Staying Peppy: An Interview With Pretty & Nice

by | Jun 13, 2013 | MUSIC

What happens when you mix a giant sigh of relief with a frenzied burst of activity? Pretty & Nice are finding out as we speak. On April 30, after more than four years without a new LP to their collective name, The Boston-based outfit released Golden Rules for Golden People — a colorful collection of finely tuned pop songs that have garnered nods from Pitchfork, Consequence of Sound and an army of music blogs.


What happens when you mix a giant sigh of relief with a frenzied burst of activity? Pretty & Nice are finding out as we speak. On April 30, after more than four years without a new LP to their collective name, The Boston-based outfit released Golden Rules for Golden People — a colorful collection of finely tuned pop songs that have garnered nods from Pitchfork, Consequence of Sound and an army of music blogs.

In many ways, the new full-length is a vindicating statement. Those who have been lucky enough to see the band live in the years since 2008’s Get Young was released knew that an album of this quality was lurking. Golden Rules has landed like a grand, 11-track confirmation of the mastery and meticulous artistry that founding members and co-lead singers and guitarists Holden Lewis and Jeremy Mendicino have shown at every step of their at-times-uphill journey.

With Golden Rules finally out of the bag, and a nascent partnership with Equal Vision Records imprint Rory Records at their backs, Pretty & Nice are celebrating by spreading the word near and far. They shot a video for lead single “Q_Q,” sending up the frenetic pace of a SXSW performance schedule. They recently logged their second Love Drunk Sessions video within a year, this time for Golden Rules standout “New Czar.” They’ve also hit the road, stopping by Strange Matter this past Wednesday for their first show in Richmond since March of 2010. About two hours before they hit the stage, in a nearly empty parking lot just east of the venue, under the gaze of a fading Plaza Artist Materials mural, I had the chance to chat with Lewis, Mendicino, bassist Roger Lussier and new drummer Michael Tucker about the long road to Golden Rules’ release, their philosophy on recording, and more.

How has the last month been, watching Golden Rules for Golden People reviews and write-ups come in?

Holden Lewis: Satisfying, but also exhausting. We’ve been really busy promoting. We’ve been waiting like two years to release the record, so just for it to be out and in people’s ears. More than the reviews — it’s good that the reviews have come back good — it’s been more fulfilling having actual people talking to us and saying how much they like it and what it’s doing for them. One of my favorite comments was [a friend] saying that it seemed like something she’d had for years already — that it was already part of her experience.

One thing I would have asked about is how playing the new songs live is going, but I’ve seen you play some of them in the years in between.

HL: Yeah, we’ve been mixing them in. I personally really like playing this set because I feel that we’re a more flexible live band now, in that we can play with a slower pop band or we can play with a brash punk band.

Jeremy Mendicino: We’ve got a catalog big enough to do really specific sets.

HL: And the new songs lend themselves better to playing acoustic, so we’ve been doing that more often.

JM: We were pretty hard-line about not doing that.

HL: In the past we didn’t do it because the songs just didn’t really… they made a certain amount of sense that way because they were mostly written that way, [but] they didn’t come off in a way that we were really happy with.

JM: It wasn’t as specifically mean as it had to be.

You mentioned being able to play faster or slower sets. Which do you prefer?

HL: I feel like, with a little more space in the songs, there’s a little more time to be theatrical onstage.

JM: And things can be more powerful if they’re given wider moments. That’s for sure.

HL: That’s something that we both realized we were missing with the super-fast stuff.

JM: But we do try to stay peppy. That is true.

I’ve always felt that there’s a wonderful brightness to your music, but this album feels especially vivid and colorful. I realize that the cover of the album is probably in my mind when I say that.

HL: That’s exactly what we wanted.

JM: The cover of the album came out of nowhere. We were just doing searches on the internet for people who were taking pictures of crystals and found this woman who was living in England and was taking really cool macro pictures of crystals. We figured that we wanted lots of lightscapes because that’s what the songs seemed like they wanted to look like.

Is there anything you consciously set out to do differently with this album?

HL: Definitely the pacing of the songs. We wanted to give the songs more room to breathe and more dynamics, I guess. There’s a soft part in a song and a loud part. That’s always been there, but I think it’s more pronounced now.

The mixing on the album is out of this world. There are so many subtle details and variations. How much of that micro decision-making happens while writing and performing, and how much happens while recording and mixing?

JM: It happens at every point. We’re constantly making decisions. It’s all about making decisions. The way that we think about production and creation generally is it’s a constant serious of decisions. Do you want the reverb on the track or do you not want the reverb on the track? Do you want that little bit to go crazy, or do you not want that little bit to go crazy? Because it’s going to be performed, and it’s going to be dedicated to the tape. It’s not going to be malleable later. So mixing is often very simple, because we’re just pushing up the tracks. They’ve got all these tiny little fragmented pieces, and some of them need automation, volume. You know, we push up the volume, we move a pan over here for that bit, we turn the reverb up real quick and it’s down again, but for the most part, the decisions are all built into the recording.

HL: Decisions happen throughout the whole process of writing and being in the studio. Mixing not so much. I think the big difference is that a lot of bands these days will record everything and make half their decisions in mixing.

JM: Or more.

HL: Whereas I think, on any song, we have 80 to 90 percent of the decisions made before the mix is being approached.

You tracked Golden Rules at your own studio.

JM: I run [Esthudio Recording Studio] with this guy Dan [Gonzales].

How long did the tracking take?

JM: It was like nine months.

HL: Nine months to a year, with some breaks in between. We had some tours and stuff like that.

