Bands on Bands is a recurring feature on the 35 Denton blog that will highlight musician interviews written by none other than our own local musicians. Throughout this series we aspire to help you learn more about some of your favorite musicians playing the festival this year as well as introduce you to new and upcoming acts.
Interview by Kaela Sinclair || Images by Shaina Sheaff
The Hope Trust makes thinkers’ rock in Denton, Texas. Channeling a blend of Americana, timeless pop, and rock ‘n’ roll that hooks lovers of Neil Finn, Wilco, and The Wallflowers, frontman Kelly Upshaw pens songs that steadily unfold, leading captive listeners through a field of sonic space. He spoke to me about this life, songwriting, and The Hope Trust’s upcoming release, Silver & Lead.
KAELA SINCLAIR: When did you first start playing music and what were your earliest influences?
Kelly Upshaw: I started playing drums at 9. My Dad had been away in Indonesia for business for a long time, and somehow my brothers and I talked our Mom into the idea that a drum-set and two guitars were exactly what our family needed. When he got back he said “cool.” My parents were really supportive and in some respects they’re one of my biggest influences. They used to sit us down and play records for us. I remember lots of Neil Young, Talking Heads, The Band and Dire Straits. I remember listening to Supertramp’s Breakfast in America a lot on cassette. That owed to my parent’s good taste. I also had the influence of two older brothers. Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Depeche Mode, and on and on. They played that stuff, and it certainly changed my taste and interest in music.
In 2007 The Hope Trust released it’s debut album, The Incurable Want, to significant praise, and in 2011 released Light Can’t Escape. Was there anything different about recording and releasing an album the second time around?
Yeah. I felt like with the release of Light Can’t Escape, we had built some sense of an audience. The Incurable Want was recorded in a month with zero expectation. The recording process was very different for Light Can’t Escape. We really hunkered down in a house for too long and were really not good at maintaining momentum, due to trying to get everybody in the same state or even country at times. But that’s been part of the learning experience for me. Even though that was a challenging album to complete, I am still proud of it, process included. There really is something to be said for spontaneity and a sense of moving forward in the creative process. Neil Finn said, “deadlines are a musician’s best friend,” and I would agree. It’s an interesting time in the music business for independent artists such as yourself.
Creative and talented musicians are having to take on the role of business person, social media expert, booking agent, graphic designer, etc., and are spending more and more time developing these non-musical skills. What has the experience been like for you?
It’s definitely changed over the course of my experience and I find myself having to adapt. I do like that there are so many accessible tools available to help artist develop their presence and “brand.” I personally think that the market is way over saturated in terms of content, to the degree that it is very challenging to earn a livable wage and maintain a comfortable life. But, I think that there is a difference between being profitable as a business, and being able to successfully communicate as an artist. And as far is art is concerned, while the livable wage may be as far out of reach as it ever was for most artists, more artists are able to bring their work to the world and find an audience, which is a great thing. I’ve certainly had to manage these aspects of my music career, at times better than others. I think most artists would benefit from focusing on creativity and performance though.
You are an accomplished songwriter with a lot of songs under your belt.Can you give us some insight into your writing process? Has that process changed over the years?
I usually start with an instrument and create a few different but related ideas. With that, I start to get a sense of structure and dynamics, and usually a melody will appear out of that, walking hand in hand with some random words that have crept out of my sub-conscious or memory. If it’s happening I feel like the words present themselves pretty naturally. I’ve given up on forcing it, which is probably why I’m not the most prolific writer. But the more I sit with an instrument and exercise my brain that way, I feel like the creative process is more fluid. I used to really only hash out a tune on the guitar when I was younger, but I play some piano horribly, and I really like playing bass. I’ve found that approaching the creative process from a different instrument, even if I struggle with proficiency, I’m able to find different sounds. I love the piano, even if I’m just playing chords, because I don’t have as many habits in playing it, and my hands go places that sound different than what I would have done on guitar. Writing on bass has also been productive for me this way.
