I recently had the pleasure of talking with Jsun Adams, the lead singer and guitarist for The Upsidedown. The Upsidedown’s music has been featured on television shows on NBC and ABC. They’ve contributed to The Vampire Diaries, as well as FX’s Damages and Sons of Anarchy. The Upsidedown’s “Wolf Blood Honey” was featured just last month on the HBO series True Blood.
The up-coming Upsidedown album, The Town with Bad Wiring, due for release September 28th on Reverb Records, features the band working with R.E.M.’s Peter Buck, as well as Brian Jonestown Massacre’s Collin Hegna, Jeremy Sherrer and The Dandy Warhols.
Audio Interview: Jsun Adams The Upsidedown
Rich in post-punk brilliance, the album’s retro feel harkens directly back to bands like The Gogos and The Pixies, but with a strong inclination towards the upbeat drumming sounds of The Jesus and Mary Chain, who The Upsidedown have had the coveted honor of playing with. They’ve also performed with The Psychedelic Furs, The Black Angels, and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.
The album’s title was the first topic I wanted to tackle when I spoke with Jsun.
The Town with Bad Wiring… a very interesting title, what inspired it?
Our album was named after a channel-surfed phrase from public radio that describes a modern city: well fed, well plumbed, but not generally easy to navigate socially or psychologically due to technical difficulties.
Is that how you guys feel? Like you’re a bit of a town that’s difficult to navigate? Or is it the world around you that’s difficult to navigate?
(Laughing) A little bit of both! I definitely felt like the album was the town, in itself. We sort of interweave between nature and electricity throughout the album. There are lots of segues that create sort of a feel on the album — between what is reality, and what’s surreal. A lot of the recording that I did for those segues, I did in Morocco, in different areas. We did recordings in the Smokey Mountains, just recording bug sounds. We tried to find old circuit bending sounds and then weave that into the song… sort of going into pieces of the song and using some of those as hooks within songs.
And the song “The Town With Bad Wiring” itself, has a lot of sounds that were ‘found’ sounds or sounds that we really pushed some of the amplification on, or really held back and used a clean tone. We tried to really just mesh [them] and make this wall of electronics and nature.
I mentioned some of my favorite post-punk and New Wave bands from the ’80s. You can really hear that distinct upgraded-retro sound on The Town with Bad Wiring; the sort of beat-heavy, rhythm-driven music that bands like The Killers have found success with. I asked Jsun if that’s who influenced him musically as well, the ’80s bands?
Definitely. I think, on this album, I really feel the influence of those early ’80s, mid-’80s MTV shows. 120 Minutes; you know, for some of us it was the first time hearing The Jesus and Mary Chain. Like seeing that first video for Darklands, or hearing PIL (Public Image Ltd) or some of those bands. When college radio was still college radio and it felt like you were discovering music. It felt like you were discovering something.
And I think, a big one for a few of us, on some of these songs, is Stone Roses. You know, some of the drum tracks on the album are backwards, mixed with the forward drum tracks. [We wanted to] just have that mesh, a little bit of that Manchester beat here and there, mixed with some early American college music.
We were so fortunate to have the company, and the studio that we received, having Peter [Holmstrom] from The Dandy Warhols come in. Having Collin Hegna, the bass player from The Brian Jonestown Massacre mix, and also recording and playing on it himself.
And paramount is having Peter Buck from R.E.M. lay down some good guitar tracks. When we finally heard his tracks on our songs, it was such a closure to listening to those (R.E.M.) songs. That time. That era. We’re just so proud of all of the work that we put into this record. I think it’s really thorough… and it’s our best song writing yet.
You guys recorded that at Revolver Studios?
Yes. Collin Hegna’s Revolver Studios, here in Portland. It’s really a special studio. High vaulted ceilings. It’s sort of what I picture maybe Apple Music was for the Beatles. It’s a very open space. And it’s very organic, with lots of old vintage equipment. Bearskin rugs on the walls and canteens. Amazing poster art. Just thoroughly enjoyed that studio.
