This article appears in AdHoc Issue 22. Download a PDF of the zine at this link, and look out for physical copies both at our shows and at record stores, bookstores, coffee shops, and community centers throughout the city. If you happen to live outside of New York, you may order a copy as well.
Nick Corbo apologizes that he’s the only member of LVL UP on the phone. “We typically try to get at least two people on, because everybody’s opinions want to be heard,” Corbo says. “So I can’t speak for everybody, but I can at least speak for myself.”
When we chat, Corbo is just coming off a few weeks of relative solitude, describing it as “an opportunity to get back to normal” after tour. But his reluctance to speak on behalf of bandmates Mike Caridi, Dave Benton, and Greg Rutkin is testament to their close bond, as musical co-conspirators and friends.
Thanks in part to the fact that Corbo, Caridi, and Benton all write and sing in equal amount, LVL UP is much more than the sum of its parts. There is no de-facto frontman or leader calling the shots. They’re a team.
LVL UP formed at SUNY Purchase and dropped their 2011 debut, Space Brothers, on Double Double Whammy, the label that Caridi and Benton launched their sophomore year. That album was originally intended to be a split cassette between the band—then featuring Caridi, Benton, and former drummer Ben Smith—and Corbo’s solo material, but instead they released it as one band. Rutkin would join the group slightly later, for LVL UP’s first show.
Though there may be a lot of cooks in the kitchen, LVL UP’s music—especially their 2016 LP, Return to Love, on Sub Pop—highlights the members’ common ground. Heavy, distorted guitars and reverb-soaked vocals reign supreme on Return to Love, with occasional nods to ‘90s lo-fi rock heroes like Built to Spill and Guided by Voices. But whether it’s Corbo’s slow-burning grunge-mumbler “Naked in the River With the Creator,” Caridi’s bruised-yet-buoyant “Pain,” or Benton’s Neutral Milk Hotel-adjacent Biblical meditation “Hidden Driver,” it still all sounds like LVL UP.
Gearing up to reunite with the band for a short fall tour, Corbo spoke to AdHoc about what happens when a rock band grows up—and what happens when you grow up in a rock band.