I’ll be honest: I freaked out a bit when Brandon Hardesty messaged me the other week, asking if I wanted to listen to their new album and write a review. I knew it would be amazing, but how the hell was I supposed to put their genre-defyingly awesome music into words that could actually do it any real justice?
Words don’t do shit to describe what it feels like to rip a joint with a friend, take a swig of whiskey and sit back in stoney abandon listening to your favorite band’s new songs or what it’s like going through something tough and having a song brilliantly explain exactly how you feel. The emotions and feelings that music resonates with inside us weren’t made for words and my words will never do them justice.
And, that especially goes for a band with songwriting as lyrical and creative as Bumpin Uglies.
Instead, in this article, I’m mostly going to tell you the story about how this album came to be… not the literal process of recording it, but the immensely difficult and equally rewarding journey that this band has been on for over a decade to bring this masterpiece to you this September 16th.
Most of us only hear the music and don’t see the grueling tours, self doubt and incredible sacrifices that our favorite musicians make behind the scenes to bring us the soundtracks of our lives.
And, one more thing before jumping in here, please don’t just take my word for it: go pre-order this awesome tapestry of music from one of our favorite bands and enter their golden ticket giveaway contest.
The Early Days
In a way, this album started over a decade ago. After Brandon graduated high school, he was working in a restaurant and wondering what the hell he was going to do with the rest of his life. Like so many of us in our early twenties, he imagined there must be more to life than just spending your time working and doing shit you hate.
He had grown up around music and started playing guitar at 17, but the real turning point came when he began playing open mic nights and realized how much he loved the feeling of bringing music to people; it lined up perfectly with his search for finding more meaning and passion in life.
It’s a beautiful thing to find something you love and are good at, but as any musician knows, the initial excitement of pursuing your dreams quickly fades when reality sets in.
When I asked Brandon what one of the hardest parts of the band’s whole journey had been, he said that it was having no money and no support system when they started.
Try and wrap your head around what it’s like to pour every last cent you have into a tour where no one shows up or to put your heart and soul into an album that almost no one listens to. Then imagine looking those doubts in the face every day for years and still choosing to show up even though the future is completely uncertain. Or, imagine spending as much time on the road as you do with your own family; Brandon also mentioned the difficult, but important aspect of finding people who can not only commit to being away from their loved ones for long periods of time, but who are also able to manage close relationships with every other member of the band. I always used to say that being in a band is like being in separate marriages with every other member; it’s funny to joke about, but it’s also an actual reality of tour life that bands have to deal with.
Staying True to Who You Are
Honestly, one of my favorite parts about Bumpin Uglies is that they wear the truth on their sleeves; they’re not trying to be anything they’re not. If Brandon is feeling a love ballad, he writes it; if he’s feeling outlaw country, he writes that; if he’s feeling punk as fuck, he’ll throw down and get heavy; they are exactly who they want to be and everything about them reflects that — right down to their name.
In the early days, it’s tough enough for any band to get gigs and these guys stuck it out with their name, even after multiple venues and shows turned them down because of it. They knew who they were and they weren’t about to change for someone else, even if it meant missing out on opportunities when they really needed them. They cheerfully pour this sentiment out in a ska ripper on the new record called “Stupid Name”, which lets the world know, “We don’t fucking care!”
The same thing went for their taste in music: back when they started playing the type of music they do in Maryland, the only big scene for the style was in SoCal and it was immensely difficult to break through. However, they were able to take what many would look at as a limitation and turn it into a strength.
Brandon told me it really pushed them to form their own unique sound.
In fact, one of his favorite parts of the new album are all the features from bands they’re friends with on the east coast or in the midwest, where unique versions of the west coast scene have been growing exponentially.
This is in no small part due to the fact that bands like Bumpin Uglies have constantly been touring these areas for years, building and cultivating their own scene from the ground up. Brandon acknowledges the fact that their style didn’t land them on the fasttrack to success, even within the greater reggae-rock community; they didn’t make music that got them onto the biggest tours with the biggest bands, they made music that they wanted to make, for people they knew would love it.
