PWRUP: A New Wave in Ska - How They Compare to Genre Stalwarts
In the ever-evolving landscape of ska music, Western Massachusetts band PWRUP has carved out a unique space since their inception in early 2018. Known for their eclectic blend of punk, hardcore, ska, metal, and prog rock, PWRUP stands out not only for their musical fusion but also for their energetic live performances. As they gear up to release their full-length LP, Just Devils, it's worth examining how PWRUP compares to other notable ska bands in the genre.
The Ska Landscape: A Brief Overview
Ska music, characterized by its upbeat tempo and distinctive
off-beat rhythms, originated in Jamaica in the late 1950s and evolved over the
decades. The genre has seen several revivals, most notably the 2-Tone movement
in the UK during the late 1970s and the third wave ska boom in the U.S. in the
1990s. Bands like The Specials, Madness, Reel Big Fish, and Streetlight
Manifesto have been pivotal in shaping ska’s sound and culture.
PWRUP's Unique Blend
PWRUP distinguishes itself with a broader range of
influences than most traditional ska bands. While bands like The Mighty Mighty
Bosstones and No Doubt leaned heavily into the punk-ska crossover, PWRUP takes
it a step further by integrating elements of hardcore, metal, and prog rock.
This results in a more aggressive and complex sound, marked by fast, heavy
riffing and intricate horn arrangements.
Energetic Live Performances
Live shows are a hallmark of ska music, and PWRUP excels in
this area. Much like the energetic performances of bands like Streetlight
Manifesto, PWRUP’s shows are high-octane and engaging, marked by tight vocal
harmonies and dynamic stage presence. Their ability to create a visceral live
experience aligns them with the best in the genre.
PWRUP vs. Genre Stalwarts
Comparisons with Folly, NOFX, Rx Bandits, and The Flaming
PWRUP’s sound has often been compared to bands like Folly
and NOFX. Folly, known for their unique blend of hardcore and ska, shares a
similar penchant for genre-blending with PWRUP. NOFX’s punk influence is
evident in PWRUP's music, especially in their approach to riffing and vocal
Rx Bandits, another band known for their evolution from
traditional ska to a more progressive rock sound, is a likely influence on
PWRUP’s prog-rock elements. The Flaming Tsunamis, famous for their intense and
experimental approach, can also be seen as a parallel in terms of PWRUP’s
willingness to push genre boundaries.
Conclusion: A Fresh Perspective in Ska
PWRUP is not just another ska band. Their unique fusion of
diverse musical elements, combined with a strong commitment to energetic live
performances, sets them apart in the current ska landscape. As they release Just
Devils and continue to perform, PWRUP is poised to leave a significant mark
on the genre, attracting fans of traditional ska as well as those looking for
something new and exciting. With their innovative approach, PWRUP is a band
that both honors the rich history of ska and propels it into the future.
Interview with the Band: PWRUP
"America is a capitalist oligarchy and I am very tired and also complicit as a cog in that machine" somewhat balanced with "I am a better person than I used to be, but that does not excuse me from the consequence of past actions"
I am often anxious when we perform, and i use that energy for dumb little bits. If the house music is off but we're not ready to start, I'll say something like "This is it. This is the set. 27 more minutes of this." Sometimes I'll talk about the Grape Lady video or other mundane things from my life or pop culture. During the set, there are a few times where I'll walk around in the audience playing trombone. When I can, I like to go out of the performance area into the bar or outside of the venue where people aren't actively watching us and do a little doot doot at them before I run back to the stage for the end of the song. If our lyrical content is serious and political, our live performance is playful and manic.
What challenges do you face in maintaining your voice and
delivering powerful performances throughout an entire set, given the diverse
range of songs in your repertoire?
Being a punk band at heart, our sets are rarely longer than 30 minutes, which I have been able to get myself through. I try not to drink too much alcohol before a set and drink plenty of water during, and that's usually enough.
How do you approach writing and selecting cover songs for
PWRUP's ska punk and thrash fusion?
We don't do a lot of covers, and when we do its for one of two reasons: because its for a charity comp (AFGR's Taylor Swift comp) or because it would be funny (a skacore band doing At The Gates at a metal festival).
