Artist Profile: The Upstairs District

The Greenfield natives – with the exception of Sen – discuss the transition from Raspberry Jam, finding their footing in the UMass music scene and never sacrificing their integrity

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Astghik Dion / Daily Collegian

By Astghik Dion, Arts Editor

Milou Rigollaud’s parents had an attic where he and his high school friends could escape to and create noise – an upstairs district of creative sorts. Although perfectly fitting with the narrative of how the band was born, Greenfield natives, The Upstairs District, received their name from a Reddit random username generator rather than inspiration struck by the environment in which they would practice.

It was in that attic that Rigollaud was joined by Josh Gibson (bass), Mac Almeida (guitar) and later Casey Davey (drums) – all high school friends turned bandmates who made a tradition of practicing and writing songs every day after school. Originally coined ‘Raspberry Jam,’ the group has seen many transitions in band members since their 2015 conception.

When they initially joined forces, Almeida had been playing guitar since the ripe age of seven, meanwhile Rigollaud had never truly had practice with any instruments – yet his brother had a drum kit, and that was enough. Soon, the two boys made a routine out of creating commotion in the attic, despite a few missing ingredients in their calculated chaos. After switching out their initial temporary bassist – who had never touched a bass before – the duo recruited Gibson, who had been playing bass since the age of 12. Not long thereafter, Almeida’s younger sister joined the ranks as their lead vocalist. This would be the lineup for ‘Raspberry Jam’ for the next couple years, before their next large turnaround.

Astghik Dion / Daily Collegian

Almeida’s sister eventually vacated the band, leaving a lead vocalist-shaped hole in the group. Then enter Alouette Batteau (lead vocalist) and Rufus Seward (guitarist.) The group were now fully the Raspberry Jam that would go on to play shows at Gateway City Arts, Iron Horse Music Hall, various venues in New York City…etc.

However, Seward had to leave to attend college in Montreal, Batteau was intent on pursuing other avenues in her music career and the COVID-19 pandemic struck down with a mighty force, leaving the group in an uncomfortable hiatus limbo.

“We kind of thought that we were going to maybe start trying to tour, then COVID hit, and she [Batteau] also left our band and we decided to move on from that,” Almeida said. “We were dormant for a while, all of 2020 we were kind of non-existent.”

With two band members having left, a global pandemic repressing creation and the ever looming self-inflicted expectation to create something of novelty – Rigollaud knew all he could do, all he knew how to do in the moment, was merely to keep making music.

Initially after the split of Raspberry Jam, Rigollaud wrote music by himself but knew he needed and wanted a band to perform the music with.

“I thought it would be a great opportunity to play it with a bunch of people that I know are good at music,” Rigollaud said.

Slowly, The Upstairs District was reborn. Current members Gibson, Almeida, Davey and Rigollaud were still on the lookout for a keyboardist, eventually finding their match made-in-heaven during frisbee practice of fall 2021.

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Prithul Sen had never really played frisbee on a team, yet it was the start of his junior year, and he was looking to catch up on lost time from the pandemic – dipping his toes into every opportunity UMass had to offer.

“So, I went to frisbee, and haven’t been to a practice since then,” laughed Sen. “But that’s how I met these guys, they saw I had a keyboard in my car.”

Seeing that Sen could play the keyboard, the band immediately urged him to join the group at their next gig, which would be less than 24 hours later. After playing a few shows together, Sen was randomly introduced to mutual friends as the new keyboardist for the band – a natural induction of sorts that he may not have seen coming yet embraced with open arms.

The group noted that their most difficult transition from Raspberry Jam to The Upstairs District was not the pandemic, nor was it the acclimation of band dynamics with new members. Rather, it’s about not getting used to being the same band, with the same fanbase.

“COVID definitely had a role in putting the nail in the coffin for Raspberry Jam,” said Gibson. “But I think it’s more like – there’s so many people here. We aren’t THE thing. I think it’s more of just the transition of going into college.”

As a band in high school, the group could rely on their entire high school body to come out to their shows and show ample support. However, the Raspberry Jam veterans have since graduated and moved on to different places, leaving the band to fight tooth and nail in securing their spot within the competitive UMass music scene.

UMass has always been a hub for rough, grunge music – with big names such as The Pixies clawing their way to stardom. There is something exceptional about the Pioneer Valley that mirrors the cutthroat grunge scene of larger cities such as Seattle and Aberdeen, leaving the bands that enter the UMass music scene brutally competing for a chance to be heard.

“We are known as the ‘quiet band’,” laughs Rigollaud.

The Upstairs District does not care for branding themselves in a certain way that may attract more fans; nothing about the group is to be sacrificed in the name of grand appeal. Of course, when creating their songs, the quintet always has their audience in mind. They consider if the tempo is fast paced enough for people to dance to, they mull over which sound will get the best reaction from listeners – yet, maintaining their integrity in what THEY want to do is always the top priority.

“You write for the audience, but you also write for yourself,” Rigollaud said. “Because there’s not always going to be an audience, but you’re always going to be there.”

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This push and pull of writing for the audience, while also writing songs that feel rewarding is an experience that causes the band to hit brick walls occasionally. The group can sit down and write songs for people to dance to in under five minutes, a task far too easy for the band.

“I don’t feel like its engaging,” said Almeida. “If [the audience] listens to a song as a whole, they might think it’s fine. But, if they ever listened to my part, or any of the other parts, they’re gonna be like, that part’s kind of boring, it doesn’t do anything. But then… I don’t know, it depends on the song because some songs you don’t want to do anything.”

The group now uses this dilemma as a strength, mixing what they want to make with what they know the audience wants to hear to create something entirely new and interesting. At the end of the day, the band understands that it does not matter how good a song may sound — if it does not move the listener enough to listen to it on loop, it’s not a good song.

“I want to make music that someone listens to while NOT doing something,” said Almeida. “Like headphone music or campus walking music or while driving. Driving is serious music listening to me.”

The group never looks to make filler songs or create anything structured without emotions. For The Upstairs District life is about two things, the music, and how their music makes others feel.

“I forget a lot of the things that happened in my life,” said Sen. “But I remember the way that people made me feel, and I really hope that I just make everybody else feel happy, and good.”

To catch the group at their upcoming shows, keep an eye out for the release of new music and stay in tune with the band, follow them at @the.upstairs.district

Astghik Dion can be reached at [email protected]