Local Frequency: Q&A with Upstairs Downstairs
Mission-based indie rock band Upstairs Downstairs juxtaposes dark, atmospheric lyrics with lush folk-pop melodies, crafting the perfect soundtrack for foggy, rainy days in the city. The year-old act will be recording its first EP this December. Title pending, the disc will be a collection of current demos, plus new material to be released early next year. Upstairs Downstairs is Tory Ford (vocals, acoustic guitar, songwriting); James Levis (electric guitar); Brad Robertson (Rhodes piano); Dana Goldberg (vocal harmonies, shakers); and Doug Saenz (drums).
All Shook Down's local band column Local Frequency caught up with Upstairs Downstairs at Grooves record store on Upper Market. The group was getting its press photos taken and the conversation turned to classic underwear, giant Tecates, and British dramas.
If you could describe your sound as a San Francisco neighborhood, which one would it be and why?
Tory Ford: Wow, that's a stumper. I'd say a mixture of things, kind of like the Inner Richmond-- that's where we started, but we live in the Mission now. Well, except for Doug, who lives in the East Bay. I'd definitely go with the Inner Richmond--kinda foggy, a bit dreamy.
What's the last book you guys read?
TF: Zorro by Isabel Allende. I also just got finished reading The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand.
Dana Goldberg: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver.
Brad Robertson: Lush Life by Richard Price.
James Levis: The Stranger by Albert Camus.
How did you guys first start playing together?
TF: My friend Kyle was like, "I like your songs, I wanna do them," and that was early 2008. He and James had a band together, so he made James help us, which was awesome. We started filling it out in spring of this year, then added Doug, then Brad, and Dana. Kyle has since made his way to Portland. So yeah, we're still new, we're a bargain at any price; let us play your Bar Mitzvah!
It's happy hour: where can we find you drinking?
DG: If the weather is good, El Rio. If it's bad, The Uptown, although
technically they don't have happy hour there, but drinks are cheap.
TF: And they're dog friendly too.
BR: I'm usually doing some court-ordered activity, so I usually drink a little earlier before that.
JL: Brown bag, in an alley. A bar, what's that?
TF: I have to say I love the Knockout. The large, novelty-sized Tecates, they're like the size of a recycling bin. They're so huge, they make you look like an Olsen twin.
BR: The better to highlight my drinking problem.
Favorite article of clothing?
TF: I have lots of vintage clothes that were vintage when I was in high
school. I have this red Adidas shirt from high school I still wear,
it's like my woobie.
BR: Oh gee, I thought you were talking about your underwear. As a band, in general, we're all into classic underwear. Frayed.
DG: I'm attached to my cowboy boots.
You share your band name with a classic British TV show--as well
as countless antique stores. Was that your inspiration for calling
yourselves Upstairs Downstairs?
TF: My old flat was upstairs from my friends Kyle's flat, and so that's
why I did it. That, and I'm also obsessed with old British manner
BR: Yeah, we have to use the servants' entrances. All of our practices are like, "How are you m'lady?"
TF: There are certain rules we have to follow, such as mandatory shoe polishing.
BR: Oh yeah, we don't get to eat either.
Favorite venues in the city?
TF: I really like the Knockout, a lot.
BR: The Fillmore.
DG: The Hemlock.
JL: Make-Out Room.
What local musicians are you guys listening to now?
DS: Kelley Stoltz
What are some upcoming acts you're looking forward to seeing?
TF: Hello Dragon, The Mountain Goats. Just saw Slow Trucks and AM Magic (Doug's other band) and those dudes were great.
DG: The Books.
BR: I play in another band called B and Not B. We're playing [on Dec. 2 at the Make-Out Room]. We just filmed a video where we're rolling through the Mission in a van. We stop somewhere hop out where people are eating and we start playing "Immigrant Song."
What's a song that's been stuck in your head recently?
TF: "Where Eagles Dare" -- The Misfits. Oh, also "Pinky Toe" - A
Weather. It just comes right back up every time I go on the escalators
BR: "Lonely Teardrops" - Wilson Pickett.
DG: Basically everything off of My First Earthquake's album Downstairs
You guys are still unsigned at this point, correct?
TF: You Bet! It's awesome!
DG: We're not, like, typical orthodox party members. We would be happy to switch affiliations anytime.
Any plans for a full-length album soon?
TF: Yes, eventually. My personal goal for next year is to have something out soon. People have been asking me for stuff, which has been great, but I feel like I've been caught with my pants down. I'm overwhelmed. I promise we're going to have a real thing out soon. I think we just have to bite the bullet and get something down. That's what next month is for.
Where can we see you next?
TF: We're playing the Knockout in January.
Check out Upstairs Downstairs' video for "Inland and Out" here: