Centre Stage: Upstarts


Alexandra Pullen (she/her) interviews campus band Upstarts about their debut single ‘When I Saw You’

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Image by Hannah Mitcheson

By Alexandra Pullen

Upstarts are a band who formed on the campus of the University of York in 2023. Since then, they have played at several events including a TV performance in the TFTI (Theatre, Film TV and IM) department and a couple of Band Soc’s ‘Meet and Jam’ events in The Lounge. Their most recent project, a debut single, named ‘When I Saw You’, was released on 15 March. I got to have a chat with Upstarts in D Bar, about their new release, some go-to karaoke songs and a lot of Johnny Marr!

Upon arrival, I was kindly given some Upstarts stickers, which I’m sure most people will have seen around campus, and we started with some introductions. First up, Tom Foreman who is the band’s lead singer but occasionally “gets on the guitar in rehearsals to play some shitty chords”, along with “the other Tom”, Tom Cashin who plays the drums as he said, “sometimes in time”. On guitar, we have James Littlefield and Mia Singh-Gelling who plays bass for Upstarts.

Muse - On your stickers, you say that you’re a band for “weddings, funerals and all occasions in between”. What would be the dream occasion or venue for you to play and why?

Tom F -“I think a really famous person’s funeral or wedding. Or at my own wedding actually!”

Tom C - “It would be quite cool to play the York Barbican you know.”

Muse - Where did the name Upstarts come from?

James - “The word Upstarts is a song by Johnny Marr, who was the guitarist for The Smiths  back in the ‘80s but now he does his own stuff. It’s one of his solo songs and I just thought it was a cool word; you don’t really hear it often or see it around that often.”

Tom F - “But crucially, he didn’t share that piece of information so we didn’t know it was a Johnny Marr song until about three weeks ago when Mia stumbled upon it. What we’re starting to learn about James is that a lot of his musical inspiration comes from Johnny Marr. The other week he whipped out a cover of ‘The Passenger’ by Iggy Pop but it was the Johnny Marr version.”

Muse - What inspired you all to form a band?

Tom C - “Well I lived with Tom last year, we moved out because we didn’t get on (just kidding) and I was pestering [him] all year to join a band with me but [he] was radio-ing all year. Then, this year we managed to. Me and James were already in a band and now we all know each other…and Mia keeps on turning up!”

Muse - With this debut single, named ‘When I Saw You’, what was the process of writing, producing and recording the song like?

James - “I stumbled upon the main riff or hook and then I basically got GarageBand up on my phone, as unprofessional as you can get, showed it to the rest of the band and we just played constantly. Everyone wrote their individual parts then out of nowhere it got faster.”

Muse - What are the inspirations behind the song lyrically?

Tom F - “Here we go! I knew this question would come along and it’s a bit embarrassing, isn’t it, writing about girls. But some people may know that the bassist in Upstarts is my girlfriend and I saw her one day last year while I was filming something and I thought “Wow! She’s really nice.” Since then, she’s cut her hair so it’s now wavy and short and she wears green flares so the first lyric was “wearing your flares with your wavy short hair” and that’s where the whole thing came from.”

Muse - Because it’s your debut single, did you feel any pressure to establish a sound? What impression did you want to make with this?

James - “I don’t think we felt the pressure as much I think because it came around so quickly and we were into the studio with one of the producers at the uni so quickly, we didn’t have that “oh my god” [feeling]. The impression that we want to make is to sound like something you’ve never heard before. I don’t want it to be penned into a certain genre or sound. It kind of is because it's indie but I don’t want it to be an Arctic Monkeys rip-off. I want it to have a lot of inspirations.”

Tom F - “Interestingly, in our rehearsals we play a lot of rock and punk, faster and more aggressive but then we came up with something which was more soft and flowing.”

Muse - If each of you had to pick an album or artist as an inspiration of what inspires this song or your general sound?

Tom F - “I’m a big Undertones fan, they wrote ‘Teenage Kicks’. I listen to a lot of those lyrics about teenagers running around and those types of feelings. The Beatles’ ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ and a lot of early Beatles songs where it’s about dancing with someone: I like that kind of thing. I think that’s where the lyrics came from and that’s the inspiration for me.”

Tom C - “My drumming is a lot more punk which is probably why I drag everyone into playing quite fast during practise so Travis Barker is probably my biggest inspiration. I like what he does and if you actually listen to [our] song it does sound more punk drumming rather than indie but it does blend well together.”

James - “I think from the guitar The Strokes are the biggest influence on the song for me. They’ve got a song, a really early B-side, which is called ‘When it Started’ and the guitar is very similar to that. I don’t think you’d hear it if you listened to the songs back to back but if you knew what the chords were it’s almost the same.”

Mia - “I’d say with bass I quite like more bouncy [sounds]. I like playing lots of different notes rather than just one note loads of times. I would say Blur or Harry Styles has underrated basslines too.”

Muse - What’s all of your go-to karaoke songs?

Tom F - “In first year I used to go to Glasshouse and I would sing ‘Hey Ya!’ (by Outkast) but I would sing all of the “lend me some sugar I am your neighbour” [parts] and I’d do it in a really strange voice.”

Tom C - “I’ve never had the confidence to do karaoke. Well, I’ve done it once and it was Michael Bublé so let’s go with that.”

James - “Beyoncé ‘Single Ladies’.” (which was met with an "ooo" by all!)

Mia - “I think the last time I did karaoke I was about ten and it was ‘I Love It’ by Charli XCX.”

Muse - Finally, what are the plans for the band in 2024?

Tom F - “Hopefully we will get something else out soon. I reckon maybe one more song and maybe a cover in the works for someone’s TV project soon hopefully so that’s what we’ve got in store!”

James - “One more song, maybe two if we can push it. I think gigs too, if we can do the uni Summer Ball that would be good when that comes along.”

Editor's Note: ‘When I Saw You’ is now available for streaming on Spotify and Apple Music. For more information on the band visit their Instagram page @upstartsband.