Words by Mark Spero
I met the boys in Ne-Hi two years ago at a concert at Grinnell College in Grinnell Iowa, where they also played a house show and DJed a fantastic house party, so obviously I was very excited to get to interview them when the came through Rickshaw Stop on Tuesday, April 25. As the last band finished up soundcheck, we climbed up to the green room, where the walls are actually covered in band signatures (It is important to note that this room also has a vending machine that dispenses free beer). As we began talking about their tour, I brought up the Noisey article about the band, which called them “the Nicest Boys in the Midwest.”
“We can’t live that down,” said James Weir, the bassist for Ne-Hi. “We are trying to be known as the meanest boys in the world,” added Jason Balla. When I asked how he was creating this new image, he said “I am doing a lot of Harry Potter housing quizzes, and making sure I get Slytherin.”
The Bay Bridged: Do you still play many college show?
Michael Wells: We don’t do them that much right now. I can’t actually think of any other college shows. They are usually like “Come play and nobody will care.” They are nice for touring because they actually have money to pay you. But Grinnell was really into it and fun.
The Bay Bridged: As you have played bigger venues, have the crowds been more into it?
James Weir: This is kind of our first big headliner tour. We are really feeling the love.
MW: At least incrementally, with having a record out and having some press. With new cities, where people have heard of us and bring their friends, it’s great!
The Bay Bridged: How are you seeing this as a change from your Chicago DIY roots?
JW: Growing up we starting touring the basements, touring the houses, and that was great! But we are transitioning.
MW: Both are great. One is more interactive, but one actually has a sound system.
JW: And one is more sustainable. You can actually make a living.
The Bay Bridged: Did you write the new album with bigger venues in mind?
MW: I don’t think it started with “We are going to play a big room, we gotta make these songs big,” but we had some new material written, and we went on tour for a while and tried it out on bigger stages. We were touring with the band Car Seat Headrest, and they were blowing up, and we were trying out new songs, and some songs were like, ‘Oh that didn’t work! We have to go back to the drawing board.’ So we scrapped a bunch of it, and went on another tour, and figured out what was working.
James Weir: There are certain songs that are going to fly off the walls in a basement with 70 or 80 people. But that is so based on the energy. This record was trying to tap into a more mature songwriting sense.
The Bay Bridged: Do you do much writing on tour?
MW: It is hard to write on tour. We come up with little bits, and bring it to the band, and jam it out. We have been consciously writing and getting demos together. We will play those at soundcheck, but not the show, because if someone is paying for our show, I don’t want to throw them a half baked idea, and have them say “Oh, that must be something new.” You want to put on a good show.
The Bay Bridged: Around the Bay Area, the DIY scene has felt somewhat attacked since the Ghost Ship fire. Have you felt that as you have been touring other places?
JW: We were talking about that with our SF friend here, asking how has it changed. He said the feeling was that it could have been any of us.
MW: Or even touring a lot of spaces have closed down, with more involved government. It makes sense, in terms of safety, but it also it hurting those scenes. It is also because people couldn’t afford rent, or because of neighbors, and new places with hopefully spring up.
JW: I imagine it is hard in general for artists to pay to live in the Bay Area.
The Bay Bridged: What have you been listening to on tour?
JW: Flasher from DC. We played a couple shows with them. So good! They are from that scene with the band Priests, and a cool label called Sister Polygon. We stayed in their house. That whole DC scene is super badass.
The Bay Bridged: Before this tour you played SXSW. How was it?
MW: It is alcoholics’ Ironman. It was so tiring. It was really good for us, but we started our tour there, with eight shows in five days. Got punched in the gut for a week and then go on tour.
JW: So after that everything has been so easy.
MW: We were driving from LA to Tucson in our van, and the air conditioning went out. It was summer and there was five of us. It was so hot that we were chugging water and just sweating. We couldn’t get it fixed in time. When we got to Tucson, it was evening and people were going to bars and having fun. We just poured out of the van, half-naked and yelling. But then we played a gig and it was fun.
The Bay Bridged: Thank you for being my first interview.
Alex Otake: Are you going to shotgun a beer? Because it was your first interview.
Before we all went out to the hear the openers, we talked more about Harry Potter, being kicked out of movie theaters for being inebriated, men with neck beards, and renaissance fairs. Alex Otake told me that you can get your ticket refunded if you get kicked out a movie theater, which has happened to him twice. Alex and I discussed the pros and cons of wearing a Muumuu. We were talking about people being very into their jobs, and Michael Wells told a story about his friends going into an Applebee’s and ordering crab cakes, and having their waiter yell, “So you will have crab cakes!”
Obviously, Ne-Hi is very fun to hang out with, and they are very fun on stage. They have a frenzied way of dancing around, without missing a note, and their songs truly come to life when heard in the flesh. Even on these bigger stages, their show feels like you are in a basement with all your friends. Everyone in Ne-Hi is a very talented musician, and in a time when bands often sound better recorded than live because the musicians aren’t skilled enough to replicate the songs live, it is nice to know that going to a Ne-Hi show means seeing Ne-Hi at their best. Their fun and blistering record, Offers, fills the venue, and their incredible stage presence and boiling energy pull you into their music. Their unique take on garage rock grows more and more cohesive every time I hear them, so I am excited to see where their next release takes them, and how they grow with their growing number of fans.