A year after their debut, UgLi is raising the bar in the Philly scene - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart

New Jersey basement rockers UgLi have been at the top of a long list of local bands I need to see whenever they play Philadelphia. Their history is brief, but their body of work is dynamic, and their live performance is electrifying. The band’s debut LP Fuck, a name that’s a protest in itself, is equal parts rewarding and challenging, with songwriter Dylyn Durante’s gift for recognizing and distilling her own nuanced emotions into poetry bolstered by a team of musicians – Andrew Iannarelli (guitar), Lucas Gisonti (bass), and Teddy Paullin (drums) – from a range of professional backgrounds. Fuck fits the canon of what a perfect record should be: it has fast and slow moments, transitions thoughtfully into different moods, and reveals more upon each repeat listening. Even more, it’s available to own on vinyl, thanks to new label Terrapin Records, who made printing Fuck their maiden voyage.

UgLi started as Durante’s outfit of childhood friends in 2018, but found a more permanent lineup in early 2020, just weeks before the first shutdown. “We had four practices, then COVID hit,” Gisonti tells me on a group Zoom with the band. While the ironic timing might have felt like a stroke of bad luck, the band was determined to play. “We all knew that if you wanted to be serious about your art, that you have to keep going through this,” says Paullin. “I was in another band at the time that kind of fizzled out during the pandemic because they didn’t want to keep playing.” When it was safe to gather again in small groups, UgLi bunkered down in the studio. They marathon-sessioned through their first full album, partly to prove to themselves how far they could go, but also, “There was nothing else to do,” said Durante, bluntly. 

All four members of UgLi come from different musical backgrounds, but were introduced through a tight-knit scene of players who shared bills and venues. “We were in a ‘soup of bands,’” says Paullin. Gisonti has the most formal training out of the band’s talented members, and surprised Durante in his audition by playing classical guitar. “I was like, ‘are you sure you want to try out for this band?’” she says. Iannarelli also felt the desire to play in a group that was different from anything he’d been a part of before. “After listening to the first EP, it was always the kind of music I wanted to play, very grungy.” When asked about her experience learning to play, Durante told me the story of a one-off lesson she took when she was 11 years-old from a sketchy music shop owner whose business was shut down for, well, peddling more than just instruments. “Other than that, everything has been either learning from interactions with other people or myself or the Internet or messing around,” she said. 

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Durante’s inspiration for her songs’ lyrics come from scattered experiences, all with heavy emotional weight. For instance, “Mourning Coffee” paints a portrait of grief from a year in Durante’s life burdened by significant loss, one after another after another in a confusing period of cosmic questioning. “House Pet,” on the other hand, mocks the traditional expectation of women as homemakers and comments on the decadence of comfortability. “Bad Egg,” Durante described to me, is about the unexpected challenges of life as a trans person after they’ve put in the work of coming out. For anyone who doesn’t know, “egg” is slang in the trans community for someone who doesn’t realize their gender identity until, one day, the egg “cracks.” “I came up with this idea that if the egg cracks, it could still be rotten on the inside,” said Durante. “I’d built up this idea of accomplishing this big burden in my life [of transitioning], and then everything would be like El Dorado and nothing would ever be wrong again. But after the dust settled, there were also a lot of internal things that I was dealing with that were outside of my transness, and just existed in me as a person. I tried to emphasize that in the song, you know, searching for this thing that seems great – and like, it is – but also realizing that there’s other components that you have to attend to.”

So, is it emotionally exhausting to relive the darker moments of her life on a regular basis? Or is performing these songs part of Durante’s coping process? “It’s a little bit of both,” she said. “I get those feelings in waves whether good or bad, but it always makes it sound better. It feels more raw, I guess.” And that’s the beauty of music, we agreed; it’s a vessel for emotion.

Bad Egg - UgLi (Unprecedented Sessions)

In the past year, only their first in the Philly music scene, UgLi hit some exciting milestones in their career. They played countless city venues, including every musician’s career highlights: Johnny Brenda’s and The First Unitarian Church. They pressed their music to vinyl with the help of a label. They established a loyal following, with one super fan even custom designing a face mask with Fuck’s album art. And they made some wonderful friendships in the scene. When we filmed last June’s episode of the Unprecedented Sessions, XPN’s live music session collaboration with Cherry-Veen Zine and Powercycle Productions, punk rockers Full Bush requested UgLi be the second band that night. It was the first time the friends from each band had seen each other in a while, with spikes in COVID cases rising. Later that year, the two bands would play Johnny Brenda’s with Kelsey Cork & the Swigs. Durante had nothing but good things to say about that evening. “I loved all the people who were there, I love the venue, I loved playing with Kelsey and Full Bush and I love both their bands.”

There’s a bright future ahead for UgLi, and it’s a good time to sign on as a fan. Brian Newell of Terrapin Records knew he was ready to invest in UgLi’s career within a week of hearing “Superball,” the only available single from the LP at the time. “I just knew the record was going to be something really special,” he says. For readers looking for that magical first impression, your next chance to catch UgLi live is at Ortlieb’s on June 2nd, with Lily McKown and (surprise!) Full Bush. 

“I want our shows to get more queer, as much as you can,” Durante tells me as we’re wrapping up our interview. “Don’t hold back when you come.” The queer community can be themselves at UgLi shows; that’s just the kind of audience they attract. “Please, please be gay as fuck when you come to the UgLi show. And have fun. We love XPN and we fucking love Philly.”

UgLi | photo by Jade Rodriguez

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