It isn’t every day that a band from Malta seems all but destined to be perched atop the resurgence pile of hard rock and heavy metal that is happening all over the world, but that seems to be the case for Upper Lip.

This band, made up of Chris Portelli (vocals), Joseph Azzopardi (lead guitars and main songwriter), Paul Cini (rhythm guitar), Marcel Paul Grima (bass guitar), and Silvio Cini (drums), manages to encapsulate the howls of Axl Rose with the grit of power metal and the force of Led Zeppelin, and they are excited about their new release, “Deep Within.” The platter is being released on Pride And Joy Records out of Germany, and lead guitarist, Joseph Azzopardi, recently took the time to speak to Blasting News about everything from their new music to recording in the hallowed halls where Rammstein recorded, and even about guitars hidden in hay.

Blasting News: Today, bands have a hard time getting noticed and thus, getting signed. TikTok videos full of people attempting music over pre-fabricated loops tend to get most of the attention today. How did Upper Lip accomplish this feat in 2021?

Joseph Azzopardi: It happened via our manager, Nick Grima. He has connections all over and when we enrolled last December, he had another band, Jet Jaguar, and they were from Mexico. They were already signed to Pride & Joy Music. Our manager contacted another label, but due to the pandemic, they [the label] said, “[Upper Lip] are great, but we don’t want to risk it as much. You can not tour, you can not do this, because of the pandemic, you can not do that...”

So, Pride and Joy Records were interested in our merchandise, they were interested in us and it was quite subtle.

In 2021, there are no scouts for bands anymore and really no scouts in Malta, for sure. We are quite limited [by being from Malta] but the internet and marketing make it more truthful, I think. You have to be lucky for someone to hear your work. Maybe you were born in a big city with scouts and got lucky, but for us, we had to do it differently.

Listening to the music of Upper Lip, it can not be overlooked how some of the glam rock – in sound, not in look or appearance – has made it into the mix. One can hear a bit of Aerosmith or Faster Pussycat in some of the raunchy-sounding riffs. Many DJs and those in the scene have noticed recently that, at last, hip-hop seems to be losing a bit of steam, and rock and roll is proving, again, to be gaining ground. Are you seeing a comeback, as well?

I think that there is going to be a revival in both 70’s and 80’s rock.

I am a huge fan of Motley Crue, Guns And Roses, Aerosmith – who you mentioned – for sure. We have fun. As far as the makeup [which was popular at the time of those bands] we had done shows once a year with actually makeup [like the glam rock scene used to do] but I don’t think that we need to do it all of the time.

If you listen to Poison, Extreme, those bands were full of amazing musicians. They were really great musicians. If you listen to Whitesnake, oh, the solos were amazing. Yes, image is important but it all comes down to the songs. They were timeless in my opinion. Even “More Than Words...” [the Extreme ballad], I don’t know what they ate in the ’80s but they could shred! There was a shred movement, Ritchie Kotzen, Vinnie Moore, Paul Gilber for example...

really amazing guitarists like that. They could play the blues, they could play metal. Look at Alice Cooper. He always had an amazing guitarist.

Are there any past bands that members of Upper Lip have been in that listeners may wish to lookup?

When I was younger, I put in Led Zeppelin IV and decided that this is what I wanted to do. However, I used to play country music with Alfred Portelli, whose nickname was “Gozo Boy”, because he was from Gozo, born and raised there. I started playing in his daughter’s band called Free Fall and I replaced the guitarist for a show. I was only 16, and I was playing when the Gozo Boy heard me. I wasn’t interested in country music, at first. Soon, though, I began to listen to Chris Stapleton, and from then on, I became a fan and learned how to move and act on stage, I learned from him.

When things go haywire, you keep going, never look upset.

Sadly, the Gozo Boy died of cancer. I used to admire him so much because he would say, “Write your own music. Don’t be a copycat.” For me, I wrote a whole lot by myself and I learned so very much from him.

You recorded in the studio where greats such as Rammstein and Siouxsie And The Banshees recorded. What was that experience like?

