This past weekend I headed out to Davenport, IA to catch an amazing line up at Daytrotter Downs festival, featuring one of my favorite Chicago bands, NE-HI. The band have just released their sophomore album Offers on February 24th, but in the past few months, they've been all over the place. Not only did NE-HI play a sold out album release show at The Empty Bottle, but they've recently performed on the legendary JBTV stage, they've done in-store performances at record stores, and they're booked to play SXSW in the middle of cross-country tour. Prior to their 10PM slot on the Daytrotter stage, they sat down to talk about the craziness that accompanied the album release and what's next for them. Here are five things I learned when I caught up with NE-HI:
Nothing gives them more joy than just playing shows
When asked how their week has been since Offers dropped, drummer Alex Otake says, "It's been really good. We had a release show at The Empty Bottle the day it came out and it was awesome. We had one of our friends make visuals for it...he did like a TV installation."
Although they've gotten to do lots of sessions and other forms of promo for the album, Jason Balla echoed Alex by agreeing that there's just something about playing a good live show that's impossible to top. "The show [at Empty Bottle] is pretty hard to beat. It was this amazing time. So many people that we knew and so many people we didn’t know. The Empty Bottle has a place in all of our hearts, so that’s pretty hard to beat. Playing the Audiotree thing was really fun. We also played a Chirp session in this warehouse that they have. That stuff is always fun, but playing shows is where the joy is for me," Jason says.
James Weir chimed in that his favorite part of the record release has been "people giving their respect in the music world and family giving praise and showing love," also adding, "We worked so hard on that record and it’s been a beautiful experience."
Their least favorite part of releasing and promoting an album? Alex says taking pictures, while James says waking up early. Jason agrees, saying "Waking up early is actually the hardest part of it. You could get away with getting to bed early, but we don’t seem to have figured out how to do that. We were in Omaha yesterday and if you go to Omaha, you have to go to Brothers Lounge afterwards!" The waking up early seemed to really affect Michael Wells, who was a man of very few words during the interview.
They recorded Offers in two installments
The two installments took place between January and March of last year, but James reveals they scraped most of what they recorded in January because of "self-imposed pressure". Jason agreed, saying, "Yeah we got signed....I don’t even know exactly like when that all went down, but for that first batch of stuff we were working on, we were kind of like overthinking a little too much. We were like 'Oh now we have like this label deal, we gotta really do some good shit.' That kind of mentality winds up making doing good shit impossible. So we kind of noticed [that] once we did those first songs in the studio."
Alex also agreed, saying that on the first batch of material they were "just overthinking and then overwriting." He adds, "[We were] not writing like how it came naturally like when we wrote our first record." Luckily, they were able to overcome their self-inflicted pressure for their recording sessions it March. Jason revealed, "It kinda took a little bit to shock us out of that mentality. Once we started having fun, it started coming really fast and like through this one, the big difference is that we got a lot better at editing and being critical of ourselves. We would like have a lot of fun and write the songs, and then when we had the songs written we would be like OK what actually is necessary for it to exist basically."
They'd like to score Hot Tub Time Machine 3
The group originally got together to score a friend's film, which unfortunately never even got released. However, James has requested it be known that they'd really like to do the score for the third installment of Hot Tub Time Machine, should it ever be made. Jason adds, "That would be great. And we also want Cusack back. Bring back the Cusack. We’ll only do it if he’s on board." The band's love for Hot Tub Time Machine runs so deep that Alex even revealed that they tried to start a rumor that Offers syncs up to the film, saying, "We had this idea for when this record was coming out to say that like you know when you watch Wizard of Oz and you put on Dark Side of the Moon? We were going to say that our record would line up with Hot Tub Time Machine perfectly."
On a more serious note, the band revealed some of their other favorite film scores. "The score for Moonlight was really good. I just listened to this interview about it and it talked about how the movie is set up in three acts basically. For each act the tone got a little bit darker, so the composer like dropped it an octave. It’s pretty cool," James said. Alex says he's a fan of Italian horror films from the 1970's and anything John Carpenter, while Jason gets a kick out of Chef's Table. "Have you ever seen the show Chef’s Table? It’s like a food documentary, but it’s set to classical music," he says, continuing, "It’s the most epic shit. It’s like someone is just putting an oyster on a plate and it’s like [dramatic music]."
They stay entertained on their van by making up alien alter egos
Since the band are touring cross country in a van, naturally they've got to come up with unique ways of staying entertained. Besides listening to true crime podcasts, which Alex revealed are his favorite, they also put their imaginations to the test. "We have a lot of jokes in the van," Jason says. "I just got these sunglasses and they kind of like acquired an alter ego. I mostly annoy everyone in the van. So you’d have to ask them how they put up with me more than anything. There’s not really any name for that guy. He’s like an undercover sort of alien robot. Basically it’s like this character who is undercover trying to pass as a human, but he’s like always making mistakes."
As far as their favorite places that they're traveling to this tour, Jason says, "North Hampton is one of my personal favorites. I used to hate New York but I like it a lot now. There's ones that are obviously fun cities to go to, but my favorites are like the sneaky ones. Like North Hampton is so sick and like Pittsburgh is one of our favorite places to go."
They're supporters of the Chicago music scene
NE-HI are really excited to be heading down to Austin to play some SXSW shows, but they're also excited to catch some fellow Chicagoans perform at the festival. "We’re actually playing a really tight show with Wand and my friends White Reaper, and another Chicago band, Post Animal," Jason says, also shouting out NoName, a rapper from Chicago.
As for other Chicago bands that they're into at the moment, Alex says, "Cafe Racer, Deeper. Both of those bands we got to play with at our release show. They’re amazing. There’s tons of stuff." He added "We’ve talked about it a lot, but it’s really awesome, healthy competition. Because so many people are making really amazing music, so we don’t want to be the one band making shitty music. Like 'we like you, but your band’s not that great.'"
While they've got love for Chicago musicians, they also have a great relationship with the independent record store, Shuga Records. Offers is currently available on clear vinyl, exclusively at Shuga. When I asked how that deal came about, Jason says, "I like their vibe a lot, but they’ve been incredibly supportive of NE-HI and other projects that we play in. So I would just go over there to sell them records of our first record and I’d always get to talking with the people that work there. They actually did an exclusive of our first record and that one was going well, so they were like we wanna do one for this one. It’s really cool to be able to do something special. And it’s really neat when it’s exclusive to one store. We played an in store with them too which was really fun!"