Photo by Brian Tamborello

Hyper, Aware

Fun isn’t always easy. Sometimes you have to work pretty hard to have a good time. Take, for instance, Get Young, the debut from Boston’s Pretty & Nice for Sub Pop imprint Hardly Art. Frenetic beats, knee-jerk changes and myriad bleeps and bloops combine to create something the modest world of indie rock desperately needs—a pulse. However, Get Young wasn’t the product of a few, orgasmic recording sessions. Instead, the band—then a trio—was holed up in their basement for five months, painstakingly crafting the album.

“It was kind of an arduous process anyway,” says guitarist/vocalist Holden Lewis. “We were all working full-time jobs, so we’d work from six to eight hours, and then go home and record for five months or so, which was not the way to do it maybe. I think we’re going to take time off when we do the next one.”

Get Young was released in Oct. 2008. A few months later, in January, drummer Bobby Landry quit the band.

“It was bad and good I guess,” Lewis says of Landry leaving the group. “There was a lot of personal stuff, and a lot of artistic stuff. We’re probably better off, and he’s probably better off.”

Landry’s departure has Pretty & Nice back in its original incarnation, with Lewis and co-guitarist Jeremy Mendocino. The lineup change and “arduous” recording schedule of Get Young have not seemed to discourage Lewis from heading into future efforts. He reports that he and Mendocino have already begun writing new material and tweaking songs that were written during the Get Young writing cycle that weren’t included on the album.

“Jeremy and I have been in each other’s heads for a long time,” Lewis says. “I’m looking forward to having some playtime in the studio.”
Submerge spoke with Lewis just a few days before Pretty & Nice hit the road for a nationwide tour.

You grew up in Burlington, Vt. What was it like growing up there, musically speaking?
Burlington is sort of like a little melting pot, as long as that melting pot doesn’t include lots of Jews or black people, but there are a lot of different people doing lots of different things in terms of art and stuff like that. You can sample whatever you want up there, so we got into a lot of wackier music when we were younger. We had a small but firm support system up there when we were starting the band, so it was a pretty good place to play music for a while.

Now you guys are living in Boston. What’s the scene like there?
There’s a lot of good bands in Boston, but there’s not a lot of good labels or booking agents based out of here. The music industry stuff here is mostly just in Boston, so you don’t hear of this really great label or company you want to work with when you’re in Boston, so we end up working with companies and people who are outside of the city, which is not always ideal. Boston’s got a ton of great bands, though, so there’s never a shortage of good bands to play with.

Have you and Jeremy started writing anything yet?
A little bit”¦ Yeah, we’re working on it. Things are coming along pretty well. We’re psyched to spend a lot of the summer in the basement.

What direction do you see your writing going with the newer stuff? Is it comparable to what was on Get Young?
Yes and no. A couple of the songs we’re working on, we’d intended to put on Get Young, but they didn’t make it on for one reason or another, and then a whole slew of new songs are popping up here and there. I hope they’re different [laughs]. I think they’re different. We don’t really start the writing process with a specific idea of, “We’re going to write this kind of song.” Whatever inspires us”¦an idea comes, and then it comes, and we use it.

Have you started any lyrics yet, or is that something that comes later?
It depends on the song. We’ve got some lyrics for some songs, and a couple of songs that we know what we’re going to write the lyrics about but we haven’t started them yet.

What have you been writing about?
There’s one song about going to the hospital”¦about pills and getting sick and all that stuff. I think I might write about colors or something like that.

Are lyrics that important to you, or do you focus on the music more?
They didn’t used to be, but when we were working on the last record, I got way into writing more specifically.

Listening to Get Young, there’s a lot that goes into every song, especially since these are basically pop songs. “Piranha” is almost schizophrenic, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. Is it a struggle to have so many ideas and still keep the songs focused?
I think we just get really bored with repetition. We’ll get bored with writing a song a certain way, or having a structure be a certain way. We’ll try to screw around with things to keep our own interest, really. At the end of the day, we write songs for ourselves.

Did breaking out of a conventional mold contribute to the lengthy recording process?
I don’t think so. The reason we took so long was that we wanted to take our time with everything and let it come together as it wanted to.

A lot of the songs are very aggressive rhythmically, but “Peekaboo” and “Solar Energy” were a lot more laid-back and atmospheric.
What was the inspiration behind those two songs?

Each one of those is about a specific person, and I think that’s why they ended up being that way. I think “Peekaboo” started out as a faster song, but I slowed it down and decided it would be nicer at a quieter, softer pace. You can always slow a song down, or speed it up, but hopefully it has a place that it likes to be in.

That song seems like it’s in a good place in the album as well. It’s preceded by some of your faster songs. It’s a nice breather before Get Young picks up the pace again. Was the sequencing of the album something you paid attention to?
Yeah, we’re aware”¦ [laughs] We’re actually hyper-aware of how hyper our music is most of the time. While we can keep that pace for as long as we want, we realize most people aren’t as ADD.

With the rise of MP3s, the album almost seems like a lost art, as well”¦

We’re record people. We really like to have a physical thing that has a specific way that you’re supposed to hear it. It’s given to you as a set piece of artwork. That would be the school we’re interested in. I’m sure our next release will play to that, hopefully even more so than Get Young.

Get Young is just 10 tracks, and before you mentioned that a few of the songs you’re working on now were in the mix for Get Young, but didn’t make the cut. Was there a temptation to go longer?
Well, I wouldn’t say that they didn’t make the cut so much as, for other reasons, we decided not to put them on. Either we thought they didn’t fit with the track listing as well, or we just wanted to work on them longer.

In the behind-the-scenes video, you all seemed pretty good at critiquing one another. Would you say you guys are good at self-editing one another?
Yeah, especially when we’re recording. We’re pretty picky. It wasn’t uncommon for a two-minute drum track to take eight to 20 hours”¦ [laughs]. For one reason or another.