“I think there’s a lot of great music coming out of this part of the country and I’m really proud to showcase it on this record,” states Hardesty. That’s why it makes me so happy seeing bands like Bumpin Uglies start to get the credit and success they deserve: if it’s not hard enough being in a band in general, it’s a special sort of hell for bands who try and build an entire scene from the ground up. Although this made the journey that much more difficult, it’s equally rewarding knowing that they’re following the path they believe in and doing things their way.
That blatant disregard for catering to the status quo is part of the reason they have one of the most passionate, diehard fan bases I’ve ever seen.
Referred to as Uglies Nation (of which I’m a proud member), I’ve seen more people driving six hours after a long day at work to catch the band in that group than any other. The band’s “no bullshit, this is who we are and we don’t give a shit if you like it or not” approach, has attracted the most genuine fans you can imagine.
Their musical style speaks to people who don’t want what the mainstream is pushing and don’t care for the endlessly replicated, cookie-cutter stuff that comes out of the ‘SoCal reggae’ style. At the end of the day, it may be harder to grow when you’re not doing what’s popular, but the people who make real innovations are the ones that try new things and don’t conform. This ultimately gives them the creative power to make their own seismic shifts in the ever-changing musical landscape.
It’s a Long, Tough, Beautiful Road
But, even as successful and far along in the journey as they are today, it still stands that no great piece of art is made without many sacrifices. Brandon told me how difficult it was to write and record this album during the year his second child Irene was born, as well as the loss of his father only three weeks later.
“In life, and specifically in the music industry, nothing ever stops, so slowing down wasn’t a realistic option,” continues Hardesty. “But, it was absolutely exhausting — both mentally and emotionally — trying to make this record while navigating a newborn, grief and a newly reopened touring industry. My wife Sophia is an absolute saint who managed to pick up a lot of the slack despite her own struggles with PPD (Post-Partum Depression).”
I guess this all kind of points to the fact that a musician’s journey is never done.
Hell, none of our journeys are. Great things in life come from taking risks, following your heart and working your ass off for the things and people you love.
The new Bumpin Uglies album Mid-Atlantic Dub is the culmination of over a decade of hard work, immense sacrifices and staying true to your own path, even when it’s not the easy thing to do. Every second of music on the record is born of the commitment these guys have to doing what they love and I hope you’ll be able to hear that when you listen to it.
True to form, they cover an extensive blend of styles and make each uniquely their own. It ranges from songs heavier on the reggae side of the spectrum like “Slow Burn” (featuring legend Jacob Hemphill of SOJA) and “Everything Changes” (featuring The Elovaters), to songs with more of a hip hop flavor like “You Don’t Gotta Die” and the brilliantly simple, heartbreakingly beautiful “One Day at a Time”.
One of my personal favorites on the album, “No Love”, injects the feelings of pursuing life as an artist into a catchy, lyrically clever rhythm; the piano pounds out a 90s, west coast hip hop style directly into a heavy drum beat and soul-bending arpeggiated guitar riff, and features the awesome flows of Brandon and Little Stranger (if you don’t know Little Stranger yet, do yourself a favor and check them out, as well — you’ll know soon enough). Another great collaboration called “Healthy Competition” features longtime friends Ballyhoo! and Tropidelic, and has an instantly memorable and infectiously catchy vibe, complete with horns and a soulful organ.
Every song on the rundown rings honest and heartfelt, and you can truly feel the energy the band put into every second of it. Much love to Brandon and the rest of the band for entrusting the opportunity to me to write an album review for them — I don’t take this opportunity lightly and am honored and humbled! Please make sure to go pre-order the new album now, available on all digital outlets as of this Friday, September 16th via Ineffable Music. You won’t be disappointed!
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Disclaimer: All views presented in this album review are those of the reviewer and not necessarily those of Top Shelf Music.