I heard a lot of that Jesus and Mary Chain in your music. The first thing that hit me. I turned on “Something Good” and just immediately was taken back to that time, you know? I mean, that really strong drum beat, the rhythms, and just the attitude. It’s fun. It’s really, really fun.
You can definitely hear the Peter Buck influence on The Town with Bad Wiring. Some tracks hint strongly of old, college-radio R.E.M. classics like “We Walk” and “Radio Free Europe”. My favorite songs on the record are “Something Good” and “God’s Bare Hands”, but what I find irresistible is the raw, steady, driving, Misfits meets The GoGos, drum beat of “La Paloma”. It just takes me back to that point in time when New Wave hadn’t yet watered down the post-punk revolution.
Peter [Buck] played on the song “Wounded Knee”, he actually did three tracks on it. But “God’s Bare Hands”, we spent so much time on the guitar tracks. A love story of a love lost and then, in the middle verse, it’s saying “Well, thank goodness I lost that love, because I was able to find my true love.”.
I just remember being in record stores during the times we’re talking about, the ’80s, maybe early ’90s, and discovering songs, and just feeling that connection with music. The connection of loss versus the connection of exploration and discovery. Discovering something new, whether it be love or just art, in itself, and we just hope that comes through the works on the record.
I feel so blessed to think it may create that feeling for the listener that I had in discovering rock and roll music.
I asked him about the challenges that the band faced in the production of The Town with Bad Wiring, there are, after all, six members in The Upsidedown, including two drummers. That means six individual personalities and sets of ears. And the album had been mixed, as he said earlier, by Collin Hegna, who had to leave mid-production for a Brian Jonestown Massacre commitment.
A lot of strategic entities raised their heads, because Brian Jonestown Massacre ended up going on tour and we hadn’t finished what we needed to. We chose to use Jeremy Sherrer, who had made our last record, to mix a couple of the songs. Which turned out to be a blessing, he ended up mixing “Something Good”.
And working again with Reverb Records, it just seemed to click. It seems to be the right fit. And we’re just so happy to be putting this out on Reverb Records who put out our first album eight years ago.
Who were your favorite bands to tour with?
The Dandy Warhols, touring the whole North America with them and doing all the Provinces in Canada two years ago. But some of the real highlights, we’ve gotten to play short tours with Dead Meadow, The Black Angels. We already talked about BRMC (Black Rebel Motorcycle Club).
Some of the bands that we’ve gotten to play one or two shows with, the highlight has to be, for us, playing with The Jesus and Mary Chain last year, because they only did four shows and to land one of those shows, to open for The Jesus and Mary Chain was just… I didn’t want that night to end. As anybody wouldn’t.
And we got to play with Richard Butler from The Psychedelic Furs. We’ve just been so blessed in the contacts we have; getting our music to people and people saying “Yes! We want this as part of the show.”. I can’t say anything but “blessed” as far as the bands we’ve been able to tour with and open for.
Jsun had said, “We already talked about BRMC.”. I had pulled that discussion out originally. He had no way of knowing, on the day that we spoke, that Michael Been, the father of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club lead singer and bass player, Robert Been, had passed away just hours before, from a heart attack backstage in Belgium while working with his son’s band. That made our chat about Michael Been and the major influence he was, both as a musician (The Call) and as an inspiration; a friend and mentor to every up-and-coming musician he met, all the more poignant.
I haven’t had a chance to speak with The Upsidedowns, all together, since Michael’s passing; Jsun had expressed their desire to send a message to Michael Been’s family, but I believe that what he had to say about Michael, and his family, in our interview says everything that the band would say about him today, and should be shared.
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, didn’t you tour with them?
We have done some shows with them, yeah. They’re one of my favorite bands, I just love their aesthetic. And it’s quite a story because the sound man [Michael Been] was actually in the band [The Call] who was one of my favorite bands back in the ’80s, you know, when I was in High School. And his son, Robert, is the bass player.
Their love of music just shines through at every show. They just have such great song writing–and a family aspect, it’s just something really special. So, it’s really an honor when we do get to play with them.
I couldn’t agree more. He really was something very special.
R.I.P Michael Been.