LVL UP Clears Up Rumor About Breaking Up if Not For a Record Deal

LVL UP Shawn Brackbill
Contrary to what you may have read on the internet, LVL UP was not going to break up if they didn't sign to Sub Pop.

There is a difference between the truth and the legend, but the myth took off and gave the lo-fi rock band, with origins in Purchase, New York, an edge when moving into the crowded Brooklyn music scene. In hindsight, the quartet really didn’t need the help. Return To Love, the third album from Mike Caridi, Greg Rutkin, Dave Benton, and Nick Corbo, is a confident piece of work from musicians who are clearly coming into their own.

Benton, who is the co-founded the indie label Double Double Whammy (Eskimeaux, Frankie Cosmos) with Caridi, cleared up the story that has now become part of the band’s DNA when speaking to New Times recently. Corbo joined just as we talked about the band’s several stops in Phoenix over the years, hitting their stride in college, and what up-and-coming bands can do to get the support they need to make it to the next level.

New Times: You’ve been to Arizona before. Is there anything about the state that stands out to you?

Dave Benton: After our last show in Phoenix, we got to have a day off and we drove to Sedona. The landscape is very beautiful out there. I like being in that part of the country.

Did you get your auras read?

No, but Nick went to a psychic there. We didn’t spend too much time in the town. We went out on a hiking trail and hung outside.

I’ve read one of you has an interest in the occult and while Sedona does not have any occult stores, it does has some mystical leanings. Was that part of the draw?

Nick is a little interested in that kind of stuff on a surface-level. We all found it a little intriguing. What do they have out there again?

The psychic vortex.

Not to put it down, but we were all giggling about that while we were there. It does have a unique vibe and it feels good. That has to do with nature in general.

Nick Corbo: Hi, everyone!

We were just talking about psychic vortexes.

Corbo: Sedona is the most beautiful place I’ve been in my life.

You all met going to school at SUNY Purchase. I have heard it is a little non-traditional as far as colleges go.

Benton: I think it’s a little more traditional now. What do you think Nick?

Corbo: I haven’t been there in a while. There were a lot of facilities for students to do music and go to shows. There was a budget for student entertainment and for bands to come and play. When we were there, there were kids who had their finger on the pulse of cool bands in the area. Some schools will blow their entertainment budget on a huge show, but at Purchase there was a secondary budget for smaller, regional bands to come in. That had a big impact on me.

What were some of the bands you saw that made you think music was something you wanted to do?

Corbo: We were all very involved in going to shows. I remember one of the first bands I saw that made me think this was possible was Space Ghost Cowboys, which was a Westchester band. The main person in that band was Aaron Maine, who is now Porches. They didn’t sound like anything that Porches sounds like now, but that was an inspirational show for me.

Benton: Everyone came up together, which was cool.

Did SUNY Purchase feel like an incubator?

Benton: It's a good place to sharpen your skills as a musician and learn to play in front of people. You would get a chance to get your feet wet opening for these regional bands that would come in. It was a confidence booster.

Corbo: If I went to college in New York City and wanted to start a band, the logistical aspects would be very hard. Finding a practice space [in the city] is very hard, but one of the easier aspects of going to [SUNY Purchase] was having access to practice spaces and places to put your equipment.

I don’t know how to get a show at [Brooklyn’s] Arlene’s Grocery. It can be really daunting to book your first show. At school, you can get a show at the student center or the food co-op. You invite all your friends and play a low-stakes, high-gain show for 20 people.

I read that before you signed to Sub Pop, you were going to break up. What does a label offer you that you can’t do yourself?

Benton: First off, we feel a little misquoted by that article. We have some tendencies to joke around. I don’t think the person interviewing us really got it.

I was wondering about that because you have your own label.

Benton: We were definitely joking when we said we were going to break up. I think our attitude before we signed with Sub Pop was we were tired of releasing our own recordings, but we didn’t want to sign with anyone else unless it was a substantial jump and we’d greatly benefit from the deal. When Sub Pop came along, that was our ideal situation. They were a name we talked about, but we never thought it [would happen].

Corbo: It was serendipitous. We wanted it to feel a bit different, which leads to the second part of your question. The ideal situation for us would be low involvement [from the label] with the creative side of things while being able to reach a wider audience and have access to better facilities and resources. They have a wide fan base and distribution situation. They have a household name feel to it. People only listen to Sub Pop artists. They make things happen because they have an art department and stuff. We would have the intent but not the resources to do it.

Bands in Phoenix with similar aspirations often leave to make a name for themselves. What does a local band need for support to get to that next level?

Corbo: I think it’s important to make connections with other like-minded musicians. I think you can do that anywhere, but it does help to be in a major music city. Being in Brooklyn is very big for us. We’ve met a lot of people that way. If you are able to make connections and friendships with people who might be coming to your town, it’s good to reach out even if it seems like none of them would care about what you are doing.

LVL UP is scheduled to perform on Saturday, March 11 on the Punk Rock Alley Stage at Viva PHX.
KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jason Keil was the Phoenix New Times culture editor from August 2019 to May 2020.
Contact: Jason Keil