INTERVIEW: Upset vs. our Cootie Catcher

At the second night of a three-part Don Giovanni showcase last Friday, we caught up with three of the New Brunswick-based punk label’s brightest and best.  We also decided to pioneer a new interviewing technique based on a popular children’s fortune telling game, using a folded paper “cootie-catcher” (or “saltcellar” or “chatterbox” or “whirlybird” or whatever you may have called it).

Upset Cootie Catcher

It seemed especially fitting for Upset, whose debut album She’s Gone was released  last year and lyrically speaking, addresses the kind of teenage angst that never really goes away.  I talked with Ali Koehler, who formerly played drums for Vivian Girls and Best Coast before releasing a cassette of solo material and forming Upset, as well as Patty Schemel, best known as the drummer for Hole.  The band’s regular line-up includes Jenn Prince on guitar (you might know her from La Sera or Negativ Daze) and a rotating cast of bassists (if you know anyone, tweet @weareUpset because they’ve been diligently looking).

ALI PICKS TACO, 4, 5, 3 and gets the question: Do you think it is necessary to shed the legacies of bands you’ve played with in the past before starting a new project?

ALI: No…. no, cause that’s part of who you are and it informs the music that you make now and you can’t make everyone just be like, “Hey, remember all that other stuff?” and erase their memories. So you’ve just kinda gotta keep movin’ along.
PATTY: Yeah.
AF: Do you think, especially with this project, that you’re building on other projects you’ve worked on before?
ALI: Probably. I mean, just cause those are life experiences we have that we’ll never get rid of, so that always…
PATTY: Shapes you.
ALI: Yeah.
PATTY: Ali’s a singer, and a guitar player, and a songwriter, and she’s been a drummer, so there’s that difference.

PATTY PICKS TELEPHONE, 8, 9, 7 and gets the question:  You’ve toured with a lot of female-fronted bands.  Is there a reason for that and does it differ from touring with dudes?

PATTY: Uhhhhm YEAH. It does.
ALI: For sure.
PATTY: This is gonna sound dumb but I like hanging out with ladies, I like women. Guys are fun and stuff but I just identify with what women talk about and sing about.
ALI: They bring a different vibe to the tour. I know when Vivian Girls toured with… well, Vivian Girls toured with a lot of guys, cause we were on In The Red, and it was more of a boys club. And we played with Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, and King Khan & BBQ Show, and Black Lips and stuff, and that is a waayyyyyyyyy different vibe.
AF: Well those are all bands that have a little bit more of a reputation for being rowdy…..
ALI: Yeah, I mean, they don’t represent all guys. They’re particularly nutty. But. There’s a lot more of like, going to strip clubs, and… having a lot more fights with each other. Just not as chill.
PATTY: They let some stuff go, where I wouldn’t let it go. Like a shower, or something. Maybe a good scrubbing.  Or a place to sleep. I’ll go the extra two hours to get to a good Holiday Inn.
ALI: Yeah, I’m into being comfortable. Okay, so King Khan BBQ Show… King Khan, this nails it. The hotel we were staying in, he got drunk and threw up all over his hotel room and then took photos posing in it the next morning, and we’re all eating breakfast like, ugh!
AF: But there’s not so much of that with the ladies? They don’t really pose in their own vomit?
ALI: No. Dudes do.

ALI PICKS CROWN, 8, 5, 6 and gets a question written for Patty.  Is it weird watching a documentary about yourself?  Or being in one in general?

PATTY: Yeah. I mean, I didn’t really say, I’m gonna do a documentary. I was preserving all the footage and was approached by my friend David, who is the director, who was like “We should do something”. So I did, and then it took a while, it was done in 2011, and going back and looking at all that footage was like going back through a crazy time machine. But it’s always good to take an experience, the good parts and the bad parts, and do something with it, make something, create something out of it, you know.
ALI: Like a phoenix rising from the ashes!
PATTY: YES! To do that with it, to create something and then also kind of  share what I saw.  I always like the archival footage when I watch a documentary. I wanna see that.
AF: I really liked that the filmmakers talked to so many female drummers because there is definitely this unfortunate thing that happens even in a band that’s mostly women, it’s like the drummer’s always a dude. It’s so hard for people to name female drummers off the top of their head.
PATTY: Yeah. To acknowledge the ones that came before. Gina Schock, Debbie Peterson from The Bangles.  Nowadays there’s more lady drummers.
AF: Did you see the Kathleen Hanna documentary?
PATTY: No. Not yet.
ALI: I had snot running out of my nose. I was inconsolable. My boyfriend said, it was as if someone you love has died. I was so moved to tears.
PATTY: I’m gonna watch it this weekend.
AF: You should, it’s really really great. I just think it’s funny that you have that in common, first making such prolific music during that era, but then also both having had documentaries made about you.
PATTY: I lovvvvvvve Kathleen Hannah. Always have.

ALI PICKS: DINO, 2, 6, 2 and gets the question:  Why’d you decide to call the band Upset? What upsets you most about the music industry?

ALI: I was looking up the definition of the word upset for… no reason, I don’t know why. And it was something about anxiety, a disquieted feeling, all this shit, and I am a very anxious person. I dunno, I thought it made sense. And it has multiple meanings. You could be upset, or have an upset.  I just thought it didn’t sound like any one genre so we could kinda grow into it.
AF: And so for the two-parter, what upsets you about the music industry?
ALI: (makes whistling sound) I don’t know… the fact that it is run by people that don’t know shit about music?
AF: That’s a good answer. That pretty much lays it out.
PATTY: I know. That’s good.

