Photo by Patrick Dodson
It’s not uncommon in indie music–almost always a side-hustle–for bands to stop playing suddenly, shuffle their membership, and start back up again. But it’s still noteworthy when that chaotic process results in an album like Up & Up. The sprawling sophomore record from Albany alt-rock band Coupons came out September 4th, and in expanding their multi-talented lineup and cast of songwriters, it levels up just about everything about the band.
They took a years-long hiatus after the release of their 2016 debut. This time around, on a punchier, more purposeful follow-up, founding trio Dan LaFave, Dan Maddalone, and Collin Reynolds are joined by drummer Dylan Depice and keyboard player Shannon Straney. Between the five of them, that’s four songwriting voices, four singing voices, three guitarists, three keys players, two bassists, and two drummers–on this album, anyway. Their bio winkingly refers to it as “a creative renaissance for people you’ve never heard of,” but with the experience each member brings from other projects, you could just as easily call them a local scene supergroup.
Up & Up uses all of that talent to its fullest. It spans synth-soaked summer jams and melancholy piano pop, swimming with bright guitar harmonies and serious reflections on life, death, and that awkward middle stage of fatigued, early-30’s grown-and-growing-up-ness. With production by Scoops Dardaris–maybe best known for his work with Prince Daddy & the Hyena–and an unexpected release deal with Counter Intuitive Records, it’s a project with the kind of momentum that surprised even its own players.
Before the release of Up & Up, multi-instrumentalist, newly-minted songwriter, and house show host extraordinaire Dan Maddalone spoke to The All Scene Eye about the Coupons comeback and the state of the live music industry.
How are you holding up given the ongoing pandemic situation?
I would say holding up relatively well. I’m pretty lucky. There’s a lot of folks that are dealing with a lot in this time period, and I’m pretty privileged in that I don’t have too much to whine and complain about. Overall, I’d say that I wish things were better [laughs] in a lot of ways, but I think I’m doing well, and I’m thankful, you know?
Obviously, as somebody who promotes and hosts house shows, that’s shut down, but as an artist, how has that impacted what you do?
I’ve had less work, which has been nice in the sense of being able to just kind of work on things. I mean, we’re already demoing out songs for another Coupons release, which will be way down the line, won’t be released any time soon, but–yeah, I changed up my workflow. Weirdly, it’s been kind of beneficial, which feels ridiculous to say. I shouldn’t speak for everybody in the band, but me personally, I’ve been able to get more artful work done as opposed to just constantly grinding.
I wasn’t even in a band for a long time due to the fact that I was working so much on shows that I wasn’t spending a ton of time creating my own art. And now that I literally can’t do shows, I can’t do live sound work, I can’t stage manage, I can’t do anything but basically, I make records at my house. People will come and record, so that’s chill, but I have more time to focus on my art in general just by the fact that the art industry I work within is effectively shut down, which is a weird position to be in.
What have you been working on now that you have the time?
We’ve been just demoing out more stuff. There’s effectively four songwriters in Coupons, so I’ve just been working on my songs, and we’ve been trying to get stuff demoed when people are around, which is great. I’ve been doing that and then just prepping for this release, which we’re obviously really excited about. I’m kind of the person in the band that gets the ducks in a row, as they say, for stuff like this, so I’ve been working with CI, and the other guy named Dan in the band, he was working with somebody on a music video for the first song on the record, which is cool, and we just got that back. So I’ve been focused on Coupons-related stuff and just trying to figure out how to exist within an industry [laughs] that’s going through a turbulent time.
How did Coupons originally form?
I played in a band with Collin called Party Boat, which was his band with this guy Ben, who’s a really great songwriter in the area. I got added to play bass, had a blast, and met Collin. I had played with Dan LaFave for a long time, just as pals. He was in a band called Secret Release, and I would play drums and stuff with that, or bass, when we were just kind of messing around. There was a point where Party Boat broke up, and I think this was in the same time period that the other guys from Dan LaFave’s band moved to California, so we were all band-less and just were like, “Hey, let’s start a band. Let’s do this.”
