First off let me say thank you to the members of Chicago based rockers NE-HI and Jim Deluca from Audiotree for helping to make this happen. Originally I was going to be speaking with the lead vocalist Jason Balla, but due to some technical (read: cell phone) difficulties James Weir jumped right up to the plate! NE-HI will be taking to the main stage at the Audiotree Music Festival this Saturday at 2:45, so make sure that you’re there! It was only a 20 minute phone call between the 2 of us, but I think we hit it off rather swell. And now without further adieu, here’s the not-so-hardball questions.
This goes without saying, but it’s the only way to start off. How excited are you guys for the Audiotree Music Festival?
Very excited, yeah! We’ve got a bunch of friends also playing the fest too, which is nice! You’ve got Melkbelly (Main stage, Sat 1:45) and Post Animal (Main stage, Sun. 3:45), so we’re rolling pretty deep Chicago which is nice too. We’re super excited to test out some new tunes and hang with a bunch of friends that are coming along. We’ll be hanging around all weekend.
Does NE-HI have any other festivals planned this yet?
Just Audiotree actually. We’re grinding on a new record right now and getting ready to get back out there.
New music is in the works. Are you planning on it being another LP?
Yeah, we’ll drop some singles and develop it from there. I’d say were, like, 80% done with the new album we’re kind of demoing it. We probably have 25 songs right now in waiting. We’ve really just been churning it out all year, grinding the new songs. I’m guessing late spring or summer next year for a new release. We’ll hit the studio in January, try to use a few different engineers and experiment again and see whats up.
So you have more music than you know what to do with right now?
Theres definitely an editing process. As we’ve grown as a band the demoing becomes very important. You want to come back to those things a month later and say, “Hey this drum part needs to change, this bass part needs a fill, or yada ya.”
I guess when you aren’t making the music you don’t think about all those songs that don’t make the cut.
Yeah, our last record, we had a batch of songs but we we’re feeling a but uninspired. You never want to fall out of love with the process, you know?
Where does that creative process start for NE-HI? Are you guys out writing on napkins, chilling on the couch?
Organically. It’s usually one guy at a time that comes up with a a riff or the bones of the structure. Then us 4 kind hammer it away. But inspiration is more often totally random.
Where did the 4 of you all meet?
I went to DePaulUuniversity, Jason the lead singer, me and him actually didn’t know each other but ended up being roommates. Mikey Wells, the other guitarist, he was in our dorm also. During school we kind of went our own ways, but after me and Jason graduated we were like, “We should give this music thing a shot!” and it’s been a fun and wild ride ever since. We’re so happy that we get to keep it going.
What has been your favorite venue to play so far along your travels?
Favorite venue… The Independent in San Francisco, but I do love El Club in Detroit! It’s a really great spot. Speaking of Detroit, love that Bonny Doon record so much. I’ve been listening to that quite a bit the last few months.
Bonny Doom brings up a good question. Whats been on loop for you non stop?
I’ve been listening to a lot of jazz lately. There’s a local Chicago jazz guitarist named Jeff Parker and he put out a record, I want to say, mid-2000’s (James nailed it, it was 2005) called The Relatives, really great psychedelic jazz. Some kind of ambient stuff, but I have literally listened to it 3 times a week for the last few months. I highly, highly, recommend it. It’s more in the jazz world but its almost unclassifiable as far genre goes.
Do you or the rest of the guys have a pre-show ritual leading up to show time?
I’d say we get pretty amped up on a bottle of tequila… that’s… (laughs really hard) that’s generally the pre-show ritual. Nothing too crazy. Just a good amount of tequila and Tecate.
Who would be an artist, still living, that you would love to collaborate with but from a completely different genre?
Completely different genre. Man, that’s a really good question. From a completely different genre, me and one of the guys are really into that Anderson Paak / Knxwledge and I love listening to Knxwledge’s instrumental stuff. So I’m going to go with Knxwledge. We did this collaboration last year with Jamila Woods, shes a soul singer, kind of cool getting into that uncharted territory of not doing things like straight rock and roll. The track was called “The Times Im Not There.” So that was really cool to dive into a different genre. But I’m sticking with Knxwledge.
So my last, and I feel, most important question. What’s your favorite kind of cheese?
(Laughs) My cousin, he’s a cheese monger based out of Mankato, MN! He makes a cheese called Bent River. It’s a Camembert and it’s my favorite cheese in the world! But I come from a cheese family though. Bent River. Alemar Cheese. Some of the best cheese in the Midwest.
James and I also discussed some of the recent happenings in the Chicago music scene, sort of off record, but I will tell you this and leave it at that: NE-HI stands with you.