Duquesne-born band Uptown Woods releases new album

Sean Armstrong | Staff Writer

The Uptown Woods, a Jazz-Hip Hop fusion band that formed here at Duquesne University released an album called “Close Quarters” on Nov. 18. The band consists of Supplant, Garrett Shafer and Kassam Zaghab.

When asked about how the trio came together, Shafer explained that it largely stemmed from where the three were living at the time, “[T]he Uptown part of Pittsburgh.”

Shafer elaborated on how the individual band members actually met.

“Kind of how our group came about was all of us meeting up through different ways. Whether it was in class or extracurricular activities; we didn’t all live in the uptown,” Shafer said. “But there was actually a pretty heavy population of kids from the music school at Duquesne, Mary Pappert School, who lived in Uptown of Pittsburgh, and there were constantly … gatherings any night of the week. … [T]here were constant jam parties and gatherings where you could have anybody.”

According to Shafer, this would become crucial in the band’s name.

“Before we actually became the Uptown Woods — probably a year, a year or two back now figuring out our name, figuring out our voice — we were called just The Woods. We ended up just deciding to call it Uptown just because of where our vibes come from.”

The name has taken on a more personal meaning to the group since then, however. They explained that being in The Uptown part of Pittsburgh allowed them to meet various musicians at these larger venues.

“The woods has really meant two things for us specifically. Not just the obvious — being in nature and just being away from civilization, being away from the woods, not around people, not around society. But also, being in the Uptown of Pittsburgh, we were constantly finding ourselves jamming outside, jamming on the rooftop at the house we were at, at Van Bram. The woods kind of became this other meaning, other than the nature of being in this concrete — type jungle. Finding ourselves in tough situations where you might find yourself in the woods without resources, without money, just basic living essentials.”

The Uptown Woods still wouldn’t start to make music for awhile after that, Shafer said.

“We all started hanging on Van Bram at this one house. We were just hangin’ just playing music, jammin’ every night and it went from myself, Garrett, making instrumentals for Jim Supplant and … we just started getting all the musicians together, and we just started playing music and having the hip-hop and the rap on top of it.”

On their brand new album “Close Quarters,” Supplant talked about the specific meaning behind it and how it relates to the identity of The Uptown Woods: “The main inspiration behind that was when we all met up in Uptown, it was definitely a difficult time and everyone just knew the struggle. Uptown wasn’t the prettiest area, so it was kind of this sense of confinement, being locked into a spot and trying to break out of that conformist view. … [T]he one song, ‘If I May,’ one of the lyrics I wrote, it says, ‘Sometimes the tightest spaces make you find true greatness,’ and, like, that for me really [sets] the tone of the album.”

When asked about the group’s biggest inspiration, Shaffer said, “There’s definately a lot of people. It’s tough to really tie down one because regardless of what people say, and [with] a lot of what’s going on in the music industry right now, we definitely try to keep ourselves grounded, and humble and play and write things that come from our own soul…[S]omething we are really striving for in music isn’t to hear something and be like, ‘Wow’ that sounds great, that sounds dope, — and then…go and make something that sounds like that.”