I guess it was the same reason a lot of people start any band, out of boredom and necessity. We were like, “Hey, we want to play music.” The people we normally were playing music with were not doing that anymore. “Well, okay.” You know, something will get split up, and you’ll be like, “Okay, we’re regrouping,” and that’s how it happened. That was four long years ago. Kind of crazy to think of.
How did that first album take shape? Looking at the Bandcamp, it was about 50-50 Collin and the other Dan writing songs.
We had this practice space that we were in due to our drummer at the time having access to it, so we would just get together every Thursday, and Dan was, I think, really just starting out. He’d been writing songs for a long time, but I think was coming into his own in that time period. And Collin was kind of assisting Ben with songwriting in Party Boat, so it was like–or at least, how I thought was that these were two really talented people coming out of bands where they were seen as support, not so much as the lead people, and the two of them were just like, “Okay, we’re both writing songs.”
We wrote and recorded that whole project in, like, nine months. It’s funny, Coupons doesn’t do the long, slow, marathon running. We are sprinters, so it’s like the band stopped being a band for four years, and then boom, February 2019–for 18 months, we’ve worked on this record. Just wrote it from the ground up, retooled and rebuilt the band completely. I guess I hadn’t even really thought of it like that, but these were two different instances of the band existing, the only two, and both of them were very similar in that it was an explosion of energy and intensity and thought about it, so they both have existed in a similar mode.
On the first album, Collin played all the keys, but this one, you’ve added a dedicated keys player, and you mentioned there’s four people who are writing songs now for the band. Tell me about this second iteration of Coupons.
Basically, we added my best friend Dylan on drums, who I’ve been playing with for a long time, who’s an absurdly talented human being, and Shannon is just an incredible songwriter. She’s just phenomenal. Her and Dan have their own band called Geoff Gordon that just released a record back in April that is like, oh my gosh, so good. It’s yet to be seen if Shannon’s going to have any material for any stuff with Coupons moving forward. There’s always that space for her if she’d like it, but I think she might be working on solo stuff–there’s a whole bunch of stuff that she might be working on. She’s always creating.
When we used to play together live, Dan LaFave would toggle between playing keyboards and playing guitar, and he expressed that he was only interested in playing guitar, and that we should add a keyboard player. Shannon was the obvious choice, as she is an excellent keys player and is just a very different vibe–a very complimentary vibe, but yeah, a whole different thing. She did the album artwork for this new Coupons record, the whole concept, all the stuff, so it’s really awesome growing the roster of talented people and trying to let everyone express themselves in a way that they want to.
I guess there wasn’t really even a plan. Last February, Dan said to me, “Hey, let’s do another Coupons song.” Or he was like, me, Collin, and himself, “Let’s each write a Coupons song.” Then we got going, and it just happened, you know? We hit a creative period pretty hard. It was interesting too because Collin left the night after our first release show [laughs] and moved down to Nashville to go to med school, so it’s just very funny–Dan works for the state assembly, Collin is in med school, and I am doing DIY shows. Collin doesn’t live in Nashville currently, but it’s a band that, in a way, doesn’t really make any sense. [laughs]
We just decided, “Oh, let’s make a record,” and then–you know, I’ve known Jake [Sulzer] here for a while because I do some work for Prince Daddy & the Hyena, so I sent Jake the record, and–this has just been the craziest thing. I feel like we’re playing with house money, you know what I’m saying? Like, we made a record I’m really proud of, but to have the support of CI is a dream come true, frankly. It feels very validating after years of work–that never needed to be validated. It’s not like we were sitting around upset that we didn’t have anything like this, but to have this happen was surprising. It felt incredible. I got, like, tunnel vision when he texted me and he was like, “We should just put it out.” I literally was like, “Holy shit.”
