Upstate You Only Get a Few
Photo: Bridget Badore / Victory Lap Media

Americana’s Upstate Transform (Again!) in ‘You Only Get a Few’

Upstate’s You Only Get a Few pairs the unfamiliar discomfort of touring musicians surviving a pandemic – whose lives were already in flux – with the familiar.

You Only Get a Few
Royal Potato Family
31 March 2023

“Just don’t mistake the middle for the end” is a lyric from “Metaxy”, a song from Upstate‘s long-awaited album, You Only Get a Few. Metaxy is a word that translates to “middle ground” or “in-betweenness”.  While the line emanates comforting wisdom, it (not to mention the compelling groove) also highlights a theme coursing throughout the record: being in transition is a plentiful place.

Upstate’s You Only Get a Few was created truly collaboratively. Despite a time of upheaval, it was also recorded and released independently, signaling new incarnations and exciting artistic heights. While the name is a geographical region they all reside within (Hudson Valley), it brings to mind an upward striving. That’s what they play: upbeat reflections on the trials of life we don’t mind living in.

Upstate are a vibe that’s not afraid to refine itself. While they were once Upstate Rubdown, they are now solidly Upstate. Bassist Harry D’agostino defines Upstate as “between New York City and a ‘getaway’, an extended backyard, just far enough away to get a sense of otherness in a place that also feels familiar. This relates to the sweet spot we hit with the music; we have that musical balancing act between feeling familiar and wanting something that scratches an itch of the ‘other’.”

You Only Get a Few does just that: it pairs the unfamiliar discomfort of touring musicians surviving a pandemic – whose lives were already in flux – with the familiar. Upstate’s lineup shed layers to return to its three originating members, renewing family vibes. Female powerhouses Mary Webster and Melanie Glenn (on vocals and guitars) and upright bassist Harry D’Agostino (also on vocals, guitars, and pump organ) soon welcomed new member Dylan McKinstry. Dylan contributed vocals, guitars, mandolin, piano/synths, and pump organ and also became their engineer, joining Mary as co-producer. 

You Only Get a Few documents Upstate’s transitions, capturing pandemic pressure, existential angst, and its resulting possibilities and gifts. With the band and their personal lives changing, Dylan agrees that “nothing was certain long before the pandemic hit. So, in many ways, the collaborations were more raw, fast, and honest because we weren’t even sure there was a future for any of us.” Mary found these conditions a powerful “source of transformation because the stuckness brings about moments of reflection and honesty that then lead to wild creativity and understanding”. Upstate forged new sounds and a creative ethos Harry describes as being open: “Let’s see where it lands, let’s see where disparate techniques and being dispersed physically during quarantine can lead.” Luckily, Upstate already knew how to flow with unplanned events.

From that process, a new album gelled, full of songs blossoming from uncertainty and creative collaboration. Some came with ease or were complete, like “Patty’s Diner”, showcasing sweet guitars and harmonies, a consoling pump organ to soothe listeners, while its lyrics address the aftermath of grief. “Metataxy” was formed in pure collaboration with a tempo that rallies with an unforgettable bassline, keyboards, and lyrics flirting with famous figures in unredeemable situations. D’Agostino describes “Metaxy” as “a little prayer about the mystery and scandal of reconciliation and mercy in the world”.

Upstate’s hit from 2020, “Everything Changes”, was aging in rotation but now coaxes with repetition and wise rhythms that remind us that change is the only constant. Its sharp percussion contrasts with the clarinet to ensure it “speaks to a wider experience than an average love song”. According to D’Agostino, “I’ll Come Around” had been in shards that, when assembled, became a substrate for a “bluesy sort of honky-tonk piano” song that jumps with hope and resolve”. In “Auntie”, a vocal node setback is recounted, showing us the delicate nature of the throat, another “middle passage” thematically. The tone hurts with regret, bemoaning the hazards of the trade, but the vocals reign, supported by soothing clarinet and electric riffs. (Luckily, Upstate are known for having Healing abilities).

You Only Get a Few explores balancing acts and how deficits calibrate when life shakes us. No greater example of such middle-ground is relationships, and here they run the gamut from lovers to one’s self-love. “Befriend” was “born quickly”, weaving emotions that build via a slide guitar and percussive zing that probes alongside the lyrics: “You can look inside, look deep in at the ugly / And maybe you could befriend the enemy.” The vintage-afflicted opener, “Lovers and Friends”, dances with ideas that things aren’t what they seem, heightened by the influential spirits of Lucinda Williams and Tom Petty. “The wounds I’ve got are mine alone to mend / It’s a poverty of spirit / That settles every score.

Upstate You Only Get a Few
Photo: Bridget Badore / Victory Lap Media

“Sally” leaves broader questions unanswered: “Why do we suffer, love for one another/ and betray our lovers?” Originating in disparate pieces, “WYDFL” was caressed into a complete song about the failure of romantic timing. However complex in theme, it is simple in composition and tender in tone – all made inviting via its piano. “Catalpa” captures our relationship to time, the problem of memory, and events that pass but remain. Stripped vocals by Webster and Glenn allow the guitar a potency that emboldens the lyrical truths: “There’s no rewind on time. Only a memory, faded into history, the remnants of a fallen tree”.

You Only Get a Few further proves that Upstate can land themselves in a creative but stable state, no matter the disruption. Recorded at the Building in Marlboro, New York, and at Greenpoint Recording Collective, self-producing and engineering increased their freedom. Mary confirms that because they “produced it independently, we had no other opinions or perspectives other than our own. This allowed for whatever was going on in the heads and souls of the songwriters to be filter-free.” Indeed, Upstate can adapt.

Upstate also found footing by working with family: Mary’s infant son Oscar is on the song “WYDFL”, and Dylan flew to Minnesota to his father Steve Mckinstry’s Salmagundi Recording Studio, to track all of the Hammond B3, also played by McKinstry senior.

The title, You Only Get a Few, is wonderfully ambiguous, prompting listeners to ask: “A few what? Moments? Friends? Great loves?” Yet nothing here leaves listeners wondering. Upstate’s ever-evolving yet reliable Americana brand acknowledges life’s fragility and fleetingness. Upstate acknowledge that when they “write about their own aliveness, it’s likely that most people will be able to relate to it”. Because, as we’ve all learned collectively lately, the only constant is change. So, upon listening to Upsate’s latest, we are a little more alive for it.

RATING 8 / 10