JM: We started recording “Yonkers” in…

Roger Lussier: December 2009. “Q_Q” was written like a month later.

JM: “Q_Q” I wrote while I was at my mom’s house. I demoed the whole song with a bag of those floss things… applicators…

HL: Floss picks.

JM: Floss picks, and a hairbrush, and an acoustic guitar and an electric guitar. And whatever vocal mic my mom had, which was actually a Neumann [laughs], which is sweet. Christmas fuckin’ ’09. That’s nuts.

Would y’all consider yourselves to be perfectionists?

HL: It’s something we struggle with. [laughs]

RL: Well, there’s nothing wrong with being a perfectionist. Everything should be perfect.

JM: We’re very perceptive constantly of music generally. We’re just very attentive to it. So, to us, all those very specific things are innately important.

HL: We’ve have very big discussions or arguments about a keyboard part, or reverb, that nobody will hear, ever.

JM: I’ll redo and redo and redo some bounce of tracks through some effects chain and if the rhythm of the fuckin’ delay isn’t right we’ll do it like 18 times and argue about which take was better.

As you’re doing that, does that seem like work, or does it seem like fun?

HL: Both. Definitely both.

JM: Sometimes it feels like work but only when we’ve been working on it for so long and it’s becoming belabored, I suppose. Or if we’ve been working on one thing for too long, one song for days and days. It’s like ‘Take a break from it, or take a day off.’ Sometimes you get nit-picky, but just because you love doing it and you want it to be perfect. You have an ambition to birth this thing into aural form.

How did y’all end up mixing at Tiny Telephone?

JM: They were having a really good deal! [John] Vanderslice had just opened a B room. They’d only been a one room studio forever, opened a B room and got a bunch of gear that we wanted to work with. They bought an ATR mix-down deck, and that was one of the stipulations. It had to have a good mix-down deck. So we were like ‘Oh, this is a well set-up studio.’

HL: We should preface by saying that it was one of like 4 studios on a shortlist.

JM: Oh, yeah. To begin with, it was on a shortlist.

HL: We’d always been interested in [Tiny Telephone]. John Vanderslice made it the easiest thing in the world to go and work there. He was there half the time and was always really accessible… I got deathly ill like two days into it, and Jeremy had to put up with me hacking up all kinds of everything.

JM: But it was really beautiful and you got to eat cool tacos.

Some of the reviews that I read online talked about class struggle themes on the album.

HL: Not what was intended in our minds at all. Not really even close.

JM: Not intended. But certainly there are many levels — many layers to the onion, always — and if you perceive something then it is just as real as how we perceive the meaning to be. Where does it come from anyway? Some sort of collective experience. Some sort of agreed experience.

HL: Somewhere in there, probably from us, those things are present in those lyrics, but that was not our conscious intention at all. There’s a whole other universe of good feelings.

How did you decide which songs would be on the Us You All We EP which ones would be on Golden Rules for Golden People? Was it always separate?

HL: It was always separate.

JM: Two of the songs that are on Us You All We were recorded during the the same sessions as all of Golden Rules, but two of them were recorded after we’d mixed and finished the full-length. But it was all stuff that made sense together, so were like ‘Let’s put something out.’

HL: We chose songs to complement each other.

JM: We were bored with not having anything new out. We’d been creating so much junk. ‘Put it out. Put out the junk, man.’

Some of the remixes that are associated with Us You All We I absolutely love. Like the “Dan’s Heart” remix, which is fantastic. How do you go about commissioning those?

HL: We just have good friends. We’re very, very fortunate to have friends who like our music and like us and like remixing and are happy to do us that kindness. When we’re on the road, and we meet a musician we like, and we think that it might make sense for them to do that, we’ll say ‘Hey, we’d love for you to do this if you’re interested. Pick a song and we’ll get you all the stuff that you need.’

What’s it like getting one of those back after you spend so much time on every little piece of a song? Is it surreal?

HL: It can be totally bizarre, it can be totally scary, it can be totally amazing, it can be everything. But it’s always good.

Has there ever been a time when you’re like ‘Oh my god, I wish I would have made that decision?’

JM: [laughs] No, I don’t think so. It’s never ‘I should have.’ It’s always ‘Look at the other, cool mathematical way you can put this together.’

HL: It’s so crazy how people find completely different ways to toss a song around and make something completely different that we would have never thought of.

I read in an interview that “the last few years have been difficult.” What’s been difficult about them?

JM: Not difficult necessarily, I guess, more just interesting. Odd. DIfferent.

HL: Difficult.

JM: It’s also had its silver linings of having a lot of time to relax and do the things that you wanted to do when you were being totally neurotic about finishing a product or working some specific job. So that’s been good.

HL: We’ve had the record done for two years, so it was frustrating for us to not be able to put it out and give it to people. And the fact that it had nothing to do with the music. The fact that the time it took, the two years, had absolutely nothing to do with music, it just had to do with business-y stuff and all that back end junk.

JM: And playing shows as well.

HL: We were busy. We were touring, playing shows and having a good time, but it was difficult in the background to have that stuff going on, where we wanted to be able to release the music and it wasn’t time apparently.

JM: We just… we found the perfect time.

—–

Golden Rules for Golden People is available now on Rory Records. Pretty & Nice begins a new string of dates with So Many Dynamos on July 6, including a July 7 stop at IOTA in Arlington, VA.

By Davy Jones

Marilyn Drew Necci

Marilyn Drew Necci

GayRVA editor-in-chief, RVA Magazine editor for print and web. Anxiety expert, proud trans woman, happily married.
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