The first musical gadget Richard Upchurch made was a gift for his four-year-old nephew — it was a simple wooden box with a button to record a sound, a button to play it back and a knob to speed up or slow down the audio .
“I call it anti-technology technology,” said Upchurch, who toured for years as a guitarist.
His nephew showed it to his teachers, who wanted to buy one, so Upchurch made five more. Over a decade later, Upchurch now makes the contracts full-time for his Dallas-based company, BrandNewNoise.
What started with an “old-school tape recorder concept in this playful box,” he said, now includes a range of handmade “experimental instruments,” including miniaturized pianos, harmonicas and xylophones, all of which have recording capabilities. The bestseller, Loopy Lou, runs $72.25, and resembles the toy he made his nephew those many years ago.
“People are like, ‘Who’s it for?’ And I was like, ‘Well, it’s for 4-year-olds and rock stars,’” says Upchurch, who opened a workshop for BrandNewNoise in Old East Dallas in 2017. “They’re kind of the same person. They’re curious, free minds.”
The list of rockstar clientele, indeed, is long. Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac and country star Brad Paisley all count themselves among Upchurch’s patrons. But why, when these A-list musicians have access to cutting-edge, industry-grade audio equipment?
“There’s a freedom and charm to the simplicity,” said Upchurch. “Yes, you can probably do this on your iPhone. But there’s something about the fact that what I make is singular in its use, and it sounds unique, and it’s tactile, and it’s immediate.”