Interview with Lionize’s Henry Upton: “If the crowd can’t sing a riff back to you, you’re not playing the right thing.”

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Maryland rockers Lionize make their Bloodstock debut shortly after appearing at the polar opposite Ramblin’ Man Fair, distributing their contagious and wonderfully versatile set to a crowd that welcome musical diversity with open arms. Undoubtedly carrying the great weather with him, bassist Henry Upton stopped by the Epiphone tour bus for a chat with Rock Sins just before they head to set up for the night ahead.

So Henry, how did a band as versatile as Lionize come into being?

“We just wanted to play all the music we liked listening to and the music we liked listening to was metal, riff rock, funk, reggae, blues, go-go and all of those things. We’d just write songs and figure out the best way to play those songs, there was never really an intent to be genre specific besides playing what we liked. It would be very boring for us to write the same record every time so we just follow the tune and see what happens.”

When you’ve got people like Gene Simmons telling you rock is dead, how does that feel?

“I have no comment on Gene Simmons except that he’s a great coffin salesman.”

So that Blindness to Danger video was all shot on an iPhone 7, how did that happen?

“Our director was this guy called Nate Martinez who we knew through the band Ozomatli and he just basically told us he could do it all with that iPhone and it looked so good that when we did the test shots, we were like ‘fuck it let’s do that’.”

What’s it like being in the same room as the Almighty Sheik?

“We’re lucky enough to be pals with Almighty Sheik, we met him through Clutch because he’s a big Clutch fan. We had the idea to have this video of big guy versus small guy, then make the beginning of the video a whole Rocky montage making you think this little guy is gonna win and then he gets thoroughly destroyed. That eventually became Nate (Bergman, vocals and lead guitar) as the little guy and we needed someone to beat the shit out of Nate, so we thought of the Sheik and he was immediately down to come out from California and shoot it. We did it in like a day and a half, it was quick. He’s the sweetest, nicest guy and that video really wouldn’t have come off without the Sheik.”

That song is the most contagious thing we’ve heard in a while. How do you go about writing something that contagious, do you do it on purpose?

“We absolutely do it on purpose, our writing process is generally focused on three things – melody, instrumental hooks and groove – then you worry about the arrangement later. But obviously the idea is to have a catchy hook and an instrumental chorus, that’s coming from all the funk and reggae we listen to, just as it’s coming from Thin Lizzy and all those guitar riff bands we love. My idea is if you can’t sing it, it’s wrong. There’s a time to play a thousand notes and that’s cool, but if you can’t sing it back to a band, you’re not playing the right thing.”

Is that a reflection on the rest of the new album Nuclear Soul then?

“Definitely, that was entirely the compass point for the rest of the songs. We finished recording it in January and we’d finished writing the songs by fall of last year but we never stop writing. It’s just a matter of how much pre-production you’re gonna do, how much you’re gonna beat the shit out of those songs until you put them out. It’s very much the shark life, if you stop moving, you’ll die.”

You sound like the kind of guys to go all in with tour pranks, right?

“We don’t go for tour pranks as much as tour memes. I don’t even mean memes as in the internet sense but there’ll always be a handful of running jokes and made-up in lieu of physical pranks. If you’re friends with a band, you start rewriting lyrics to their songs that would be hilarious and you sing it to them and you start singing the most juvenile, moronic words. It’s not very funny if you explain it to someone else though, you sound like a complete imbecile. When you’re with the same people for a month and you hear the same songs every single day, it suddenly becomes really funny to make up their songs, it’s funny even for the hundredth time.”

What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen in a Lionize crowd so far?

“We’ve been lucky enough to play in Greece a bunch of times because of our friends in Planet of Zeus, we instantly fell in love with them on a personal level. Through playing with them, we got to play this Los Almiros Festival in Kouri Forest in 2015 and there were about 8,000 people there. At some point while we were playing, there were these guys at the front setting off road flares and running around with these flares. That’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen while we were playing – the Greeks know how to have a good time, they have an endless appetite for fun no matter what kind.”

The fans save you from the boredom of touring, right?

“Oh you get bored a lot, touring is always about hurrying up and waiting. Stay here until you have to do something then get the fuck out, then you have to wait around for the next time you have to do something. There are very few times when you get to chill out and hang out. When you get home after a tour, you have to get used to the feeling that you have nowhere to go. On a whole tour, there’s always a next place to go, a next thing to do, but the idea to just stay still is very weird.”

Do you have any really dedicated fans that bring you presents?

“We really do, a couple of them are here in the UK too. One of them is Rachel from Glasgow and when we played there once, she bought fifteen tickets and just gave them to people and insisted they come to see us. She even gives everyone little gifts every time she comes to our show. One time she found out I was a big sci-fi person and she makes jewellery, so she makes me keychains of the Millennium Falcon, Slave I which is Boba Fett’s ship, and the last one she gave me was the Terminator T-1000 skull on a keychain. There are a handful of fans that are just so nice that I don’t quite know how to react. I’m not good at projecting gratitude, I’m a grumpy fuck! I feel it but I’m not used to processing those emotions into the neurons in my face. Those people make all this work really worthwhile.”

Being a sci-fi fan, are you a collector?

“I’m not a big collector besides comic books and I love sci-fi art. I like to find sci-fi works of art and put them all up in my house. I collected comic books as a kid and I now simply don’t have the time or the money to keep going, but I still buy the odd one here and there and I re-read the ones I had as a kid. You go back to it and you sort of remember what happens but you don’t at the same time, so you’re still wondering what’s going to happen next.”

So finally, this set later today is your first time at Bloodstock, do you know what to expect yet?

“Not really, I’m just hoping it rains at about 7.45pm so everyone runs into our tent! I specialise in having no expectations, I just focus on doing my thing that I want to do and if everybody’s not into it, there’s nothing I can do about it. If everyone loves it, that’s great too. You’ve just gotta do what you’re gonna do and I think it’ll go fucking great.”

Lionize’s new album Nuclear Soul is due for release on 8th September via The End Records.

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