Meet Uptown Drive!
We are super pumped to tell you guys about our new friends, Uptown Drive! If you haven't heard of this amazing band, you're about to! We've shot some weddings where these guys have been the entertainment, and they are incredible! We recently had the chance to interview Greg Williams, the founder of Uptown Drive. Read on for the full interview!
LB: What's your background?
Greg: I’m a music school nerd. I went to Indiana University and studied Jazz for Saxophone Performance. At the time I thought it would open some doors for me. It’s kind of a pointless degree to have, because no gig will ever ask you for a degree. I had the time of my life in school and I learned a lot, but at the end of the day, I ended up leaving school early because I had a gig opportunity in Orlando, Florida working with a party band. I about 20 years old then, playing for Disney and Universal on some pretty big stages. That’s really where I got my start. But after a few years of that, I just got burned out. Then, I had a friend who called me up and asked if I wanted to pursue an opportunity in Austin, Texas. Turns out, about two weeks before we were supposed to move to Austin, he got another opportunity and bailed on me. So I came out to Austin by myself 8 years ago and started waiting tables. I settled into a couple of gigs and was able to transition back into the music industry.
LB: How did the band get started?
Greg: About two and half years ago, I started this band because I had so much experience working with other people and their wedding bands. I was at the point where I felt like I could do it myself and put together my own band. I obviously enjoy the performance aspect, but I also really enjoy the management and booking side of it too. So starting this band was a really good fit for me.
LB: Tell us a little bit about each of the members of the band.
Greg: I’ll start with Quiesean. As a freelance musician, you are thrown into other bands next to other talented people all the time. When I first met Quiesean about 5 or 6 years ago, he just really made an impression on me. I thought in the back of my mind, if I was ever going to do something on my own, I should probably call this guy. I got his info back then, and we kept in touch. When I started Uptown Drive, he just happened to be in between bands, so it was a no brainer. Then there’s Angie, one of our singers. I wasn’t familiar with her, but she was in between projects when I called her. I had never met her, but she came highly recommended from a guy that I trust. When I heard her sing, I knew the search was over. She’s got pipes for days and has such a vibrant personality on stage. Jason, our lead guitar player, I met him while I was freelancing. He was so uniquely talented with his guitar chops and being able to double on keyboard. He was so good at dialing into songs and he’s just super nice and really easy to work with. He has the right mixture of talents and was perfect for this band. Johnny V, our bassist, I’ve known him for a really long time. We used to play in original bands together, and I never thought he’d be into trying a party band. I overlooked him at first, but then I went back and decided to ask him anyway. Sure enough, that was exactly what he was looking for at the time. He’s got amazing energy and a great feel on the bass. Michael, our drummer, he’s the kid of the band because he’s the youngest. I heard about him when he first came to Austin. He was playing in the band that was opening for us about 4 or 5 years ago, and he was driving in from Kerrville for every show. I knew he must be hungry to do music full time if he was willing to drive so far for so little money. He actually fell off my radar for a bit, but then came back on it when I had to call him in last minute for a gig. He came in and just completely knocked it out of the park with very limited time to study. I needed him to learn like 100 songs and he did it. He was actually the first person I thought of when I started the band, and it’s been a really great fit for him. Then there’s me. I play Saxophone, sing, and MC.
LB: Why a cover band vs. writing and playing your own music?
Greg: I’ve never considered myself an artist. I feel like there’s a difference between a working musician and an artist. I’ve always thought of myself as a working musician. When I went to school and I was playing jazz music, that’s essentially like being in a cover band because you’re playing other people’s songs. You get to improvise over them at times, but the songs belong to other people. When I went out and played jazz on my saxophone for my peers in college, they were like “oh cool, you can play.” Then I’d play a tune that was popular at the time, like Dave Matthews or John Mayer, and they’d be like, “Oh my gosh dude, you’re so good!” All they needed to do was hear something they could recognize. That’s when I figured it out. I hear music differently than other people, I think most musicians do. But the way you relate to your friends and contemporaries is by playing music they listen to. And that’s the way I chose to do it; it’s more fun. I don’t write my own music. I’ve never really enjoyed the poetry element of music or gotten into lyrics. I hear melodies and structure and the actual music. So for me, it was a good fit to have a cover band.