There are all of those albums hung – I don’t know – platinum or whatever it is. I think that it is the most professional studio on the islands. I had been really looking forward on recording there for years. The producer, David Vella, was very patient with us and because we were really amateurs at recording.

We had never done it before and he was very patient with us, teaching us the ins and outs.

As touched on earlier, a listener’s ear will hear the harkenings of Guns N' Roses and similar bands in some of Upper Lip’s latest, “Deep Within,” but there is a punk and crossover side in this, too. Similar to when glam first began and those roots were quite clear, more so than in later times for the genre.

Well, at first, the sound on the single was WAY different. It had a long solo in the middle and it was removed. It took a different turn. It was made more compact and more groovy and we were bound to do it in a certain way. It is groovy and we found a different way of doing it. I found a riff and the melody and that is the most important thing for a song to me, that it grooves.

Oh no, a metal band with truncated solos?

[laughing] Only on that one. There are longer solos are on the CD, I promise.

The serious side

The video for “What Makes You Smile” with very, very moving. Preparing for this interview meant finding that song, and really, it leaves quite an impression on the listener.

I was kind of sad when I wrote that one. When you really feel like you have lost everything and are really sad, that is what the song is. You want to leave this Earth and you want to depart, one way or another.

It is kind of when you hit rock bottom, when a person hits rock bottom, they start to view the things in life that give [them] hope, courage, and make [them] alive. I wrote it when I was in Scotland and things didn’t work out with this friend of mine and I felt really sad and I wrote it on my phone.

It was really written on my phone.

When jamming, I said, “[I] have a song and we should record it.” We did the dual [with the vocals] and Chris, our other guitarist, does the counter. The song has a dual personality and we wanted to achieve that in the video. The clown, then, represents the state of mind that you are in. You are feeling down about something and the song says that the things which make you smile is what you need to think of during those times. I am no psychologist, you know, but ... even if you just look at the sky or your dog, or, something silly. When down, think about life and I believe that it works [to help ease the sadness].

The Upper Lip single, “Keep Going,” has quite a video, indeed.

There are more than few stunningly beautiful ladies in that one, to say the least. How did it come to be?

So the video was shot in Gozo and those girls who participated in the video, four are local. One is from Serbia and was our original guitarist's girlfriend. At 10 in the morning, they began drinking vodka, very early. They were dancing up and down the street and it was so crazy. It really was as crazy as the video shows.

The place we shot the video lead to a picturesque cave overlooking one of the most beautiful beaches in Gozo. While we were shooting the film a taxi passed by with some tourists and the girls jumped on the hood of the taxi. The taxi driver was so angry, he wanted to kill them (metaphorically), but they won him over with their charm.

It made the shoot fun and that shows in the final result. It is unmotivating to see people on a set who don’t feel like doing it, but these guys (laughs)... dancing and fun. What else do you need?

Speaking of things going "Hay"wire...

My famous last question; is there any question that an interviewer has not asked you that you think that they should?

Something related to guitars. I use Gibson. I have five or six already. My main guitar is a Gibson SG. It has made me so impressed when I am playing it, I love it.

Well, I had asked my uncle in Southampton (England), to get the guitar. I told him, “I will send you a photo of the Gibson SG,” and he bought it for me. Emanuel, that is his name, he was so afraid that it would get stolen that he hid it in a pile of hay.

Crime is so bad there, he felt that it was the only way to keep it safe!

Well, I remember, he wrapped it like a kids gift, yes, but the night before [I got the guitar], you won’t believe it... I had a nightmare that it was a broom and not a guitar in the case! There was straw coming out of it from being in the hay.

It was hidden and it gave me nightmares [laughing hard] He did it to hide it from shady people. They know that Gibson is a good guitar and they would break it in.

That is the kind of perfect answer which that famous last question was crafted for, to say the very least.

After the call concluded, it seemed like a good time to once again give Upper Lip’s new single, “Keep Going,” another listen.

This time, taking special note of the tipsy actresses who had a blast (and a few shots) as well the nightmare-inducing guitar which had to be hidden from would-be bandits in order to ever make the shoot.

Certainly, that kind of thing proves that Upper Lip is the needle in the proverbial haystack, ready to take the music world by storm from the tiny islands of Malta.