Self-discovery, finding a voice, and a good cold brew coffee: An interview with NE-HI


by Rose Blanton

Prior to the release of their second full-length album, Offers I was able to exchange some pleasantries with NE-HI’s guitarist Jason Balla. The boys behind NE-HI started their lengthy support tour back in Chicago on the release day of their record. They are most likely coming to a town near you but for now, you can pick their record up via Grand Jury.

Rosie Blanton: This is your first album with Grand Jury. What was it like being signed to such a great label and how did it come about?

Jason Balla: It was really exciting to sign with them. We had been in touch over the years, but once we were able to finally meet them we really hit it off. These two very righteous dudes, Craig and Robbie, run the whole thing. Our good buds Twin Peaks are also on the label so it’s fun to be running alongside some familiar faces.

RB: Production for this second album must have been different as well, did you work with anyone?

JB: The two main differences between recording Offers and our S/T were the studio and time. On both records we worked with our friend and really talented engineer Dave Vettraino of Public House. When we made the first record we were very new as a band and we really just threw it all against the wall. This time around we were able to rent out a really nice studio in town and the 5 of us just took the place over. The time in between cutting those albums we really learned a lot about how we wanted to sound and also we played as a band way better. I’d wager Dave picked up a few new tricks in that time too. Aside from being very technically good at his job, Dave has this way of making you comfortable and getting the best takes out of us. He brought all these old lamps from his house and set them up in the studio to get the lighting just right. True tone zone master, vibe coordinator.

RB: If production is something the band does DIY, who handles it? Or is it a collaboration?

JB: The production aspect of the record is pretty minimal really. Typically, we’d be listening in the control room and someone might start to hear a place for a tambourine or a vocal harmony or a really blown out drum machine. We tried to have a rule where we didn’t turn down any idea until we tried it. We threw a lot of those ideas out, but some stuck!

RB: What about lyrics? Another collaboration or do most lyrics come from one or two people?

JB: Basically Mikey and I (Jason) write all the lyrics. Whoever is singing lead pens the words and then for certain harmony parts we kind of sit down and make sure we’re cool with what we’re saying or that we’re emphasizing the right words.

RB: Do you have any good stories to share with us about the writing process… maybe an event or an evening that led you to write a certain song?

JB: The title track from the record came along incredibly organically. Early in the writing process we were having a little trouble overthinking everything and that was hurting the songs we were making. We did two rounds of recording and the first session we had finished most of what we had to work on and decided to have some friends over, have some beers, hang out. We pulled out a broken Farfisa and basically jammed on some chords until the song Offers appeared. For such a downer song, it really was born out of a moment of freedom and fun.

RB: What gear are you guys using? 

JB: James just bought a new bass amp, which is pretty awesome! Mikey is pretty stoked on this brand of pedals called Catalin Bread lately. They make a wild chorus pedal. My main baby is my Fender Bassman. I’ve been dreaming of tremolo pedals lately. In the studio our favorite piece of gear was an ampex preamp. Any time we weren’t happy with a tone we’d just “throw it through the ampex.”

RB: You guys have quite the tour schedule ahead of you! Is this the longest tour you’ve done? 

JB: Yes! We’re all stoked. We’ve all toured a good deal, but this is the longest time all at once that we’ll have been out. We’re headlining the whole damn thing, which is crazy! A few bands are joining us for short legs, which will be really cool. There’s this band Flasher we’re playing a couple of shows with. Also this new band FACS from Chicago. And real soon our buddies Wulfpac are doing some days.

RB: What are you trying to say with this album? 

JB: We want the album to be something of an act of solidarity with people who are trying to figure it all out. There was a lot of pressure and exhaustion and self-discovery in the process of writing and recording. We were trying to find our voice and we’re proud of the one we found.

RB: This last question is kind of goofy but I like to ask everyone I interview this, if you had one superhero power, what would it be?

JB: I was actually just watching Seinfeld with my roommate last night and Jerry and George were arguing over whether Superman also had super humor. I think if I had to choose a power I would go with super humor. You can always use more laughter.

RB: Thank you so much for your time guys! Can’t wait to see you in Portland! 

JB: See you THERE! Thank you