We make a lot of friends throughout the Arkansas music scene and without a doubt one of our biggest supporters has been vocalist/guitarist Blaine Leeds. His latest project, The Upright Citizens, will be making their first Northwest Arkansas appearance this Friday at George’s Majestic Lounge with Earl & Them.
This looks to be your NWA debut. How did you get together with the rest of the band to form Upright Citizens?
Yes it is the debut for Upright Citizen in Northwest Arkansas. Well, Upright Citizen is sort of a River Valley/XNA Super group if you will made up of former members of On the Verge and a great band from back in the 80s called The Silver Creek band.
We all knew each other growing up or met playing music together through our bands. Upright Citizen came about as my work situation changed a bit and we relocated to Nashville.
Some of our friends in On the Verge were concerned about not getting to play much with me moving so they formed another project called Moonshine Blue and they’re having fun and playing often. Denton Tumbleson (rhythm guitar) and Dr. Tom Werner (Hammond, Keys) were band mates from way back and they had been wanting to play together again for years and my work situation settled a bit where I could get back to rehearse and before long Denton had secured the rest of the lineup. The rhythm section is the father and son combo of Evan and EJ Chronister and we have Wade Black (who just became a full time musician again) on guitar forest (he collects and makes fabulous guitars and built a wonderful studio where we rehearse and record). Evan and Wade were two of the founding members of The Silver Creek band who played multiple times per week back in the 80s and often to huge crowds.
With On the Verge, we had a great ten year run where we got to do cool stuff like open for Kansas, .38 Special and make some really cool memories. So Paul Terry and I joined the band on lead guitar and vocals respectively and then Jeremy Pitts joined on sax , harmonica, flute, vocals and we were in On the Verge. So how is that for a convoluted answer?
With Jeremy’s versatility plus the Hammond and three guitars there is really a lot we can do sound wise with this band. We really are working up some really strong harmony parts and we feel like we can give these tunes a nice arrangement and really execute some songs for people in a way that really connects. As you know, there is nothing quite like the magic and connection of live music.
You’ve played Georges before with previous bands, any special memories from your previous appearances?
Really just any time we play when Earl & Them are in the back. We have so much respect for The Cate brothers and such an affinity for their tunes and their history with Levon and The Band.
We had a really special moment, that I think Brugh Foster (venuemaps.net) caught on video two years ago where we were playing the Weight and Jeff Gray walked out of the back where he’d been sitting in with BigUns I think…and just hopped up on the stage and blasted the walk downs in the Weight with his trumpet and the whole crowd was standing and singing the “Take a load off annie.” Now that was a moment to remember.
I remember a killer show one night with Groovement and another night we played in front and Brother Moses was rocking in the back. We love those guys. Also we love Jamie Lou and Garrett and the Hullabaloo and try to catch them often. I’ve yet to share a bill with my favorite band though, Couch Jackets. George’s is as fine a rock and roll music room as we have in the country and I’ve been lucky enough to be in most of em. Just cannot beat George’s Majestic Lounge. Thanks to Brian Crowne for having us back.
I read where the band is playing everything from The Beatles and the Commodores to Journey. Who’s handling the Steve Perry vocals?
Its true, we have a really wide, varied set list. Unfortunately, you’re stuck with yours truly on vocals. I got excited the other day when I saw an iphone video of Faithfully from a Journey show in Bridgestone in Nashville and I noticed that Journey was doing Faithfully in G (a full step down). Of course, Arnel Pineda had just sung it the night before in Busch Stadium, so he needed a break I guess, but it gave me hope as a singer because that’s the key we do it in.
I see Jeremy Pitts plays the flute. Any chance for little Jethro Tull finding its way into the set?
We are opening with Aqualung. Not really. But we are doing Turn the Page which Jeremy slays and some Mark Rivera stuff (Billy Joel’s sax player). He can destroy it on sax. I’m telling you he’s note for note on these iconic solos. Plus he’s a fantastic singer. Great harmonies. Our Eagles covers sound like the record…multi-part harmonies, great acoustic parts by Wade. So much fun.
Whats next for Upright Citizens? Has there been any talk of making an album?
Really we just want to keep getting tighter and tighter on stuff and really work on our vocal parts more. Wade has like ten years worth of riffs he wants to turn into some songs, plus he has some full demos done. Also we’ve talked about having some writing sessions as well. I’d really like to see if we can’t get a single out digitally this spring. I’d love to have an original album or EP worth of material out some time in the next year.