By Morgan James
Rob Lawrence has a spirited nature, striving to enjoy the adventure of life itself, volunteering for causes near and dear to him, and self-expression through his music. Lawrence displays his big heart playing music for various charities supporting causes from Animals to Autism. If asked to give of his time, talents, or expertise, Lawrence is always the first to step up. Music is his profound passion however, and it is through music that Lawrence has found his peace. Lawrence has created his place in the music scene here in the Coachella Valley through his strong relationships. His unassuming, cool aura speaks volumes to his character. I spoke with Lawrence as his band Upper Class Poverty heads into the studio to work on their first album.
MJ: Tell me how you found music and about your background in it?
RL: “I am a self-taught guitarist/singer. I’ve played in bands since high school spanning from South Jersey to Tacoma, WA to the Coachella Valley. I love all genres and although I currently front a punk rock band, you will get a lot more diversity out of my solo acoustic performances. I’m currently the singer/guitar player for Upper Class Poverty. My drummer (Corwin Hendricks) and I have been playing together since I moved here in April of 2010. We were introduced by my sister before I really knew anyone in the valley. We got together, jammed out a few songs that I had previously written prior to moving here and the rest is history. We decided to go by Sol Jah Rock. We had an alternative/reggae/rock vibe. We were keeping an eye out for a bass player when a mutual friend at a party (Colten Tryon) said he wanted to play with us. We asked how long he’d been playing and he said ‘Well, I’ve never played, but I can get a bass and amp and I’ll figure it out.’ Low and behold he showed up at my house the next day with a bass and an amp…we taught him the basics over just a few practices and he became our bass player for the next 2 years…and a pretty decent one at that. We ended up losing our rehearsal spot in 2012 when I moved into a smaller place. We never ended up figuring it out from there, unfortunately. I played solo gigs for the next couple years until Corwin and I formed Upper Class Poverty in early 2014. We wanted to focus on a punk rock sound and got to writing with our new bass player Chaz Shapiro. Songs started to flow freely and we were playing gigs within a couple of months. Chaz has since moved to Lake Tahoe and has been replaced by Corwin’s brother Mikey Hendricks. It’s been a great fit and the vibe is exactly what we have been going for. We are currently getting started on our first studio album and will continue to book gigs as we record. We are very stoked for the future!”
MJ: Your music is contains politically charged and passionate lyrics. What issues do you write about that have meaning to you?
RL: “I write about a lot of things. I think punk rock has always been a politically charged genre and I feel that music is a great platform to talk about matters that affect our world as a whole. I try to stay away from taking political sides and focus more on specific situations and examples of things that I feel can and should be paid attention too. I talk a lot about corporate greed and the unquenchable thirst we see for money and power on a daily basis. I’ve worked in the corporate world for a majority of my life and many of my lyrics come from first-hand experience. That being said, listening to UCP, you will find that we expand into self-awareness, past relationships, past friendships, future goals…basically if I have to really dig deep and think while I’m writing my lyrics then I hope that these lyrics will be something that will allow our fans to think as well.”
MJ: Tell me why the desert is important to you as an influence and what you love about the music scene and people involved with the scene out here?
RL: “I have played in a few different music scenes. The Coachella Valley is by far my favorite. The camaraderie here is unparalleled from what I have seen in the past. For the most part everyone wants to see each other succeed. I was born here but left when I was 7. Throughout my music career I always wanted to end up back here playing music. I’ve always loved the desert but I had no clue what was in store in terms of the people I would meet and the friendships I would build. As much as I love to play out of town, this valley will always feel more like home than anywhere else I’ve been…I feel extremely fortunate.”
MJ: What projects have you been involved in and shows have you performed in that you are especially proud of?
RL: “I’m proud of every project I have ever been a part of. Sol Jah Rock was an amazing way to enter this music scene. And Upper Class Poverty is everything I dreamed it would be. There are a few shows, however, that I can definitely say stick out in my mind that I am extremely proud to have been a part of. I love playing benefits. I love the fact that what we do as musicians can directly help a cause. And I have been lucky enough to be a part of an annual Autism Benefit put on by my good friend Josh Heinz. He works his ass off every year putting it together and it feels great to be invited to participate. (I will be playing again this year the weekend of Nov 18th at Tack Room Tavern.) Another huge weekend that sticks out to me was the End of the World festival for the closing of Schmidy’s Tavern. That show was the epitome of what our music scene is all about. The owners of that bar did so much for this community and just about every musician in the valley came together to let them know how much we appreciate them. Over 40 local bands played to give them the appropriate farewell. It was a powerful weekend to say the least.”
MJ: Looking to the future, where do you see your music headed in the next year?
RL: “Upper Class Poverty just began working on our first studio album. We are projecting a release around spring of 2017. Stay tuned to our Facebook page for updates and new material that may or may not be on the album. We plan to continue to gig while we record and I will have sporadic solo acoustic gigs in between (Next one is Sept 24th at La Quinta Brewery w Courtney Chambers).”
MJ: What is your outlook on your future in music? Is it something you are actively pursuing as a career, side career, or is it all in fun?
RL: “I intend on playing music till the day I die. Whether or not it is ever a full time gig, music has always been and will always be way more than that to me. It’s a form of self-therapy that I have never found a substitute for. And I just hope that I can share it with as many people as possible over my lifetime so that they might get to feel that same feeling I get from it. I aspire to help people feel…sometimes feelings they didn’t even know they had. It’s a pretty special thing we get to do as musicians and I’m thankful every day for it.”