By Nick Manna
It’s a Tuesday afternoon in February, and Dave Benton is returning my call. “We were actually having a little heart-to-heart”, he tells me. They’re ready to talk now. It’s been about a year and a half since the release of LVL UP’s last LP, Hoodwink’d – among 2014’s best – and they’re preparing their next. “We’re gonna start recording tomorrow, actually,” drummer Greg Rutkin explains. “We’ve been practicing [the songs]”
LVL UP’s previous efforts have been split evenly among their three songwriters, bassist Nick Corbo, and guitarists Mike Caridi and Dave Benton. “We’re recording like one extra song from Nick and one extra song from Mike,” Greg says regarding the forthcoming album. Each songwriter is unique, and despite the rotating lead vocalists, LVL UP’s releases are cohesive and complete. “We are still writing songs in the same way, in that the three of us are writing songs separately, and everyone’s style is changing a little bit,” Dave says. “We’ve got some droney, darker songs, and some poppy songs similar to what was on the last record. Not crazy different, but a little bit, I guess”.
Nearly two years between album releases can seem like a long time for an up-and-coming band, but the New York quartet has been keeping busy. They’ve been touring and also put out a 7”, simply titled “Three Songs”, last summer. The songs were surprisingly solid for an off-cycle release, but those tracks aren’t going away. “I think Blur and Closing Door are gonna be on [the new record]. We revamped those a bit. We’re happier with the way they sound now, so we’re just redoing them,” Mike says. “Honestly, both were like demos that we got down while we writing them. Blur is just me and Nick – it wasn’t even fully developed, and now we feel like it is. Same with Closing Door.”
Dave and Mike run Double Double Whammy, a record label that has been and remains LVL UP’s home. They have also released the breakout records of bands like Mitski, Frankie Cosmos, and Eskimeaux. “We already have 2016 planned. Somewhere between 8-10 LPs we’re putting out. Some old stuff, a couple reissues, new stuff from artists we’ve put out in the past, a few new bands. Got some more punk-leaning bands, more electronic-leaning bands. Trying to expand while staying within our….” Mike trails off, looking for the right word. “General aesthetic,” Dave adds. “We’re still working with our friends and people we trust”.
They have some more planned for LVL UP this year as well – running a label has its benefits. “[We’re] gonna reissue Space Brothers with demos and B-sides on vinyl, so it’ll be like a 28-song LP or something like that. We’ll release it around the same time the new record comes out”, Mike continues. “Hoping for a fall release, but nothing is set. It depends how recording goes this month.”
LVL UP is headlining a 5-show East Coast tour at the end of the month. “We’re definitely playing some new songs, probably a bunch, because now we know how to play them. We’ve been playing 3 or 4. We’ll probably play 5 or 6 of them.” WKDU is set to present LVL UP at the First Unitarian Church in Philadelphia on February 28th with a handpicked lineup of Free Cake for Every Creature, Marge, and The Guests. “We’re very excited about it. We love playing the Church,” Dave says. “Free Cake’s got a new record coming out on DDW, and we always love to play with them. The Guests are friends from college, and we just like Marge.” Greg adds that his other band Cende just played with The Guests, “and they were f-cking amazing”. Tickets are on sale now.
The favorite bands that LVL UP has toured with include Saintseneca, Ought, Big Ups, Ovlov, Upset, Disco Doom, and the Sidekicks.