PATTY PICKS CROWN, 6, 3, 4 and gets the question: What’s next for the band as far as doing more albums, touring, etc.?

ALI: We’re doing SXSW this year and we’re gonna work on writing new stuff. Jenn’s been writing new stuff. We kinda took a break over the holidays.
PATTY: We’re sorting out our bass player situation.
ALI: Oh, right. We still don’t have a bass player.
PATTY: Rachel from that dog. played on the West Coast tour with us, which was amazing and great.  Thanks Rachel! And then Katy Goodman

[of Vivian Girls, All Saints Day & La Sera] was doing a lot over the last summer. So sweet. So tonight Kyle’s playing with us and he’s the one that wrote all the bass parts.
ALI: Kyle Gilbride from Swearin’ recorded the album and wrote the bass parts and played the bass parts on the album because we didn’t have a bass player then either. And it’s comin’ up on a year. We formed the band with a bass player who moved away….
PATTY: He got married.
ALI: It’s become a Spinal Tap thing where we cannot find a permanent bassist. 

ALI PICKS TACO, 6, 3, 8 and gets the question: Whose cool dog are you posing with in your promo pictures?

PATTY: Her name is Maddie. And she is an amazing rescue dog that my friend Molly, the photographer, owns now. She’s been in a lot of stuff. she’s been in some PETA ads and she’s just an all-around popular fashion dog.
AF: She’s a star.
PATTY: Yeah, she is.
AF: Air Bud’s got nothin’ on her.
ALI: She’s really tolerant, with the posing.
PATTY: Which really speaks to how far she’s come. Now I’m gonna get into “dog stuff” because she was from the streets…
ALI: Terrified, right?
PATTY: Yeah. She was on Dog Whisperer. Because when Molly found her some kids were throwing rocks at her. And they did a lot of work together and I started working with her too….
AF: Yeah, cause you do work with rescue dogs as well….
PATTY: Yeah. So that’s that.
ALI: Now she’s like the best.
PATTY: And those are genuine smiles.  When you have a dog like that on your lap, you’re not posing. It’s pure joy.
ALI: Yeah, we all couldn’t have been happier.
PATTY: That was our best pic.

Upset with rescue dog Maddie

PATTY PICKS DINOSAUR, 2, 7, 8 and gets the question: The girls on your album cover look like super heroes, is there a reason for that?
ALI: Yeah, because it’s a rip-off of the Adrian Tomine Weezer Superhero poster. Not a rip-off… but….
PATTY: Inspired by.
ALI: I love it. Jenn’s friend James does all the art for Audacity and stuff. I basically told James I wanted the vibe to be that poster with that color scheme meets Now And Then. And he’s the best, he had never seen Now And Then, so he actually watched it.
PATTY: Is that that movie with like… Gabby….
AF: It’s like Christina Ricci and Gabby Hoffman….
PATTY: Who is RULING on Girls now…
ALI: Yes!
PATTY: This season is Gabby Hoffman.
ALI: Have you seen Crystal Fairy?
PATTY: No.
AF: I haven’t watched Girls at all, but I like her character in Crystal Fairy.
ALI: She’s basically the same character.
PATTY: Oh, I love her.
ALI: You need to see Crystal Fairy. It’s amazing. Anyway so Now And Then meets that poster. With those mid-century modern colors. Muted, whatever. And he did it and it was awesome.

AF: The last question we kind of already talked about, just about how you all got together.  Ali, you and Jenn had kind of played together-ish?

ALI: Yeah, we kept trying to start a band but could never get it together. Around that time Patty and I started talking, and I asked if she was playing in bands and she told me she played with her brother and different things, and she asked if I was playing in a band and I was like, well I don’t have any friends….
PATTY: It was between me and Adrian Brody. No. Not Adrian Brody…. Brody the comedian.
ALI: Brody Stevens.
PATTY: That would be funny though.
ALI: I kept trying to start bands, actually, with comedians. I don’t know if you know this comedian Jonah Ray…. he’s really into music and punk rock and stuff and he plays drums and then Kyle Kinane plays guitar and I was like maybe I can like get them to form a band for me, but… I have a wayyyyy better band.
AF: You guys just played a comedy show, I think I read somewhere.
PATTY: I love playing comedy shows. It’s fun.
ALI: We’ve played comedy shows a few times. I go to more comedy shows than music shows. And the first time that Patty & I spoke was because she was the monologist for ASSCAT at UCB.
PATTY: I’ve done it a few times.
ALI: I feel like the L.A. comedy scene is better than their music scene.

Upset Live Don Giovanni Showcase

The band brought a great sense of humor into their set later that evening.  Koehler may have started her music career behind a kit, but she truly shines as a front-woman, cracking jokes between songs and delivering a snarling vocal performance.  Schemel’s drumming has never been more powerful, marked by the sheer joy of having returned to the stage after a long absence.  Jenn Prince’s guitar presence was laid-back, though I spotted her getting wild in the mosh pit during Shellshag’s exuberant set.  Gilbride seemed pleased to play with these girls again, and even if it’s not as a permanent member if was a treat to see him bring their sound to life outside of the studio.  They ripped through material from She’s Gone in a whirlwind.  “Queen Frosteen” and “Game Over” got the most shouts from the audience, which was unfortunately a little thinner than it probably should’ve been.  But with promising SXSW appearances on the horizon it’s only a matter of time before Upset become a household name.  For many of its members, it’ll be the second time around.

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