This article appears in AdHoc Issue 22. Download a PDF of the zine at this link, and look out for physical copies both at our shows and at record stores, bookstores, coffee shops, and community centers throughout the city. If you happen to live outside of New York, you may order a copy as well.
Nick Corbo apologizes that he’s the only member of LVL UP on the phone. “We typically try to get at least two people on, because everybody’s opinions want to be heard,” Corbo says. “So I can’t speak for everybody, but I can at least speak for myself.”
When we chat, Corbo is just coming off a few weeks of relative solitude, describing it as “an opportunity to get back to normal” after tour. But his reluctance to speak on behalf of bandmates Mike Caridi, Dave Benton, and Greg Rutkin is testament to their close bond, as musical co-conspirators and friends.
Thanks in part to the fact that Corbo, Caridi, and Benton all write and sing in equal amount, LVL UP is much more than the sum of its parts. There is no de-facto frontman or leader calling the shots. They’re a team.
LVL UP formed at SUNY Purchase and dropped their 2011 debut, Space Brothers, on Double Double Whammy, the label that Caridi and Benton launched their sophomore year. That album was originally intended to be a split cassette between the band—then featuring Caridi, Benton, and former drummer Ben Smith—and Corbo’s solo material, but instead they released it as one band. Rutkin would join the group slightly later, for LVL UP’s first show.
Though there may be a lot of cooks in the kitchen, LVL UP’s music—especially their 2016 LP, Return to Love, on Sub Pop—highlights the members’ common ground. Heavy, distorted guitars and reverb-soaked vocals reign supreme on Return to Love, with occasional nods to ‘90s lo-fi rock heroes like Built to Spill and Guided by Voices. But whether it’s Corbo’s slow-burning grunge-mumbler “Naked in the River With the Creator,” Caridi’s bruised-yet-buoyant “Pain,” or Benton’s Neutral Milk Hotel-adjacent Biblical meditation “Hidden Driver,” it still all sounds like LVL UP.
Gearing up to reunite with the band for a short fall tour, Corbo spoke to AdHoc about what happens when a rock band grows up—and what happens when you grow up in a rock band.
LVL UP plays Baby’s All Right in Brooklyn on October 6, with Yowler and Slight, and October 7, with Long Beard and Yucky Duster.
AdHoc Issue 22 is here! Download a PDF of the zine at this link, and look out for physical copies both at our shows and at record stores, bookstores, coffee shops, and community centers throughout the city. If you happen to live outside of New York, you may order a copy as well.
In our latest issue, responding to a reader’s question, Priests vocalist Katie Alice Greer
brings up “the difference between reality-you and dream-you,” and suggests that in order to realize your potential, it’s important to parse those separate identities. Navigating that separation can be tough for artists, as the other musicians featured in these pages—Greta Kline of Frankie Cosmos
and LVL UP
’s Nick Corbo—have found out. Both write personal music for bands with cult followings, and have noticed that the more they tour and record, the more those identities—as human and as musician—start to merge. Corbo says that his collaboration with his bandmates is “entwined with my life and who I am.” Kline wonders, “Am I my job?” Yet the social aspect of music—from collaborating to engaging with fans—has helped both artists navigate that distinction. As Kline puts it, “Frankie Cosmos is so much bigger than me and who I am.” Sometimes figuring out who you are who you are requires letting others in.
AdHoc Issue 22's contributors:
has produced two decades worth of records as The Microphones and Mount Eerie that span a wide spectrum, from studio heavy atmospheric landscaping to simple, raw songs. He made the cover for this issue.
is a Queens-based illustrator, cartoonist, and host of a monthly reading series for cartoonists, Panels to the People. She made the illustrations for this issue.
Over the course of the past few years, LVL UP has definitely managed to make a mark on Brooklyn's music scene. Half of the band runs Double Double Whammy and the other half helps run DIY venue David Blaine's The Steakhouse (DBTS, for short). They've released two acclaimed records, have multiple notable side projects, and they've earned a heavy amount of admiration both inside and outside of New York. Recently, LVL UP struck a deal with the increasingly prolific Run For Cover Records to release a 7" of new songs, aptly titled Three Songs, for their upcoming US tour (one that includes a stretch of dates with Run For Cover act Basement). In typical LVL UP fashion, each of the songs contained on the 7" ("The Closing Door", "Blur", and "Proven Water Rites", respectively) are spearheaded by an individual member of the band's rotating trio of songwriters. Broader in scope, more heavily atmospheric, and considerably moodier than anything in the band's catalog, Three Songs represents a startling new front for the band. Each of the songs on display in the 7" comes off as winsomely bruising, managing to further the band's singular identity rather than lose it in what proves to be a fair amount of subversion. For as bleak as it frequently is ("Blur", the middle track, offers a brief reprieve),Three Songs can't help but come off as utterly charming.
Listen to Three Songs over at The AV Club, who are premiering the 7", and pre-order the record ahead of its September 11 release date from Run For Cover Records and Double Double Whammy. The band will have copies of the 7" with them on their upcoming tour, which ends at Irving Plaza on August 17.
Brooklyn folk rockers Porches. have a preternatural handle on the time honored 'bummed but horny' vibe. "Townie Blunt Guts," a track from the band's upcoming split 7" with power-pop gurus LVL UP, is no exception. Fuzzed out and almost reluctantly anthemic, the track features a slippery riff reminsicent of Weezer's all time 'bummed but horny' classic Pinkerton. The Weezer vibes compliment Porches.' folk rock sound nicely, and helps bridge the gap between their music and the Rivers Cuomo and Robert Pollard devotion of LVL UP. The split 7" follows Porches.' most recent full length, Slow Dance in the Cosmos, which came out just this August.
The Porches. / LVL UP Split 7" is out November 26 on Birdtapes and is currently available for preorder.