4 — Austin, TX @ TBA
Nov. 5 — San Antonio, TX @ The Paper Tiger
Nov. 6 — Dallas, TX @ Three Links *
Nov. 8 — Kansas City @ Davey's Upstairs *
Nov. 9 — Omaha, NE @ Milk Run *
Nov. 10 — Madison, WI @ The Frequency *
Nov. 11 — Chicago, IL @ Subterranean *
Nov. 12 — Lansing, MI @ The Blind Pig *
~ w/ Eskimeaux
% Record Release Show w/ Ovlov, Forth Wanderers and Vagabon
^ w/ Bear Vs Shark
* w/ Alex G and Brandon Can't Dance