Just so I don’t forget to mention it, Scoops Dardaris, who produced the record and engineered a large portion of the record–this record wouldn’t have gotten picked up if it wasn’t for him. He did Cosmic Thrill Seekers from Prince Daddy, he did the Diva Sweetly record, there’s a new Another Michael record that’s going to come out and blow the fuck up because of–well, because of how great Another Michael is, but also, he’s fantastic.
You mentioned that at the start of this process, the idea was that you would each write a song. How does the final track list break down in terms of songwriting?
It’s six Dan, six Collin, and three me.
What was it like bringing your own songwriting voice into this record, versus the first one where it had been more of a Collin and Dan thing?
It was cool. I’ve always been saying that I was going to do this, and I never did because I don’t think I felt confidently about my own writing or how I sang. I mean, I’m old. [laughs] I’m like, 32 years old, you know? So it is kind of funny that it took me a while to feel like I had the confidence or the legs to do this, and it was a cool exercise. The song “Ansel” I wrote for my friend who passed away, and that was all me–I just wrote it in, like, 15 minutes. Dan LaFave helped me with ”I Wanted,” which is like, I would call it a pretty poppy, rocker kind of jam, a little punky. He helped me punch it up because I wasn’t feeling super confident about some of the lyrics, and he was like, “Oh, switch this word” and “switch that word” and stuff.
And then the hidden track, the lyrics were written actually by our drummer Dylan. He wrote this mini-essay about how as we move forward, no one really owns anything anymore. We used to own and cherish shit that we–you know, having a mix CD, I defended that shit endlessly. I was like, “This is my shit, and I bought it” or “I made it,” you know? And now we don’t really own anything, but, you know, everything you love is also borrowed throughout your entire life and can be gone in an instant anyway. He wrote this cool essay about that and then kind of wrote a little song, but didn’t have any music. He sent us a voice memo of him kind of hitting his chest and singing it, and I took the music to it.
It felt cool for me because I feel like I got like an exercise in working with people. Because, you know, one of the songs is only me, and that’s “Ansel”–Molly Germer, who plays violin for Alex G, she put violin on it, and she crushed it. Scoops kind of laced up the Molly thing, and I think that really helped that song. But to finish what I was saying, I think I got an exercise in a bunch of different styles of songwriting, whether it be all alone, having someone punch it up, or taking someone’s material and adding music to it. I thought it was a cool way to add some–you know, it’s definitely some different stuff on this record. It sounds like Coupons, but it definitely doesn’t sound like 14 of the same song, I’ll say that. [laughs]
[Coupons] produced this record along with Scoops, and as somebody who engineers records for other people, what was that like for you? What has recording other people’s music taught you about what you want from your own music?
It’s just such a long game, you know? There are people like Scoops, and he has an immense base of knowledge because he went to school for it, but also, he knows what good music is, which–recording engineers are, bar none, one of the most ridiculous groups of people on the planet. It’s an insufferable squad of people, a lot of them, because it’s just–they’re boring, know-it-all dickheads, and Scoops is not that.
Trying to find someone to learn from and grow with is tough because a lot of people are pretty talentless. You look at the studios around, and you’ll be like, “Wow, you’ve never made a compelling piece of art,” and I feel like that’s the whole point of this, is to capture something. I’m not saying I’ll be winning a Grammy ever, but I do feel strongly about the record that I’ve made, and I feel like there’s some art involved in that. I feel like with every record that you make, you pull something from it, you learn something new. I’ve been doing this for a while now, I think that they sound better and better every time I do it, but it’s cool working with somebody like Scoops because he’s just good at it, you know?
It was cool collabing, and again, I do not want to overstate my involvement with recording this record. This record was predominantly engineered by Scoops. I did a solid amount of tracking at my house–guitars, my vocals, you know, Dan LaFave–but the foundational elements of this record are excellent due to the fact that Scoops laid a foundation that I could track guitars over, and he mixed it.