LB: That’s a great answer. I guess I never thought of it that way. I think people always assume musicians want to write their own stuff and be famous.
Greg: I was very fortunate. In 2013, I got picked up with Jason Mraz to do his international tour. I got to play in some of the coolest venues, on big stages, at music festivals. It was a total dream. Don’t get me wrong, I think if I had the chance to do something like that again versus playing at weddings and events, I think I would. I think anybody would because it’s a really unbelievable experience to be in a popular touring band. You get five star hotel accommodations, you get picked up at the airport, you feel like a total rockstar. That’s a pretty tough lifestyle to beat. And it was great to get the opportunity to experience that for a while. For most musicians, it would be a dream gig. So I have a lot of respect for people who are going for it. But ultimately, I’m very happy with what I do.
LB: What kind of events do you play?
Greg: Uptown Drive is a double-headed monster. I’ve integrated my live band karaoke technology into the band so we can not only play at events, but also offer Uptown Drive Interactive. This is great for corporate events, conferences, and festivals. I work with a lot of destination management companies and corporations, and even some private clients who use Uptown Drive Interactive. We also do weddings, obviously. We have one pretty much every Saturday. Weddings are awesome because I don’t know if any other vendor gets as much love as the band. The band gets the most love and we love it! But that also means we have a lot of responsibility. I do all the MC work, so I have to think about the event as a whole and how it will flow. There are so many details and timelines and there’s a lot to manage. So the love is well earned. The feeling of making a bride and groom’s day really special by having a party and getting everyone on the dance floor in celebration, that’s the best feeling. I’m single with no kids, so getting to go to a wedding every Saturday and share in someone else’s special day that they will never forget, it’s incredible. Because the band is such an integral part of the party, it’s really a unique experience for us.
LB: What is your favorite event to play?
Greg: My favorite event to play is the event that is going off without a hitch. I can get my rocks off at a corporate event if they are really going for it. Sometimes you get weddings where the audience isn’t really into it and you have to really focus on trying to make a great party. That doesn’t happen very often for us. At the end of the day, any event can fall short if the host didn’t choose the right entertainment for their audience. We’ve been in situations where we aren’t the right fit for the audience. For the most part, you just have to be prepared for anything. I always like to be prepared so I create set lists for all kinds of scenarios. That way, if something happens, we can take a left turn at any time and go a different direction and play a different style. I actually have a microphone on stage that only the band can hear, so when we need to do something crazy on the fly, we just do it.
LB: What do you think is unique about your band? What sets you apart from other cover bands?
Greg: The thing that stands us apart is a combination of musicianship and stage presence. Lots of times, you have bands that are using backing tracks so they don’t need musicianship. They literally just play an mp3 and dance around and lip sync. Then you see bands that are the other way around. They have amazing musicians, but they don’t move around much and engage the audience. I think that balance between musicianship and stage presence really makes us unique. And that is by design. Everyone was hand-picked to be in this band. What’s so great about the band is that everybody sings, except the drummer and bassist. So that gives us four pretty strong vocals, which is great for a party band because we can grab harmonies on just about everything and really fill out the sound. The other thing that sets us apart is our set list. We can do the traditional cover band stuff when we need to and play those cliche and overplayed wedding songs. But if I have my way, and we have a couple who is in sync with my musical vision, then they are going to enjoy our Motown, our Michael Jackson, our older pop stuff, our 90s R&B. I put a lot of time into 90s R&B because not a lot of bands are doing it and I feel like it’s so relevant for millennials and so much fun. We love doing a mixture of old stuff, but we are also trying to stay relevant and current. I want to be able to play the new hit songs and connect to the younger audience.
LB: You really did a great job choosing the variety of musicians that you have. It really allows you the freedom to play a variety of songs and do them well.
Greg: We often will come out of doing Michael Jackson and play something like “Wagon Wheel,” which is a completely different song. The point is, we want people to know from the get go that we are able to do a wide variety. I don’t want anyone to feel like they are alienated. For example, most people like Michael Jackson, but not everyone wants to get up and dance to it. It’s hard music to dance to, especially when they’re watching Quiesean do the moonwalk and they know they can’t do something like that. We always want to be able to play songs that are accessible so that we can get everyone in the audience involved.
Check out the video below for a little sneak peak of what this amazing band can do! To learn more, visit their website and show them some love on social media!