What at first feels like irony quickly fades as Upchuck’s vocalist and frontwoman KT and guitar player Mikey, laugh while explaining how spending time on the road with Melbourne’s garage punk provocateurs Amyl & the Sniffers instilled in them a sense of discipline.
“It’s true,” Mikey says. “We learned a lot from them in terms of professionalism and staying on point just by watching how they put on shows from the business end of things. We learned what it’s like playing bigger venues, how production goes, and how important it is that we show up on time.”
KT agrees, adding, “It really is a whole different game. You have to make some serious decisions if you’re going to keep stepping it up. How far do you want to take this? I learned there’s a balance between how lit do you want to get each night before you go on stage and how much do you want to deliver. I learned that there can be a natural, kinetic energy between peeps when you are on tour together, and that we can learn from each other.”
Both Mikey and KT’s voices collide, clipping each other out during a Zoom interview. Shaky connections stutter, freeze, and leap back to life—Mikey is in his car, holding his phone in his lap while driving home after a day spent working on the set of a new Exorcist film. KT keeps her phone in her hand while wandering in and out of darkened rooms in her home. For brief, fleeting moments the image of her face emerges from the glowing contrasts of the computer screen only to disappear again back into the inky darkness for the duration of our conversation. But she never misses a beat while talking, cracking herself up, laughing at her own answers, despite her sincerity. Then, a chime and another voice joins the Zoom, second guitar player Hoff announces his presence, by explaining that he’s dialing into our Zoom chat from work. “I’m listening, and I’ll might have some input here and there, but I’m running up and down stairs,” he says.
Chaos rules Upchuck—at least when viewed from the outside—following the example of their outrageous Aussie compatriots Amyl and the Sniffers, who’s early single “Some Mutts (Can’t Be Muzzled)” barked the song’s title as a primordial battle cry. Later, the same group closed out their second and most recent album, 2021’s Comfort To Me, with a song titled “Snakes,” in which singer Amy Taylor declares in her banshee howl, “Worked at the IGA, now I’mma famous cunt.”
For now, though, Upchuck’s members still punch a clock. All of this comes into perspective when parsing out the group’s hard, fast rise amid Atlanta’s disjointed, pre-pandemic local music scene.
The group came out of the gate strong in 2018, packing out DIY venues such as the Bakery’s original Warner Street location near the Adair Park and Oakland City neighborhoods, and the Drunken Unicorn on Ponce de Leon Avenue, with wall-to-wall mosh pits that sent bodies flying through the air like missiles.
On September 30, 2022, Upchuck unveiled its debut album Sense Yourself via the Brooklyn-based indie label Famous Class Records.
The album was two years in the making, and arrived bearing a vibrant image of KT, screaming into a microphone with blood oozing down the sides of her face and hands. It is an instantly arresting image, captured by photographer Nathan Davenport, and shot only seconds apart from Marlon Garcia’s image on the cover of the group’s “Upchuck” b/w “In Your Mind” 7-inch single. It’s a pic that has become synonymous with the group’s fun and feral energy. The whirlwind of fury kicked up during their live shows as the group tore through early songs bearing titles such as “Shakin,’” “Wage of War,” and Upchuck’s fiery self-titled anthem captured the attention of everyone from the local hardcore scene to dispassionate indie rockers and beer-swilling college kids from all walks of life.
Sense Yourself is an album that’s teeming with the sounds of swaggering danger and youthful abandon, all embodying a deeply ingrained sense of innocence. It’s a celebration of intensity that reaches a fever pitch while traversing a shared, collective experience for listeners, a seemingly insurmountable task in the modern era.
Other songs such as “Boss Up,” “In Your Mind,” “Our Skin,” and “Facecard” coalesce around a forward-leaning momentum that has kept the group forging confidently ahead this year, all the while bolstering the spirit of Atlanta’s young, underground rock music scene onto the national and international radar. If ever there was a candidate for Atlanta’s 2022 album of the year, Sense Yourself is it, its thunderous rhythms reaching larger crowds from coast to coast nearly every day since it arrived. The album’s searing energy is matched only by its bounding urgency fueled by equal parts contempt for a broken society and camaraderie within the band’s ranks.
