THE UPPER CRUST
Revenge of the hard rock artistocrats
Interview by Robin Cook
"AC/DC with powdered wigs" is how a co-worker described the Upper Crust to me years ago, as he loaned me one of their CD's. These ruling-class heroes dubbed their sound "roque and roll." In addition to the aforementioned Australians, they owe a musical debt to Midwesterners Cheap Trick, but the Upper Crust are no poseurs. The Upper Crust hail from Boston and thus their lyrics reflect reflect aristocratic breeding. After a long hiatus and with the release of Delusions of Grandeur, the fabulous fops have returned from a life of idleness to partake of a roque and roll lifestyle spent sweating under stage lights wearing wigs and face powder. Guitarist Lord Bendover brings us up to date on the band's activities and shares their insights about world events.
PSF: It's been several years since you've put something out. What brought you back together?
LB: Well actually, we have never been apart. We have been playing consistently close to 300 years and we never broke apart. It's been a few years since our last release but that's only because we're incredibly lazy.
PSF: Lazy in what sense?
LB: It's because we are indulged extensively and exclusively by our household staff and we are not used to lifting on our own behalf so it's difficult to get the energy together to write a new album's worth of songs. But we figured that enough time had gone by, roughly a decade, and it was time for something new.
PSF: When did finally you start writing songs for Delusions of Grandeur, where did you get the impetus to start writing again?
LB: Our guitarist, Duc d'Istortion, began to write songs and that made myself, Lord Bendover (who usually, historically, wrote the great majority, if not all of the material) think that I should get back into the game, so I did. So, the ensuing album is combination of songs written by myself and the Duc d'Istortion. But his songs are exceptionally good, I must say, for someone never did that before.
PSF: One new song "Only A Lonely Lackey" sounds like it almost might have come out of the '80's, with the high pitched vocals. Were you trying for an '80's metal vibe?
LB: It's interesting. We were figuring on more of a Steve Marriott type of a thing on that song. That's done by the bassist, Count Bassie, and he happens to have a voice with an incredible range and an incredible force behind his voice that one would usually see at the opera.
PSF: When you decide which songs which to include songs to include on an album, do you usually decide that you'll have a certain portion written by one person and a certain portion written by another person?
LB: Generally, we just wrote as many songs as we could over the course of almost a year and we collected all of them indiscriminately and slammed them all on the record, all 13 of them.
PSF: You mentioned previously that a lot of your influences happen to be working class rock and rollers like AC/DC. How do you reconcile that with your aristocratic bearings?
LB: Well, we've always said that rock and roll is just like anything else- it's something that's better done by the upper classes, as is almost every other enterprise of human endeavor.
PSF: What do you think Bon Scott (AC/DC) would have said about your music? Do you think he would have appreciated your music?
LB: You know, we should hope so because we ourselves are very fond of Bon Scott and we should like to think that the feeling was reciprocated.
PSF: Another big influence seems to be Cheap Trick. Would you agree with that?
LB: Yes, I think we have been listening to a great deal of rock and roll from the 1970's and it comes through as one of our primary influences.
PSF: I think there are parallels with what you're doing and what a lot of rock stars were doing in the '70's and '80's with the big hair and the glam rock sound. Would you agree?
LB: Ah.. Well, you know you're on to something there because we are a little bit glammy and we're a little bit hard rock and we're a little bit... Well, we're not artsy fartsy, I'll give you that much... We're pretty much hard rock.
PSF: One of your former members became a former speech writer for Bill Clinton. (Ted Widmer) Have you been in touch with him? What's he up to now?
LB: Well, he doesn't play anymore though we remain in touch and are on good terms. He was the Lord Rockingham and is still I imagine, the Lord Rockingham. But his career choices have taken him in other directions.
PSF: What is the Upper Crest view of the current political situation in the US and the UK? Do you think there's a role for an aristocratic band like you to play somewhere in there?
LB: That's a good question. As an aristocratic band, we don't really approve of populism or populist leaders and we certainly are not enamored of the current administration in the United States. Our role to simply keep our heads down and rock most steadfastly, waiting for it all to blow over.
PSF: You're originally from Boston, home of the Boston Brahmins. Do you see them on your level socially or beneath you?
LB: Ah, so far beneath us that they are barely visible down there. We have very few peers in this world and none of them are here in Boston.
PSF: What is the Boston music like right now?
LB: It's still a very active music scene as any town with millions of young people coming to it to go to college might be expected to be. It's still a vibrant scene but it's not quite (I think I'm not nearly being prejudice) what it was when I was a young man.
PSF: For the songs you write, do you feel that you have to be in a certain frame of mind?
LB: Yes, ideally, lightly inebriated when we're writing.
PSF: That's a good condition to be in.
LB: Yes, I like it.
PSF: You played on the Conan O'Brien show. What was that like?
LB: That was extremely enjoyable. Conan is an amusing gentleman, as is his side kick. What was his name? I can't remember it right now... Oh well. (ED NOTE: Andy Richter) But they're very intelligent, witty and amusing. And they beguiled the time whilst we were there and we responded with a fairly good set of rock and roll for them.
PSF: Do you feel that your fans can relate to a message that's so far removed from their own experience? You're singing about being aristocrats.
LB: Yes, and that is not the experience of the average audience member we know. I think that our performance serves to elaborate on the distinction between us as aristocracy and our audience as common folks. And I think everyone walks away satisfied and knowing their place in life.
PSF: What's it like performing on stage in powdered wigs? Is it uncomfortable?
LB: It does become somewhat warm beneath our wigs but as they say, the show must go on and we've never performed without them.
PSF: Aside from AC/DC and Cheap trick, are any other artists who inspired you?
LB: I've been listening to a lot of old Faces records too lately, though I don't know if that's audible.
PSF: What it is about the Faces that appeals to you?
LB: I like the hairstyles.
PSF: Well, they definitely had really good hair.
LB: Excellent hair. Unequaled.
PSF: Do you have plans to make another album or have other future plans?
LB: Well, we're going to exploit this record as far as we can. We're going to do some touring here in the States. And we will just see how far this one gets us and then we will, in fact, make another one, by the grace of God.
PSF: What advice would you give to young musicians?
LB: I would say... that if you are a common person, picking up a guitar for the first time, thinking of getting in to rock and roll, you've missed the boat by roughly 300 years.
PSF: What should they do instead?
LB: Well, I think they should do it anyway, regardless.
See the Camera Obscura article on The Upper Crust
Also see the Upper Crust website
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