Here's a fun fact for A.M. Nice fans headed to the Southgate House Revival this Saturday, Sept. 24 to celebrate the release of the post punk trio's new album, Half Past Tense. If you saw the band's virtual video benefit, recorded last summer at and for SHR, you didn't see A.M. Nice do live versions of songs from their upcoming album, you saw the songs themselves.
The band – guitarist/vocalist/primary songwriter Adam Nice, bassist Nick Hill and drummer Jerry Dirr – had been recording in a variety of locations, including New Fidelity Collective, Candyland Studio with Mike Montgomery and Steve Wethington, and at Nice's home and in the band's rehearsal space on a four-track cassette deck and an iPad. They took a break from their activities at Candyland in order to record the benefit video to help SHR during their lockdown drought, which led to a surprising conclusion.
“We kind of liked the way those songs sounded with that [benefit] recording, so we ended up saying, 'Why go back and track at Candyland? Why don't we just use some of these?'" says frontman Nice. “I don't even recall now which ones are which because Steve mixed it all and he did such a great job.”
Nice is effusive in his praise for Wethington, since the most amazing aspect of Half Past Tense, A.M. Nice's fourth album in their 17-year history, is that the album sounds coherent and cohesive, as if the entire set had been recorded and engineered under one roof, rather than a normally unwieldy number of locations utilizing a broad range of formats. Initially, Nice notes that the band wanted to work with different people on each project, given their relationships with a broad range of producers and engineers.
“Before we recorded with Steve, everybody came over to my house and we listened to records to get an idea of what kind of room sounds we wanted,” says Nice. “He listens to all that and gives recommendations before you record. He'll come to see your band live before he records you. He puts in his homework up front. If you're a music geek, it's fun to do. And he's got a great sense of humor so he's fun to hang with.”
In the teeth of the pandemic, the trio originally planned to put out a series of singles – the first, “Your War” b/w “Patient,” was released in March of last year – but as time wore on, they had recorded enough material to warrant writing additional songs to create a full length album. Like most A.M. Nice projects, Nice wrote and demoed the songs for Half Past Tense on either an acoustic or nylon stringed guitar, and then brought the demos to Hill and Dirr for their input. Nice unquestionably trusts his rhythm section's musical intuition. Almost.
“They all start off very slow, because that's how I write them,” says Nice. “Then I take them to Nick and Jerry and they kind of put them through this punk machine and it's like, 'However you guys want to do it is how we'll do it.' They tend to cut sections and increase tempo, so they're the ones who make songs more upbeat. I try to fight against that as much as I can.”
Nice says the band is planning a somewhat more sedated set for the Half Past Tense release party at Southgate House Revival, with slower songs and a few surprises.
“We're going to bring out some older songs and a cover of a Snail Mail song – that's a girl named Lindsey Jordan, and Nick and I have been listening to her a lot – and we're going to do some stuff that's unrecorded and slower, a little more calm, with splashes of speed and aggression, so it will be a more dynamic climb. We'll see if we can accomplish that.”
A.M. Nice typically gets compared to a wide variety of bands in reviews, a circumstance that Nice understands and readily explains.
“It almost depends on who's doing the review,” he says. “If you're in your 40s or 50s, you might say we sound like XTC. I never in my life listened to XTC. I knew that song 'Helicopter,' but that's it. I had to listen to them to see why people thought we sounded like them. People say we sound like Moving Targets or other people I've never heard of, so it depends on your point of reference; each decade is a different reference point. It's fun to listen to bands you get compared to who you don't listen to and when you do, you think, 'Huh, that's what they're hearing?' Normally, the vocals are terrible, so it's like, 'Oh, cool band, shitty singer. That's why they're comparing us to them.'”
As far as actual influences, Nice draws inspiration from an incredibly eclectic range of artists.
“I try to play guitar like Geoff Farina from Karate or Sam Prekop from the Sea and Cake, but I also listen to Radioactivity and the Marked Men and different punk and garage rock bands,” he says. “I also listen to Dinosaur Jr. and Built to Spill, so when I write something, it might start out like some Midwestern jazzy acoustic emo kind of thing but we play it fast and make sure it has a hook and turn it into a punk song. I listen to Protomartyr and Idols, and I was really into Sonic Youth, but my favorite part of Sonic Youth was when their hooks and melodies stood out from their noise. There's always something dissonant or noisier or quirkier, but I try to thread it into a pop song struecture. Then I just try to cop riffs from them and try to twist and turn them so they can't tell I've stolen them.”
Half Past Tense is available for pre-order on the band's Bandcamp.
A.M. Nice's album release show is on Saturday, Sept. 24 at Southgate House Revival. The doors open at 8 p.m. and the show starts at 9 p.m. Blood Chill and JV Golf open the show. Info: southgatehouse.com.