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Upper Lip's Joseph Azzopardi: "Ultimately, people are going to remember you for the art you have produced not on how good of a cover band you were"

Interview with Joseph Azzopardi from Upper Lip
by Lior "Steinmetal" Stein at 02 May 2021, 12:12 PM

Playing cover songs for classics is always great, it also contributes a lot to a band's chemistry and coordination between the members. Furthermore, it is also a developer of character. However, after a while, it is also a limiter. Even if there is a possibility to cross spheres of music, it is only learning and not actually creating. To create is an effort, and putting things into motion it is an art. The Maltese Upper Lip, which didn't have too many options in their area in the first place, always knew that including an original tune would do them good one day, and it did eventually. Coming up with a brand new original debut, there are a lot of musical directions going on, which in turn ended up as more than your usual fusion. Steinmetal had a talk with Joseph Azzopardi of the band about the experience, being from a small island and the album.

Hello Joseph, it is great to have you for this conversation for Metal Temple online Magazine, how have things been on your side of the table?

First and foremost, thank you Lior and Metal Temple for this opportunity! Well I have been quite busy during the past months. Our main priority was to finalize the artwork and design of the album. Apart from this we had meetings with our management, photoshoots and a live recording from our garage which hasn’t aired yet. We also launched our brand-new website and new merch. It is hard work, but I’m really content because the band is moving forward.

Certainly, to be noticed as a success story, as your band, Upper Lip, took a major step in its career with the release of a debut album, and alongside it, signing with a German label. But before we look at the present and the future, let’s look back a bit. Upper Lip was to begin with a merely live featured cover band for vintage Rock classics or it always had original tunes that never got to be released?

During the band initial stages back in 2013 we did start by covering some vintage Rock classics be it the Rolling Stones, AC/DC or Black Sabbath. However, we always included something original in our set. I was convinced that if we really wanted to move on, we had to write our own music. People were impressed by the way we’re able to cover AC/DC and bands of that caliber. We really did them justice but that wasn’t going to define the band. So, whilst we were covering our idols we were also writing original tunes, some of which have never seen the light of the day.

What has been the motivation to create music as Upper Lip, in particular the vintage kind of Rock? Was it merely being fans, simple as that, or there is something else?

I think the biggest motivation is that we really love this style. There is a sense of enjoyment in listening to this music, so it serves as our biggest motivation and drive. Apart from this I feel that in it we find acceptance. Rock can be rebellious, can be anarchic, yet it can also be heartfelt and instill hope.

Other than shipping away the music through digital means, how does an Island based band can find itself opportunities, in particular when it comes to the live scene? Has Italy been one of your main targets or rather you aimed to be on a local scale?

Being islanders presents itself with some drawbacks. There is no possibility of a tour because we’re really small. The people who come to see you today are probably the people who will come to see you tomorrow. People will end up getting used to your band, so you cannot really gig ad nauseum. Playing abroad in countries like Italy would be quite beneficial for the band and I’m sure we would really love the experience as well. Italy has a lot of die hard rockers and yes that would be for sure one of our main targets. So if you’re promoter and reading this interview feel free to get in touch – we would love to entertain your crowds!

The larger Island of Malta has already been known as a place where you can find Metal and Rock music, however, it was the first time for me to hear about Gozo. How did Rock music arrive at the Island?

A little ancient history, yet always a treat to know. Back in the late 60’s and 70’s there were plenty of cover bands in Gozo which played a variety of music that varied from Rock ‘n’ Roll to Country, traditional songs and also Italian hits.  Many of the Gozitans at that time had relatives who moved to the UK, Canada, USA and Australia and occasionally when they came back, they brought the occasional vinyl. However, at that time locals used to listen to music mainly through the Rediffusion which broadcasted on radio new songs and musical genres. It was then that local music fanatics started to listen to Deep Purple, Free, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin. This influenced the local bands of that time (Rubber Soul, Action) which started including in their repertoire songs of a heavier nature. Thus, there you have the advent of Rock music on the tiny island of Gozo.

