Chicago-based alternative rock quartet NE-HI sat down to chat with Taxi before sound check at The Spanish Moon. The following transcript has been edited for clarity.
Q: How's the tour going so far?
Alex: This tour has been good. We’ve been all over. Started at SXSW and then went up the east coast. Then we scooted up to Chicago and covered the Pacific Northwest.
Q: How was South by Southwest?
Jason: It was crazy.
James: So we started this whole grueling tour, which has been super long and exhausting but super awesome, at SXSW.
Jason: I definitely aged 10 years in that first week.
Q: You guys started playing shows in a basement called Animal Kingdom, right?
Alex: Yeah it was a DIY space for house shows. Very low ceiling basement.
Jason: It was the breeding ground for a lot of bands that are playing now. Thats were we first became part of the music community in Chicago.
Q: What about The Empty Bottle?
Jason: It's a staple. The Empty Bottle is the place you want to play when you live in Chicago, and even if you’re a touring band. It's been around forever and we’re all part of the family. A couple of us used to work there.
James: I saw Whitney’s first show there.
Jason: A lot of old school Chicago bands started there too. Tortoise, Joan of Arc, bands like that.
Q: It's been 3 years since the debut record. Still feel the love in Chicago?
Jason: Oh yeah, it just kind of gets bigger with every year. It's a pretty exciting energy to be around.
James: It's kind of like, you’re touring the country and slowly trying to replicate that experience we feel in Chicago in every market. It’s tough to do, but it's coming around.
Q: How does NE-HI describe its sound?
James: I call it ‘80s college rock mixed with ‘60s psychedelia. Thats the best to describe it, other than just calling it rock ’n’ roll.
Jason: We’re definitely interested in minimalism and creating space, giving parts room to breathe and have their own voice. I’ve been using less and less reverb. Our first record was covered in it, but I think I only used reverb on like two songs on the new record.
Q: Many people note similarities between NE-HI and post-punk/'80s alternative groups. What are some bands in that genre that inspire you?
Alex: Wire, Echo and the Bunnymen
James: Gang of Four, definitely.
Jason: Joy Division
Mikey: Also the American punk stuff, too, like Nerves, Television, Richard Hell.
Q: Let’s talk about the new record. I really like the album art. Who did it?
Mikey: Bill Connors, an artist and musician out of Chicago. He does a lot of stuff for local bands.
Jason: Bill plays in one of the best Chicago bands right now called Dem.
Mikey: He kinda just did the art and said, “I did this for you guys, hope you like it." We were brainstorming ideas and Bill just kind of showed up.
Q: How has your sound changed or progressed on the new record, “Offers"?
Jason: Our whole intention was to pull all the sh*t off of everything and just have our parts be there. I think thats the big difference — way less use of effects and a focus on clarity.
Alex: The way we were writing songs, too. The editing is definitely more intentional on this record.
Mikey: We wanted to keep it somewhat rough, too. Not hyper-polished. We wanted the same energy as the first album.