You are the guitar player, singer, and songwriter for The Hope Trust, but you also play drums in other groups. Does your background as a drummer influence the way you write? What is it like having someone else play drums in your band?
Definitely. I usually have a pretty good sense of what I want a song to sound like, and that generally includes a pretty specific idea of what the drums are gonna do. Sometimes songs come out of a drum beat for me. It’s all pretty connected. I’ve been really fortunate to work with the drummers that I have. I feel like I’ve been lucky to get some level of deference on ideas, and I feel like drummers past to present have all added something to it, that I wouldn’t have or couldn’t have.
Who are the current members of The Hope Trust?
Me, both my brothers Mike, and Jason, Jon Collins and Matthew Moran. And Evan Jacobs (Tacks, the boy disaster) will be playing with us for 35 Denton.
The Hope Trust formed in 2005, and now, in 2015, are back in action. Any plans to celebrate the band’s ten year anniversary?
Having had a farewell show that didn’t really stick, I’d hate to get known for celebrating nothing. But, ten years is fairly substantial, so maybe. I really just want to get to work on the next record.
The Hope Trust is up and running now, but some readers might not know that the band actually broke up in 2013. Lucky for us the band reunited in 2014, and released a single, “Campaign Button,” almost exactly a year after it’s farewell show in Denton. Can you tell us why the band called it quits, and more importantly, how you came back together?
I think after Jeremy Buller quit to move to Seattle, I wasn’t really sure what Iwanted to do. I felt like he was a pretty substantial part of the band and was a great creative partner. I was a little at a loss, and a little bored in general. I just needed a break for a while. I think every artist has to come to terms with their ego, expectations, and goals where profit is skint, if they are going to keep being productive creatively. That time away from music really helped me do that. We put “Campaign Button” out as we were starting to rehearse again and get back into gear. We had it finished before we broke up, but the 2014 elections seemed like an appropriate time to release it. I got to a point where I was ready to start playing again. I started writing again, and feeling more positive about music. My brothers also are a big part of that. However small it is, and if it doesn’t make you a million dollars, if you have something that you love to do, you should pursue it, and enjoy it for what it is while you do it. I’d hate to lose the opportunity to play music. It’s one of those few experiences where I feel completely present where I am. That’s a rare thing for most people to have. I’d like to hang on to that.
You guys are releasing your long anticipated EP, Silver & Lead, on March 10th – three days before your 35 Denton showcase. What kind of songs and sounds should we expect from this release?
The hardest question ever…I think it’s a little harder than our previous stuff in some parts. I think every recording we make ends up being a little different from the last; just part of the evolution.
Okay, here’s one just for fun: If you had to crossover to a completely different genre what would you choose and why?
I wouldn’t mind doing some ambient electronic stuff. I like a lot of synth sounds, and the sort of effect on my mood of that music. It’s such an abstract type of music, and I think that the listening experience is different. I think at best, you’ll be able to expect some elements of that in our new stuff in places.
What’s next for you and for The Hope Trust in 2015?
We’re excited to finally be putting out Silver & Lead. We’re looking forward to working on a newer record pretty immediately, and living our lives. I’m really looking forward to the festival. I know so many people have worked tirelessly on it, and I’m really happy to get to be a part of it. We’re going to do a little bit of touring in the late spring/early summer and see if we can get some more music out sooner than later.
Check out the Hope Trust at 11:00pm on Friday March 13, 2015 at the Greater Denton Arts Council. You can also catch their EP release show at Dan’s Silverleaf on March 27, 2015. You can buy their EP on Amazon and iTunes!
Kaela Sinclair, 24 year old musician from Denton, TX has showcased hercompositional skill, lush vocals, and intelligent lyrics and proven herself to be as sultry and expressive on stage as she is in the studio. She made waves with her debut album Sun & Mirror, quickly garnering the attention and affection of national and local music critics. In collaboration with acclaimed producer and drummer, McKenzie Smith (Midlake, Regina Spektor, St. Vincent).