What inspired the overall theme and concept behind the
latest album, "Just Devils," and how did it influence the
We didn't write an album like that, we wrote a bunch of songs and it became the album if that makes sense. We all live our lives within this system because we are unable or unwilling to live outside of it. Those experiences have left their fingerprints on every track. How do you strike a balance between the rebellious themes of punk and the danceable, upbeat nature of ska in your songwriting?
Can you discuss the collaborative process within the band
when shaping the musical direction of a new album?
Again, we don't really write like that. Someone has an idea, either a lick or a line or sometimes even a mostly complete song, and the guitars & drums go to town hammering out the details. Once the song is 99% finished I can step in and put the lyrics and horn parts together to finish it up.
Are there any specific events, experiences, or influences
that played a significant role in shaping the lyrical content of the latest
Covid, American politics, and being a disposable employee for my entire adult life.
How do you envision the evolution of PWRUP's sound and
songwriting in future projects, and are there any new directions you're excited
We wrote "An Ugly Equal Family" and have been playing those songs since we formed. We wrote a bunch more songs, rerecorded the original ep, and put out Just Devils. If our current music represents where we came from, the next bunch of songs will showcase who we are and where we want to go. We claim to be skacore because its an easy category to put ourselves in, but we don't write a lick and think "oh is this ska enough? is this hardcore enough?" We just do the part the way we want it to sound, and whatever it is is whatever it is. Live
Performances and Regional Presence:
Your high-energy live shows quickly gained
traction, making PWRUP a prominent presence in both local and regional music
scenes. How do you approach crafting a live experience that resonates with
audiences from various backgrounds?
You know, I don't really. Craft a live experience I mean. I get on stage, and I am my awkward, anxious self. We do the songs, I say what I'm feeling or thinking or seeing and then when the set is over we all get off stage. People seem to like it though most of the time, which is good.
Pandemic Challenges and Creative Resilience:
How did PWRUP navigate the challenges presented by the
pandemic years, and how did it impact the band's creative process and overall
Honestly, we didn't. We went on hiatus for most of it, and started back up as the lockdown wound down. We just did what we could individually to try and get through a wild time. Debut Demo: "An Ugly Equal Family":
Are there specific tracks from the demo that hold special significance or convey a particular message that resonates with the band's ethos?
All of them. We wouldn't have re-recoreded them for the full length had they not been something we needed to showcase.
Jeff Sabola, guitar & vocals
How do you navigate between the ska and punk elements on
the guitar, and how has your approach evolved over the course of PWRUP's
Jeff: Navigating between different elements depends on the feel of the song. There are ska parts that I will use full distortion if the section calls for it. “Just Devils” is the full discography. However, we recorded an EP in my basement back in 2018. We re-recorded all the songs to give them an updated feel and more professional quality recording. My approach to recording EP guitar parts on “Just Devils” was to try to keep it as close to the original as possible while adding some flash here and there for an updated feel. During the days of the EP, I was behind the drum kit and Aaron recorded the guitars. We were a 4 piece back then. On this album we were able to write two guitar parts that can be played in a live setting.
Jeff: I’m not much of a gear person. Ideally, I want to plug in, hit the distortion channel on my EVH 5150 iii, and just play! I jump around a lot on stage and a pedalboard gets in the way. That said, I do use a few pedals depending on the show. I use the Electro-Harmonix B9 Organ Pedal. I don’t like to double Aaron’s ska guitar upstrokes, so I use the organ sounds during a few sections. JP from Death By Stereo recorded a solo for Corner/Office. He used a Whammy pedal and recorded the solo tuned a half step down from what we play. For shows with bigger stages, I’ll bring my pedal board and use the DigiTech Whammy pedal and DigiTech Drop Pedal to play it live.
do you maintain clarity and precision in your guitar playing during the
fast-paced and high-energy segments of your performances?
Jeff: I practice a lot! When learning the faster riffs, I start with a metronome and work my way up to the live version speed. As I mentioned earlier, I like to jump around on stage as much as possible. I want my energy on stage to reflect the music. I go in with the attitude of, “if this is my last show ever, I want to leave it all out there on the stage.”
Jeff: Some of my favorite bands within the genre include A Wilhelm Scream, This is A Standoff, Death By Stereo, Strung Out, and the late 90s Epitaph and Fat Wreck bands. I do listen to a lot of music outside the genre as well. He is Legend’s songwriting is second to none. Better Lover’s is phenomenal as well. Currently one of my favorite bands.