In regard to the current pandemic that has been going on, since you are an Island, rather isolated, would you say that the effects of Covid-19 were barely felt on your end?

I wouldn’t say barely felt because many businesses had to shut down for nearly a year now. The Maltese islands are very dependent on tourism and this really had a toll on many businesses which are clearly dependent on the latter. Nonetheless, we managed to pull through quite courageously and although certain sectors suffered more than others it seems that the Island kept afloat. As a band we haven’t played for over a year now but at least we had more time to dedicate to our album launch. Moreover, we’re ready to play loud and fast again as soon as the restrictions are lifted!

Let’s tread in positive areas, shall we? Signing with Pride & Joy Music from Germany was probably a milestone for you guys. How does it feel to be noticed and of course having the opportunity to take your music forward?

It definitely feels good! We really didn’t expect this and when our manager told us that Pride & Joy Music loved our album and were interested in us, we were over the moon. This is a major step and it is really beneficial for the band. Moreover, we are also very thankful to our record label because they are very supportive, professional, and hopefully yes, we’re looking forward in strengthening this relationship and keep on progressing.

You came up with the title “Deep Within”, which I caught as your opportunity to show that you have talent in your arsenal for songwriting of original material rather than only executing classics. What is your take on that?

It is a must for an artist to write his/her own music. “Deep Within” is nothing more than an artistic expression which comes from within. I feel that the songs are all heartfelt and they all have something that people can relate to. Isn’t it a limiting factor in just playing the classics? Ultimately, people are going to remember you for the art you have produced not on how good of a cover band you were. We’re all really proud of this album and we’re looking forward to release it worldwide on May 21st.

After listening and trying to figure out between the lines of the songs, theme wise it is a sort of live wild and free, treading past fields as matters of concept. Would you say that the vintage of the musicality went hand in hand with the lyrical themes?

Yes, definitely, there is a sort of marriage between the music and the lyrics. They complement each other really well. Some of the songs which are of a more poignant nature like “What makes you smile” or “Hide” are very reflective of this. I feel that such a combination works because it makes the music real. Ultimately, it’s all about the different emotions felt and that’s what I tried to evoke in the songs. This can be experienced both form the writer and also the listener’s side.

Diving into the music, at first, and I am being honest here, I thought to myself AC/DC in full, but I was quickly baffled, which I was glad about. “Deep Within” is a picture of eclecticism of Rock styles, circling past decades, serving the bread and butter of Rock and its exploits, yet colored with an atmosphere that is far from being modern. Would you say that “Deep Within” helped you to open your minds even further in order to create this variety?

We do love AC/DC but as you rightly said the album has a variety in itself that makes it quite unique. There are so many different elements due to the wide influences that we have. I feel that Rock music it is what it is because it gives scope to other styles to merge into it. It is not an exclusive genre because it encompasses other genres in itself.  If you listen to “Supernaut” by Black Sabbath you feel the hard and heavy side of it yet there is also a tribalistic groove just after the middle of the song which makes it quite amazing. I feel that variety makes an album interesting and definitely worth listening.

Such a process, as songwriting and of course recording, can shape a band’s image, turning it to something a little different, and of course it is also an evolution phase for the band. How would you say that Upper Lip improved its skills and image while working on “Deep Within”?

We matured a lot after this process. Recording an album is not an easy feat, especially if it is your first experience in a professional recording studio. It might seem daunting at first and we did have our tough moments, but we pulled through. However, recording the music is just a part of the process. There are other aspects which are very crucial and need to be done right, like marketing, branding and artwork. The band became tighter musically, we say learned to see things from a different perspective as well.  It is true setbacks do arise but overall, it was a very positive experience and we surely learned a lot.

What can you tell about the experience of recording the album at the same studio where such modern Metal giants, as Rammstein, recorded their music?

Well we really enjoyed it! David Vella our producer and owner of Temple Studios, was very patient with us and he really made us feel comfortable. It was not easy because it was our first experience in such a high-end studio, so we felt out of place at first. However, David guided us and showed us the ins and outs of the process. After a while it was becoming more like a home. It became a huge learning experience and I really felt an enormous sense of satisfaction after the recording process.

