UPTOWN BOYBAND discuss their sound, bilingual music, and the Canadian music scene

CLUB UBB blends pop and trap to create a distinctive sound

These artists are embracing their identity and creating versatile music. Photo courtesy of Mimi Vuong

By: Michelle Young, News Editor

Editor’s note: Some of the answers below have been edited for length and clarity.

Toronto-based UPTOWN BOYBAND released their first album, CLUB UBB, on November 20. It’s a concept album that’s divided into two parts, HEARTTHROB and HEARTBREAK, and showcases the band’s musical versatility. 

Comprised of Roc Lee, Joe Rascal, and Justin Trash, the band has been releasing singles since early 2020 — like groovy and upbeat “SAILORMOON” and hard-hitting “CHUMCHURUM.”

The Peak had the opportunity to interview the band over Zoom to discuss their new album. 

The Peak: Why did you decide to break the album into two concepts? 

Justin: The album is inspired by K-pop music, and [in] K-pop, there are so many genres within each song: you can get a trap feel, you can get an EDM feel, a pop feel. For us, we really wanted to divide into pop and trap music because of our upbringing as musicians. When we were performing [ . . . ] we would start with a pop song, then just end the show with a full trap set. I think it was important for us to hit every aspect of trap music and every aspect of pop music to show that versatility. 

P: Adding onto the idea of versatility, what are your thoughts on genres? As a band, your sound has blended a lot of different genres together. Do you think genres will eventually fade away — or does it simply depend on the artist? 

Roc: I think it really depends on the artist, because not every artist is willing to be as experimental as we are. Like Justin mentioned before, we were influenced a lot by K-pop, and K-pop is famous for literally taking a lot of different sounds from all over the world and making them fit cohesively in one song. We really thought that was something we wanted to do with our music. We’ve always wanted to be different and to showcase our versatility.

Joe: I really think that every year, the music industry is always changing, and therefore, people are always coming up with new ways to express themselves because now the audience has new ways to find who to listen to. I feel like a lot of artists now are trying to be more personal [ . . . ] I feel artists now can express themselves more freely, hence why they can branch out with more genres. 

P: Do you have any specific sounds/genres you’d like to try or experiment with?

Justin: Well, we definitely won’t do country music. Over my dead body.

Joe: You know what, though, you never know. 

Justin: I know. 

P: Going off of that, do you ever clash on which sound you want during recording?

Roc: I think usually in sessions, we get along well and have a similar vision of what we want to sound like and the sounds we want to create. We also bring our individual strengths to the table — Justin’s really good at writing, Joe’s very good with that soul, the melody.

Justin: At the end of the day, if it sounds good, it sounds good.

P: What is your creative process like? Has COVID-19 changed the way you write and produce music?

Justin: Initially, when we originally recorded the first album, CLUB UBB, we had a simpler approach to it where someone would come up with the hook and we would kind of build around that concept. But now with [COVID-19] hitting, we still have that similar structure but more resources to use in terms of working and collaborating with other producers and writers. Now, we’re able to write for each other and we kind of get what sounds good with other things. 

P: Various artists of colour have commented on media placing emphasis on their identity instead of their music, however, you’ve spoken about embracing your Korean identity. What are your thoughts on placing emphasis on identity versus the creative process in interviews?

Justin: I feel like when we say we’re embracing our background, it comes from our upbringing — there are times where we’ve felt shameful about being who we are, but I guess what we’re actually embracing is more the identity of being Koreans living in Western culture and being raised in that with the same cultural discipline we get at home. But also when we go outside we have a total different experience, where maybe our non-Korean friends or [friends who aren’t people of colour] wouldn’t get.

Roc: And I also think it’s because we wanted to represent something bigger than music [ . . . ] We wanted to represent that [East] Asian culture, that upbringing, because we didn’t have a lot of role models growing up in Toronto and we haven’t seen a lot of Asian-Canadian and Asian-American artists doing well. I mean, now we have a lot of great artists coming up, but we wanted to represent that culture. 

P: Many Asian-Americans/Asian-Canadians have been putting out bilingual music. Do you plan to put out any Korean releases? Do you think multilingual music will eventually make its way to the mainstream music scene?

Roc: Even now you see K-pop songs getting number one, like BTS, Blackpink — and people have no idea what they’re saying.

Joe: Sound has been with us since the beginning at time, whether there was language or not, and it can sound good, and we’ll just love it because sonically it sounds good — so I think it doesn’t matter what language or culture you’re bringing up. It’s the sound of what you love to make. 

Justin: To answer your question though, yes, we’re really interested in doing it, and we’re planning on doing it on our second project. 

P: UBB has been dubbed as “an alternative” to K-pop is that something that you initiated or a label thrown onto you?

Justin: Hey, if that’s what they’re saying, that’s what we are. We’re totally open to the term “alternative K-pop” because the way we are taking our direction is we’re so heavily inspired by K-pop, but yet we’re not K-pop, right? We’re so heavily inspired by Western music, but we’re not fully there yet, so we’re taking the alternative route of the K-pop discipline, the musicality of both sides.  

P: What changes do you hope to see in the future Canadian music scene? 

Roc: I want to see more different types of languages incorporated in music and just having different cultural influences in Canadian music. I feel like it is very black and white with a lot of music that is coming out, and we hope to be a part of that change. 

P: Is there anything else you would like to say to our readers?

Justin: Go stream CLUB UBB. Stan us, stream us, follow us. Stay healthy, stay safe, wear a mask, don’t be an asshole. 

CLUB UBB is available on all streaming platforms. Follow Uptown Boyband on Twitter  and Instagram