There are songs like “Expectations and Plans” that just, it was a great song, but we were kind of concept-less. It’s one of my favorite jams on the record because Scoops was like, “Hold my fuckin’ beer. Check this out.” He added those crazy synths to “Hard Candy.” These songs were always good songs because Dan really went after it and he’s a great songwriter, but Scoops was able to really lace this up. Scoops is the reason that “Curser” is so good and is such a Kasey Musgraves-y summertime jam. He just killed it.
That’s such a fun reference point for that song that I wouldn’t have picked up on, but now that you say it, absolutely.
We were thinking Musgraves and Traveling Wilburys. We were like, “That’s what we want. We want the soft 12-string guitars. We want a bed that these vocals can lay in and we want it to be summery and we want it to be fun.” Whether we got it or not, that can be debated, but that was what we were going for.
Frankly, it was kind of nuts. I was the facilitator, I guess, of this record coming together in the sense of, I had access to this great studio near Albany, New York called Soundcheck Republic, and I set up for these weekends that we could be there. We tried to get as much as we possibly could. We got “90’s Kids,” “Moz Disco,” “I Wanted,” “Curser,” “Synesthesia,” “Ansel,” “Comatose,” “The Beginning,” “Tongues,” and “Cars (Part 2)” all done, drum-wise, there. “Tired,” “Expectations and Plans,” “Don’t Let Me,” and “Hard Candy” were songs that were added after we did that initial session, and we tracked those drums at my house. I played drums on “Tired” and “Don’t Let Me,” which is kind of funny because “Don’t Let Me” is a song that’s just me and Dan and “Tired” is a song that’s just me and Collin.
Collin was in Philly at the time, and that’s where Scoops lives, and Scoops works at Headroom. So I think Collin did some vocals, maybe a little bit of guitar, I think some synths at Headroom. It was just, like, a day, but we wanted to make sure that–you know, one, it’s a sick studio, so we want to mention it, and also it deserves to get mentioned because we tracked there.
But yeah, pulling it all together–I mean, this was like a race. I always put my band members in these pressure cooker situations, which yield, I think, good results because you turn the heat up a little bit, and we only had a certain amount of time to get this. Scoops is such a G, and Dylan’s so solid that we were like, “Okay, we can get these drums in this weekend. Okay, it’s really important that we use this specific, really nice vocal microphone on Collin’s voice for ‘Curser.’” We mapped this out. We had these resources, but we only had it for a certain amount of time–I mean, which is how studio recording goes. It’s so funny, I’m like, “Listen, we could only be in the studio for–get this–a certain amount of time.” [laughs] But it wasn’t even because of money. There was just only so much time we could be there. “Scoops, Collin has to get back to med school, Dylan’s got to go back to New York,” blah blah blah blah.
So we’re just kind of frantically doing this, and I believe that Dan felt slightly–it was one of these, like, “Okay, Collin’s got mad songs. I’m doing more songs.” Not like a competition, but I think he just was like, “I can do more songs. I have these songs, let’s do them.” I was concerned about tracking drums at my house, if it would work, but luckily, LaFave-style songs don’t need the poppy sheen that Collin’s do. But also, I mean, we did “Tired” [written by Collin] in, like, one day. We’d tracked all those songs, then Dan did those other three, as in “Expectations and Plans,” “Hard Candy,” and “Don’t Let Me,” and I think that Collin was answering that–because then Dan had six and Collin had five. Collin could have held onto “Tired” and that could have been one of the new demos, but I think he wanted to even it up and make it six and six.
And “Tired” ended up giving you the album title.
Yes, which is exactly correct, that I completely forgot about. [laughs] We almost called the album Varsity Cheer, which is a lyric from “I Wanted,” but we thought that that invoked too many specific pieces of imagery. I mean, I didn’t [laughs] but we picked Up & Up, which I think is cool.
What was the thinking behind that title?