Talking about Modern Metal actually leads me to the following. Since modernity in music, in particular in Rock, reached a certain fan level that surpassed some of the classics, not of all them. What do you think that you bring with your music that can take some of the attention of the contemporary stuff?

Our album “Deep Within” has 11 tracks that appeal to a very wide audience. It definitely has that Classic Rock feel, yet it sounds fresh and contemporary. It is not our intention to hide our roots or our influences. I believe it is all about the songs. Indeed, one of my biggest guitar heroes Paul Gilbert once said there is only good or bad music. So yeah, I’m sure that the rock fans in 2021 will also appreciate our songs.


What were the main challenges that tackled you while you were working on the album? How were you able to overcome them?

One of our biggest challenges was that during the recording process, our drummer Shaun left us due to personal reasons after the first part of the recording. Fortunately, Paul Formosa stepped in and helped us in recording the remaining tracks of the album. Moreover, it was our first experience and we had to record live as a whole band. The first few days were a bit hectic until we got used to the studio work. Indeed, there were some nerve wrecking moments, we didn’t realize how much preparation was needed. Our producer David really believed in us and pushed us to our limits, we learned, and we improved our approach and we eventually pulled through.

Even though I am a fan of the heavier kind, I was intrigued as I was listening to “Hide”, an atmospheric Rock tune, ranging from late 70s to early 80s, crossing the UK to the US and back, simply astounding. Would you say that it was a song that had to enter the album as a sort of a little escape from the crunch of distorted guitars and soaring vocals?

“Hide” is one of my favorite tracks in the album and it does provide the musical escape you’re mentioning. Although it is not a prerequisite of having a ballad amongst the tracks, I really felt that the album needed this. “Hide” is a very emotional song and every time I hear it I feel goosebumps on my skin. I hope that our fans like it as much as we do!

A little pedal to the Metal and you have yourself “Be Free”, vintage Hard Rock with proto-Heavy Metal intentions. However, it has that 60s feeling with its theme with all the crunch going on. What can you tell about this track?

“Be Free” is reminiscent of many old time anthemic rock songs. The catchy chorus ‘Move on, Be Free, that’s what you need,’ speaks about freeing yourself from the things that drag you down. The lyrics are very motivational and give a sense of hope and encouragement. The song used to have that kind of U2 vibe in the guitar rhythm section, then in the studio we opted for something a bit different. It is the second longest song of the album after “Never Lose Hope.”

Since you are the main songwriter of the album, which of the tracks can you elaborate about to perhaps draw more attention to the album?

All the songs have something special which I really like in them. However, if I have to pick I would pinpoint “Marble Arch”, “Desert Song”, “Hide” and “Never Lose Hope”. “Marble Arc” focuses on the pain that is left behind when things go awry between two people. I really love the melodious guitar parts and also the lift in the bridge section. I really love it. “Desert Song” is a sort of tribute to the Rock music legends of the past who still influence the songs we write and music we play. “Hide” reflects on the connection between two people who deeply care about each other, yet destiny brought them apart. The chorus of this song is really powerful, and it is definitely one of my favorite tracks. “Never Lose Hope” is the longest track in the album. It is a sort of journey which ripples through time. Its long harmonious guitar solos evoke this sense of forlorn yet also create a sense of hope and courage. The outro fades out; it is a very beautiful song.

Let’s look forward to the end of 2021, would you say that you will be setting sails to Italy or perhaps the rest of Europe in order to support your release live?

We would love to play in Italy and also in other cities around Europe! This pandemic has brought to a halt our concerts and we’re really eager to perform again. Playing outside our shores would be really fantastic! So, let’s hope that we can get back on track soon.

Joseph, I wish to thank you for this interview and for your time. Clearly, you opened up a hunger for the classics and giants of Rock, great work done on “Deep Within”. Cheers.

On behalf of UPPER LIP, I thank you so much for having us! Very honored to be here! Rock ON!


 



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