Artists Highlight: The Straight-Ups

The Straight Ups stopped by the space on a Sunday night to talk about their evolution, covers, current projects, and their dream album.

 “Should we all sit on one side of the table?” Julian asks, as Dan, Adam, and Conner all laugh. They each settle into brown chairs on one side of a plastic card table and make their introductions.

“I’m-I am, my name is Dan Guardado. Guar-dado. I’m lead vocals and I play guitar,” he says and Julian pipes in from the far end of the table, “Plays La Guitar!” and we all chuckle. 

“I’m Adam Hughes and I also play guitar.”

“And vocals.” Dan adds.

“Oh yeah, and vocals. Singin’,” he says with a laugh.

“Conner Lonsdale, I play drums.”

“And vocals,” Julian says in a low voice.

“And vocals,” Conner repeats.

“Light vocals,” Dan says.

Julian adds, “Light vocals, not lights and vocals,” as Conner laughs.

“I’m Julian Steele, friends call me ‘Ju’ and I play, bass, keyboard, and uh medium vocals.”

I ask how they all got started and they each look around the table, “uh who wants to-you want to?” Julian asks as he looks down the table. “I don’t know that story,” Adam says beneath a pile of molasses colored dreadlocks. “Well alright,” Dan says.

“...the Straight Ups is kind of like the final culmination that we were working towards.”

Dan and Julian started playing music as a duo while they were still in high school. “We’re all pretty much 30 now, except for Adams 27,” Dan states for perspective as Adam laughs. He mentions the numerous bands each member has been in over the years and stresses that, “the Straight Ups is kind of like the final culmination that we were working towards.” The Straight Ups began to take shape approximately 7 years ago, when the band consisted of Dan and Julian. In 2010, Conner, also a close friend since high school, joined the band, “and for a long time, we just played as a three piece,” Dan recalls.  Motivated by a desire to break away from the hip-hop scene and play mostly heavy rock the Straight Ups began to explore their sound as a trio and played numerous shows in Oakland and San Francisco.  Despite a successful trio, the Straight Ups had periods of time where they had people in and out of the band, “Yeah, we had several fourth members of the band,” Julian comments as Dan and Conner laugh.  Dan explains, “We were looking for that one perfect guitar player that was just out of reach every time until we finally found Adam,” “And then we found him,” Julian says with emphasis from the far side. “That’s so nice,” Adam says as a slow smile spreads across his face.

“I met Adam, in Santa Cruz,” Conner states. When the Straight Ups started out, Conner lived in Santa Cruz at the time, and, “then I’d take Greyhound once a week- “Yeah!” Julian says as his eyes light up,”  “to have band practice,” Conner finishes. “It’s what like an hour?” Dan asks, “Dude! It’s like two hours,” Conner says as he and Julian break out in giggles, “I’ve never done it man,” Dan says from his end of the table. “It like gets off the freeway and stops . . . gets on the freeway and then gets off,” Conner explains with a tired yet happy voice. “So like two hours?” Dan asks Conner, as Julian and Adam laugh, “No it’s like three and a half,” Conner asserts.

“I was like Damn these guys just rocked the puke out of these girls, I will play in that band”

Adam moved to Oakland in 2013 and ran into Conner, who had recently moved to Oakland as well. Conner recalled he was riding his bike home from band practice when Adam called out to him, “and he was like, ‘Let’s play music.’  And we did.”  Adam met Dan and Julian when he attended one of their shows, “that show was the reason I joined the band.” Adam explains, “There was this table of girls,” “Ohh yes,” Julian recalls as Dan laughs. Adam continues, “They were sitting in the front row and like the first set was really calm they were like just having a good time, just having drinks and being fun but then like half way through the second set that they played these girls just had like a round table of just puking on the table.” “It was like Stand by Me,” Julian interjects as Conner laughs and Dan says with confidence, “One after the other.” Adam smiles and comments, “I was like Damn these guys just rocked the puke out of these girls, I will play in that band” and all four boys laugh. “So since then, we’ve been a band. We’ve done a lot of different stuff, and we’ve got lofty goals,” Dan says with a smile as all four members bust up laughing.