I think it’s a little tongue-in-cheek. We released this feeling like–I mean, everyone feels like they’re aging. When you’re 25, you feel like you’re 40, but when you’re 30, you really feel like you’re dead sometimes, so I think we sarcastically named it Up & Up in the sense of like, “We’re on the up and up, man!” It’s funny now with the CI stamp of approval, which is funny too because that’s a pretty youthful label, but now it’s not as tongue-in-cheek. We do feel as though we have a boost and are feeling like we are on the up and up, which is nice, but it was kind of sarcastic, from what I remember. Again, make sure to mention that you spoke with only me, and that I might be incorrect, but I believe we named it a little tongue-in-cheeky.
So–being a band that is kind of scattered, and also with the outside world being what it is right now, how are you planning to celebrate the album coming out?
I don’t even know, frankly. I would love to do a show, but things are obviously weird. We do have a live video from–we did a show at my house literally the weekend before everything shut down. It’s so funny, I remember the dates. We did it on the seventh. The 10th, I booked Great Grandpa to play at my house.
Yeah, fuckin’–right? The 11th, I left for the Prince Daddy tour, and that night it was announced that the NBA was shutting down and Tom Hanks had it. I was like, “Oh no.” By fucking Friday, it was all over. No Great Grandpa show, no more Coupons shows, no P-Daddy tour. I would say that I don’t have any plans other than, we want people to check out the record. I want to say that I’m going to be able to get people up here for us to do a livestream or something, but also, I don’t really love that shit anyway, so I frankly am waiting with fuckin’ excitement for a year to go by, have things hopefully be chiller, and then to absolutely rock the fuck out somewhere proper.
This isn’t against anybody that likes to do this stuff. If you’re livestreaming, fuckin’, I love you. Go for it. But I personally, and I think the rest of the band feels similarly, where they’re like, “We’re going to bust our ass remembering [laughs] all these fucking songs to do a livestream?” I’d rather keep working on new music and then when we can actually celebrate this release, do a packed-ass show with all of our friends, and burn it to the fucking ground. That’s the only way that I want to do this, personally.
So for the album coming out, I just want people to listen to it, and love it, and talk about it, and, I don’t know, put it on their stereo and fuckin’ blast it–like, that’s how I plan to celebrate the release. I’m going to put on my vinyl copy of the record on September 4 and fuckin’ crank that shit. I haven’t listened to it very often because I know that there’s only a few moments where I’ll really enjoy it. You only get a little bit of time with a record, especially if you spent so much time making it, so I’m holding off. But yeah, on the fourth, I’m just going to listen to it and be like, “Hell yeah.” [laughs]
What do you miss most about house shows?
Oh man. The stress, the annoyance of my gear breaking, my bathroom leaking–where do I even start? No, I’m just kidding. I miss the camaraderie. I miss seeing my friends. I miss rocking out. I miss playing house shows. I miss being a facilitator for art. I miss being a place where people can come and feel safe and feel good, and people can display their art.
Obviously, safety is not guaranteed in any place on this planet, unfortunately, but I like to think that this is a place where people can come and enjoy themselves and feel like they can express themselves via watching music or playing it–or even just sitting in the backyard because they feel stressed and anxious, but they went somewhere today, and that’s a good thing for them. Any of that is awesome, so I miss being a–I guess a facilitator for any good feelings or vibes that people have.
I’m pretty blessed to be in this space. I think that this is a legendary spot, and I’m waiting with excitement and readiness for shows to come back so that we can do some proper shit here. Like, I had a fuckin’ spring and a half set up, and it just is not happening, so I’m like, “Alright, this is what it is. It’s fine. We will wait.” My gear is being used to record music, but my PA speakers are going largely unplayed. Maybe that’s what I’ll do–I’ll listen to the record on my PA in the basement like some weirdo. [laughs]
Put it on in the basement, stand upstairs, and drink a beer.
Yeah, that’s exactly what I’m talking about.