Out of the basement scene of Chicago, NE-HI emerged on the national stage with a sincerity and grit that’s arguably been missing for quite some time.
On their sophomore release, Offers, NE-HI provides feel-good music with a nostalgic edge; after listening to songs like “Stay Young” and “Out of Reach”, I wanted to escape to my high school bedroom, call up my crush, and then go loiter in a parking lot. NE-HI’s youthful energy serves up a vision of youth that is not as sappy as their 90’s jangle influences, but more grittier and emotionally relaxed, a quality likely due to their garage-rock tendencies and basement show origins. In conversation with them, their chill feels like the verbal equivalent of a friend handing you a free beer, which makes sense given their friendly Midwestern personalities. We caught up with them before their show at the Middle East Upstairs tonight to talk about Offers, the cult of Bruce Springsteen, and Animal Kingdom.
Allston Pudding: Are you guys driving right now?
Yeah we’re driving right now, from Kansas City to Omaha, Nebraska. Yesterday was the first day [of tour]. We’ve kinda been touring on and off the past few months, but yesterday was the first official day.
AP: Congratulations on Offers! How does it feel to have your second album out?
It feels really cool! We got it done about a year ago and were just sitting on it, waiting to release it, so it feels really cool to have it out and be able to share the songs. It feels like a good album, and a good step from the first album.
AP: What was different about making a record this time compared to the first?
The first one, we had basically written all the songs and that was our live set. This one, we had some of the songs written, we went in for one session for about a week or so, and then we scratched most of that other than a couple songs. We didn’t think it was ready, so we went back and the studio and did it, and that was most of our album.
AP: Do you think that made anything turn out differently in terms of the album’s sound?
I think it made things a little cleaner, but also a little heavier and not as reverbed-out as the first one. I think the songwriting is a little smarter or more deliberate as opposed to just sort of improvising as we went with the first record. We edited it a little bit better, I think.
AP: On “Every Dent,” there are some lyrics that mention “the guns of Navarone”… I was wondering what that was about.
Oh, yeah, that’s a movie! I don’t know if it’s my favorite or anything, but during the time I was writing that song, that movie came to mind. It’s about kind of being on the road and being disconnected from your life at home. Then, being at home, you’re kind of just by yourself too [and] kind of missing out on hanging out with your friends. But then when you’re on the road you’re also kind of missing out on hanging out by yourself because you are always with people.
AP: As you get more nationally known, is it weird to see yourselves receiving comparisons to influences like The Clean and Wire?
Mostly, they are cool. We like those bands a lot. Its funny; I didn’t really listen to The Clean that much until our first record came out and someone mentioned it. We all like that stuff, and it’s sweet to be compared to it. We do our own thing, but we definitely draw from those kinds of groups also.
AP: There’s also like a Bruce Springsteen shout-out on your page. Are you guys Springsteen lifers?
[laughs] Yeah, I’m a huge fan since I was in high school. I’m actually wearing a Springsteen shirt right now, so that made me laugh.
AP: What was it like coming up as a band from Chicago? Any difference going back there after touring so extensively?
It was really great! I lived in Milwaukee before I moved there and I moved down to Chicago for the band. Growing up in the Midwest informs who you are in terms of work ethic, or what you value maybe… I’m not sure if that’s true because I’ve never lived on the East or West Coasts. I think Chicago just has a really great, supportive community of artists and people who are doing lots of cool stuff. In terms of the Midwest, it definitely impacts your ideas of work and how you should treat people and be nice to people. I’m not saying that other people don’t do that too, but it’s also just kind of a stereotype of the Midwest.
There’s a lot of great DIY venues; there’s not many of those venues now, I guess, but there’s still a lot of great community there with different bands that are doing different kinds of styles. It’s kind of insulated in the sense [that] it’s not like a “showbiz town” like New York or LA, so you can kind of do your own thing and people kind of support that. Its competitive because you kind of want to make better music because your friends are too, but it’s not like we’re all trying to get famous.
AP: You mentioned that there were less DIY venues in Chicago now; a similar thing has been happening in Boston over the last few years.
Yeah, I think that’s kind of the nature of all DIY places. You know, just the city cracking down on that type of thing. I’m sure, maybe they’ll be a new wave of DIY stuff that’s coming up. You know, it’s pretty cool when you have the resources and the energy to get a place like that together, it’s a really cool thing to do.
AP: I’ve heard that your band met at Animal Kingdom; could you tell us about that?
Yeah, that was a DIY house our friends [lived] in. It was kind of my introduction to the Chicago music scene coming from Milwaukee. There were shows almost every single night. [You’d go] to hang out in the backyard, have some beers, and listen to a band in a basement or sometimes in the backyard. It was just a cool place where a lot of people were playing, or some people lived there that were in bands also. It was just kind of a really nice home base at the time. Sadly, it’s not there anymore.
AP: You write about spending time with your friends at Animal Kingdom and being a teenager; is it nostalgia that drives these songs now that you’re in your twenties?
I think you just write what you know, and especially with this album, we wanted to not be too abstract about it. We’re not teenagers [and] I feel more like an adult, but a few years ago when I was 21, I still felt like a teenager. I think we were just reflecting on that, getting older, and thinking about it in a way where were trying to keep that youthful energy, but also kind of grow up.
AP: Your video for “Stay Young” is all about Chicago… is that also a reflection on your hometown and youth?
I think the song is more about staying your in your mindset, not like “I want to party forever” but just like growing older and being okay with that and keeping your faith. And I think that, I don’t know if it’s connected with Chicago, we just wanted to show where we were from and the city a little bit. I think it’s connected maybe in the sense that Chicago changes all the time.