The Hit Ups have been Bristol’s best kept secret for over six years now, but that’s all about to change…
Catching me staring at the perfectly organised rows of juice cartons that lined the units in his kitchen, Josh smirked, “I’ve collected them over two years. It was you know, something to have before all the furniture and stuff”. The rest of the collective comprising of Sam, Lewis and Charlie describe themselves as a “4 headed demon with an unquenchable thirst for loud guitars, raucous boom-bap hip-hop, throat tearing rap, maddeningly memorable riffs, SB Blazers, old metal tees and an undeniable full energy, all party ethos.” Having arranged to meet the guys at the frontman’s flat, expectations were laced with visions of a typical smocked wallpaper and fag burned sofa bedsit – our arrival at a deluxe harbour side studio indicated from the offset that we weren’t dealing with a regular band here. From the masses of promotional artwork on the walls, to the unusually punctual arrival of the members themselves so early in the morning, it was clear The Hit Ups were more than just a hobby.
This is not a good time for bands doing the circuit, despite the admirable attributes of hard work, a solid following and a healthy dose of charisma, chances are, unless you pawn yourself out to a panel of overpaid and under-dressed “experts” for the nation’s entertainment, unsigned talent remains flying distinctly below the raider of monetary success. That’s why The Hit Ups are such a rarity. Having been together for over six years already, they’ve taken the progression of their group completely into their own guitar-gnarled hands. “It’s a co-operative,” says Josh, “All four of us together almost make a manager. We all have different commitments, like Charlie’s at Uni and we work and stuff; we’re all really driven. But we’ve got each other’s backs, if one of us can’t do something someone else will and vice versa. We really understand each other’s mentality.” Exploring all viable routes to marketable success, the band already have a solid presence on iTunes as well as their own website selling everything from limited edition art prints to a pretty damn nice selection of merchandise. Everything seems so slick; it comes as a surprise that there is still no major label presence involved in the production. This is a proper, good old-fashioned labour of love – and it shows.
Settling down on the stylish blue couch with not a fag burn in sight, the band’s image was one of the first points to be covered. “We work quite hard to keep it cohesive” explained Josh, managing to appear both incredibly relaxed yet serious at the same time. “We used to wear our merch t-shirts to play, but now we wear more bland stuff – its kind of important to go into a venue looking like a unit, with one focal unifier. When we started we wore whatever the fuck we wanted, but not anymore.” It seems odd to hear such a nostalgic statement from a bunch of guys no older than 21. Having started out at school thrashing Rage style riffs in Josh’s mum’s rural house, the secluded location seems as eponymous with the band as Abbey Road for the Beatles. “It’s great to play in the countryside, there’s no one to annoy. We still have the same room there we’ve always had, she’ll never get rid of us. None of us drive but somehow we all manage to get out there, and it’ll always be somewhere we can really let go.” Managing to tread the often-troublesome road of transition from teenage diversion to credible musicians has seen many bands crumble and disappear into University and a job in the local Carphone Warehouse, but not the Hit Ups. They have real, proper fans as opposed to an endless list of MySpace fringes on a screen, yet another indicator, if needed, of their legitimacy as opposed to fanciful naval gazers. “We have a really great following who come to shows regularly but we’ve found over the last 1-2 years we have this massive switching changing crowd. It quite reflective of the genre always moving and changing.” Sam continues, “We’re trying to kick the Ska image. Obviously we’ll give [them] something they might like a bit but then try to take it further. Push it.”
Pushing it is something these guys are good at it seems, one point that keeps being re-iterated is that of the regional curse. “We’re trying hard not to be classed as a local band. You know, that can just be the fuckin’ kiss of death right there.” In the eyes of the standard observer, travelling from city to city trying to build up a good rep may sound pretty sweet, after all there’s nothing like four guys, a van and some on the road antics to make an enviable Facebook photo album, but the reality can somewhat differ. “Playing outside your hometown you have to work hard to engage with the crowd. We’ve had some fucking awful shows outside of Bristol with like 10 people. You just have to rock it out then they tell 10 more people and then they tell another 10 people and it goes from there.” Surely that kind of response, however optimistic you may be, could take the fun out of the whole she-bang a little? Not according to the Hit Ups, whose unrelentingly positive attitude is just one of the reasons I believe they’ll go far. “If you get 10 people and are pissed off you’re in it for the wrong reason. At the end of the day, you never know where the talent scouts are lurking. We get a good response in Cardiff, Southampton and Bath, but a new city is like starting all over again; you’ve got to love playing.”
Modesty is another shiny medal that could be added to the band’s already gleaming belt of heavyweight status. Last year they played to record numbers of crowds at summer favourites such as Glastonbury, Shambala and Bristol’s Harbour Festival. It seems even the band themselves were awestruck by the kind of reception they received, as Josh recalls shaking his head: “Playing 2-3000 I was so fucking psyched. Literally just went out there and went mental, you’re like another person. You get off and you’re like what the fuck just happened.” Successes aside, this summer sees a big step forward in terms of studio time, which means an unfortunate step back from the calling limelight. You see the Hit Ups have orchestrated a royal coup, to record with the studio technician to legendary Portishead. Not only is this a firmly planted tread in the footsteps of the aforementioned, it also marks a change in how exactly the band put their work together. “The stamp of the production makes such a difference. We’ve definitely changed how we record; it used to be like 6 or 7 songs per go, now we’re just doing 2. We want them to be perfectly sculpted.” And masterpieces they are indeed, with Welcome To The Discoteque being of particular note – containing obscenely perfect riffs and a hook as catchy as Swine Flu.
Every factor of the boys lives seems to be pivoted towards the ultimate success of the music, Josh and Sam both work at leading gig venues in Bristol, providing an invaluable source of guerrilla promotions opportunities. It has to be said, that it is undeniably hard to strive in a city where it could be said that the music scene is just too good. “If you cant back your stuff up with the right image and gigs then it just falls flat. Bristol is so saturated with music; people can sometimes see it as disposable. You’ve got to be somebody people are interested in being a part of. There’s no room to let it get too static.”
As the interview draws to a close, there’s the inevitable question hanging in the air, or standing unavoidable as the proverbial elephant in the room; after so many years, why still do it? Obvious exclamations of ‘It’s all the about the music’ aside, Sam looks up plainly and says, “Not long ago, a guy came up to me after a gig and said he saw us a couple of years ago but hadn’t been since. I didn’t know whether to be offended or what, then he said he’d been in Afghanistan and him and his mates had listened to our CD all the time that they were out there; and it was so nice, so weird but so nice to think that your music means more to people than you might think. We put everything into what we’re doing, its amazing to know it comes back.” What better reason is there for doing what you’re doing than that?
Interview conducted for Rag Mag