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Regarding their namesake, credit goes to Julian, “Mostly.” Julian elaborates, “I feel like we’re pretty straight up people in general, we try to cut the BS.” Initially, Dan did not like the name, but came around to it after seeing the great response they got to it. When asked what name he wanted it to be, Dan admits, “I didn’t have anything better. I had a few pretty bad ones,” he says with a Cheshire cat grin on his face as Julian laughs in the distance. In the past, Julian and Dan played in a band called “the Cobras”, which became, “the KO bros,” which evolved to, “the knock out brothers. That was the hip-hop days.”

Like any band, The Straight Ups, started out playing bars and clubs, which allowed them to build their repertoire. For the past few years, they have played numerous “hired gigs,” where they have been able to plug into covers, ranging from Rage against the Machine to the Beatles to TI. Recently, the Straight Ups played the barn party in Castro Valley.

The guys assert that although they love rock and live for songs that start out slow and pick up steam, they do have a softer side. They anticipate showing that softer side when they play in the Space this coming December.

The Straight Ups practice on Sundays, Adam says, “and we call it grooving’ in the afternoon.” But the Thursday and Friday night practices are, “pretty lit,” Julian says as Adam and Conner laugh. Despite their fun nature, the Straight Ups value the discipline of practice and have a lot to say about musicality and working to be better. Prior to Halloween, the band practiced four days a week to prepare for a promo video they filmed called Brimstone Boogie, “I think it paid off,” Dan said, “because one thing we are trying to do now is incorporate more three and four part harmonies vocally and that just takes a lot of work but it’s worth it,” “And less guitar,” Adam adds.

“Vocal harmonies are sick,” Adam says as the band agrees. “And that’s why we all say that we all do vocals,” Julian adds. Dan explains that the influences of heavy rock bands such as Queen, Electric Light Orchestra, and Led Zeppelin, do creep into their sound, along with modern 90’s rock.

When discussing the art of honing vocal harmonies and how harmonizing is more difficult than it seems, Julian states, “I only realize how bad I was, from getting better. . . It’s just like any other instrument you have to really keep practicing.” Adam adds that recording vocal harmonies gives insight into those moments when, “It sounded really good when we were just doing it, but one of these things is not like the other, something needs to shift just a little bit. But it’s really cool to be able to like have both sides of it where we’re like feeling good about it and thus encouraged to keep trying it and then we hear it and it’s like oh it’s so close, like we’re right there, we can get just a little bit better and do this thing, and it’ll be so cool if we could just get that right.” Dan agrees, “It really is one of the best feelings to get a multi-part vocal harmony right. When you just hit it fucking perfectly.” The Straight Ups are certain that vocal harmonies add a whole new dynamic to their musicality and, “It’s just something that people love,” Dan says.  

A current goal for the group is to record more of their music, which has only been motivated by their recent efforts to put more of their music on YouTube. In 2015, the band recorded a four track EP that didn’t reach a release, but they do intend to record more music as they have at least 30 originals. Although they couldn’t agree on the amount of originals, Adam commented, “You know that big ass list I have dude,” and Dan pipes in, “Yeah we have a list,” to which Julian shouts from the end of the table, “write that down, ‘we have a list’,” and we all laugh. The band feels that they stand out in that they never have to repeat songs in a set unless they want to.

When asked about their dream album, the four musicians reflect on the song choice for their EP and concur that they are “pretty democratic” when making creative decisions.  Adam hypothesizes that if they were offered two weeks of studio time, he would build a list of what songs he really wants to play. Conner breaks from his comfortable shyness, “This is where I would partly disagree I wouldn’t pick like what songs do I want to play, I would pick what songs should we have on an album as a cohesive thing,” and the other members begin to agree.

“Whenever we have a show depending on what the venue is we think like so much about that venue and we try to make our set that way, especially if we’ve played it before it gives us a better idea.”

Regarding their sound, Julian argues that putting too much emphasis on fitting a sound could interfere with reaching your potential, “I disagree with that whole school of thought too, because I don’t wanna be trying to play one sound so much that it might literally have made a song that I was gonna make not be because I’m trying to confine myself to that.” Julian’s thoughts shift to how venue influences a set list, “Whenever we have a show depending on what the venue is we think like so much about that venue and we try to make our set that way, especially if we’ve played it before it gives us a better idea.” Dan adds to the conversation, “If anything our album would just be very like our live set in that we try to make it flow as much as possible and like having songs that end in the same key that another song starts. . .trying to make smooth transitions in between the songs.”

The guys reflect on their weaknesses and bring up a live show they saw the other night, Dan says, “That’s that’s not us,” as Julian laughs. Adam explains, “It was crazy, they played for like two hours,” Julian interjects, “It was like an hour and a half like 5 seconds maybe at the most in between songs,” Adam adds, “It was insane.”

As a group, the band splits time between making music and, “being more responsible.” Adam is currently studying music at Cal State East Bay, “It’s like crazy I’ll be like I don’t get to go to a show and see this music because I have to learn this other music or read this other music.” However, Julian says, “We are going on a band field trip,” the guys are going to see the Pixies at the Fox on December 7. They are excited to hear a Pixies’ song they cover at the concert, “Take notes,” Julian jokes, and Adam says, “Be like oh man 5th fret dude I fucking never thought of it like that,” and all the guys laugh.

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Like many artists, the band feels inspired by live shows and seeing artists who fill huge venues and they are able to compare it to the logistics of playing a show for 100 people versus 3000. Julian recalls a New Years Eve show, they played at “the Vic,” and, “it was just so much fun, we all wore suits were lookin hella good. . .and it was a huge stage! Like as a band I think it’s like one of the things that sucks but happens all the time is you’re cramped. So we’re just be like I could be like 30 feet away from you right now man! . . . I remember by Conner’s drums we still had like all the amps and stuff though were right there.” 

Regarding covers, the band reflects on the most-requested songs. Their audience has enjoyed Dear Prudence, No One Knows, the Promise, Whatever You Like, and Use Me. Julian adds, “I feel like Fight For Your Right gets requested a lot.” While trying to think of the variety of covers, Julian recalls, “We cover the pixies song, spoiler alert. . .We played at the Milk Bar and we played Hey and one bartender just like lost her shit. The stage was pretty far from the bar and she came and just ran like all the way over to the stage and was just singing along.” Dan begins to say, “I do know the worst cover we’ve ever done,” and from down the table Conner interrupts, “Oh! I know what you’re gonna say,” the guys did a Ska, reggae version of “Don’t wanna Miss a Thing,” by Aerosmith. Julian explains, “I think what made it so bad was we just thought it was gonna be so good. . .and it’s a really long song too, so you get like halfway through it and you can’t just like stop.” Dan asserts, “We never played it again.”

Currently, the Straight Ups are working multi-part harmonies in a new song called Good Times. As far as an album goes, Adam says with seriousness, “We’re working on getting the money,” and Julian laughs. Dan explains that typically the shows they enjoy the most, don’t pay much, while others, pay more, “For instance we played at the glass place remember that?” He asks, “It was like a 19 year old birthday party,” Julian throws in, as Dan continues, “literally like his drunk aunt was like the only one who watched us the whole time,” and laughs.  The band is also working to produce new music videos to bookend their dated videos that illustrate how far they have come and how much they have improved.

They have an upcoming show on December 2, 2017 at Neck of the Woods where they will play with Boots and the Kats and Room for Dream. The proceeds from their show at Neck of the Woods with benefit those affected by the North Bay Fires.

The Straight Ups will be at the Space on December 8, 2017 for our Smalltown December Gathering!