Brian Westbrook, Drums & Vocals
How did you develop your unique drumming style, and which
drummers have influenced your playing in the ska and thrash genres?
I picked up drumming by trying to learn Rush songs, but I was also playing in a pop-punk band ripping off Green Day, but I was also starting to get into metal via System of a Down, so some weird combination of that got me going. Once I started playing in a thrash band I had to pick up more "extreme" techniques like double kick, skank beats, blasts, and picking that up from Slayer, Municipal Waste, The Black Dahlia Murder, but I was also going through college and learning the jazz/funk/fusion fundamentals and simultaneously getting into prog metal and melodic hardcore. If I had to narrow down direct drummer influence: Neil Peart, Tre Cool, Dave Lombardo, Brooks Wackerman.
What challenges do you face as a drummer in a ska punk
band with influences from various genres like thrash and punk?
I'm used to playing 8 million notes a second in thrash and punk and just flying through 16th note fills, so sometimes I need to actually think more about what I want to play creatively than just worry about driving and keeping time.
How do you approach incorporating ska rhythms into your
drumming while maintaining the intensity required for thrash elements?
I'd say it's mainly dynamics and voicing choices I use to create contrast. Quieter and more nuanced on the closed hat and rim click parts, open up more on the heavy parts with crash and double kicks. I also try to accentuate whatever's happening in other instruments, like guitar/bass rhythms or even vocal cues.
Can you share some insights into your creative process
when working on the drum arrangements for PWRUP's latest album Just
Half the songs on the album were re-recorded from PWRUP's initial EP, which was written and recorded with Jeff on drums before I joined. I loved all the parts he wrote so my goal was to keep the basis, make minor changes for flow, and then throw some extra flair in. A lot of the new songs even stemmed from ideas that Jeff had in Logic or Gary had in Noteflight, and from there it's just a lot of playing the songs in practice or out live until I stumble on certain elements I like and stick with them.
What's your favorite track to perform live from the new
album, and why?
King Kong - it encompasses so much within a 4 and a half minute span. Fast punk, heavy groove, stripped back rock beat, disco bridge, ska transition, prog build, heavy breakdown, hardcore two step. I still don't know how it all manages to work together and feel like a cohesive song, but it does.
PWRUP: Ska, Thrash, and the Art of Musical Fusion
Gary Dionne on Crafting Bass Lines with a Twist
In this exclusive interview, Gary Dionne, the bassist and vocalist of PWRUP, revealed his innovative approach to creating bass lines. Dionne focuses on utilizing the 3rd, 5th, or 9th of a chord, rather than over-relying on the tonic. This unique method contributes to the band's distinctive sound, particularly evident in their latest album, "Just Devils." He collaborates closely with drummer Brian, often leading to unexpected yet fitting drum parts that enhance the overall composition.
Justin Belden: Lead Singer with a Unique Approach
Justin Belden, PWRUP's lead singer and trombonist, shared his straightforward approach to blending thrash's energy with ska punk's melody. He doesn't overthink it; he writes the lyrics and delivers them with precision. Belden also discussed the themes of "Just Devils," touching on issues like capitalism and personal growth. His engaging stage presence, often involving humorous and playful interactions with the audience, adds a unique dimension to their live performances.
Jeff Sabola: Ska and Punk Fusion on Guitar
Guitarist and vocalist Jeff Sabola elaborated on his method of blending ska and punk elements on the guitar. He mentioned his preference for simplicity in gear, using minimal pedals to achieve the band's signature sound. Sabola's influences range across various genres, contributing to his versatile playing style.
Brian Westbrook: A Drummer's Perspective
Brian Westbrook, the drummer, brought a diverse background to PWRUP. Influenced by various genres, including thrash and jazz, Westbrook's style is a dynamic mix of technical skill and creative flair. He discussed the challenges and joys of incorporating diverse rhythmic elements into his drumming, particularly in their album "Just Devils."
Conclusion: PWRUP's Creative Journey
PWRUP's journey, marked by a blend of ska, punk, and thrash, is a testament to their ability to innovate within their genres. Each member brings a unique set of influences and approaches, creating a sound that is both fresh and familiar. With "Just Devils," they have cemented their place in the music world, showcasing their talent for fusion and their commitment to pushing musical boundaries.