“These boys are my family, and Mikey is literally like my big bro,” KT laughs. “We all love each other unconditionally, and my POV is that this will never change. Someone would literally have to do something crazy to bring that to an end, but that will never happen because we’re all cool beings and we value each other so much.”
Aesthetically speaking, there is no realm that Upchuck does not touch. KT (Kaila Thompson), Mikey (“Spuzz Dangus”), Hoff, bass player Armando Arrieta, and drummer Chris Salado’ songs are driven by a defiantly creative blend of post-punk, hip-hop, and indie rock energy that’s channeled through a haze of distortion.
They prefer to identify themselves only by their first names, and to the ire of promoters around the country, the group’s social media presence is kept to a bare minimum. Upchuck has no Facebook page. No Twitter, and no Tik Tok. Just an Instagram account that allows them to project just enough about themselves to remain compelling to those who are genuinely interested in the music, and their numbers are growing.
“The songs are always changing when we play them live,” Mikey says. “Maybe it’s that the rhythm is different, or we’ll cut it short in a certain way. Change up the lyrics. Even the old songs we change up to keep things fresh—keep things from getting boring.”
KT continues his thought, adding that the changes are always unspoken. “Communication with us all has literally come down to just a look. We’ll all look at each other, and it’s like, ‘Aight, I know exactly what you’re saying.’ We all know what to do.”
“Hoff adds that he and Mikey have been jamming together since pre-Upchuck days, and developed the group’s shared musical instincts together. “We practiced the songs that we had for six months before we even played a show with them, so we kind of already know what to anticipate when we go into a song.”
This kind of interaction between band members during practice is one thing, but expounding upon that in front of a crowd of hundreds of people or more is something different. But it’s an instinct that the group’s members have continuously honed. “I feel like if that kind of energy and communication doesn’t happen during practice, it definitely won’t happen on stage.”
That energy translates across the board. “Perdido,” is sung entirely in Spanish by drummer Chris, and builds energy around the phrase: “Hago lo que quiero”—”I do what I want.”
The album’s title track also carries the explosive energy to a new level. The quick intro catches audiences off guard, as the rooms they play visibly come alive based on the riff alone. “That’s definitely by design,” Hoff says.
One of the album’s more introspective numbers, “Facecard,” finds KT taking on the superficiality of modern America: “The trifling yuppie fuck, comes out beyond the cut to try and low ball, low ball,” KT sings.
“It’s always on the setlist and it’s definitely a breather for me,” she adds. “It’s also one of those tracks where people hear the riff and start reacting immediately.”
The connection with Amyl and the Sniffers was born in July of 2019. The group was coming to the States and had booked a show at The Earl. Upchuck’s manager Randy Castello of the Tight Bros. Network seized the opportunity to lobby for them to open the show. He sent over a link to Upchuck’s demo tape on Bandcamp. “Amy Taylor responded almost immediately,” Castello says. “She was like, ‘Yes, definitely add them to the show!’”
Afterward, Taylor and her bandmates approached Upchuck, asking them if they wanted to play just a few more shows together. “It actually turned out to be a lot more shows together,” Mikey says,” and we both played the biggest show that either of our bands have played to date, at Brooklyn Steel in May.”
The show pushed the 1,800-capacity venue nearly to the breaking point, and opened up a whole new audience for Upchuck.
As 2023 approaches, the group is preparing to record its sophomore album for Famous Class. While the exact details as to where and with whom they’re recording remain a closely guarded secret for the time being, they’re heading to California in February to capture it all on tape.
“We’re definitely gonna keep working with Famous Class, regardless,” Hoff says. “Cyrus [Lubin] at Famous Class has given us so much creative freedom and trust, and aside from a few minor tweaks here and there, doesn’t mess with what we do at all.”
Mikey adds, “The songs that we’re recording are songs that we’ve been playing pretty much just as long as everything that’s on the first record, so the two should fit together really well.”
Teetering on the axis of punk, hip-hop, and indie rock, a sense of discovery, and the power of youthful energy, the new music contained within these songs—either live and in the moment or on record—is intoxicating to the end.
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This story also appears in the December issue of Record Plug Magazine.