Conversation with Jason Balla of Ne-HI at Audiotree Music Festival

WLUW team members Scott Clancy and Elise Mcgannon sat down with Jason Balla, guitarist in the Chicago band Ne-Hi at The Audiotree Music Festival 2018 – They discussed the music scene in Chicago, recording plans, and Jason’s solo venture Accessory. Disclaimer: Written below is not our full conversation – which devolved into a back and forth about coffee and Roland S. Howard, among other topics, so if you’d like to hear it all, the full conversation is available to stream above.

Jason how are you doing today? I’m doing really great

How do you think your set went today? It was a great set to watch but what was your opinion on it? I had a blast, I kicked my cable out by accident and I had a string fall off of the guitar but otherwise clean and clear, it was a blast.

I wanted to start and ask you about the music scene in Chicago, I wanted to know your opinion on what it’s like in the scene because my impression of it is that a lot of bands in it are intermixed and very supportive of each other. Would you say that’s the case? Yeah 100%, everyone’s super supportive. Everyone comes to each other’s show. You know the band Ohmme? They just had their record release show at so Vivian [VV Lightbody] played, The Hecks which are my favorite Chicago band played, and it’s just across all genres everyone’s homies, supportive and it’s a place where everyone is kind of doing different stuff, similar things as well but even across far different things people are interested and I think in some way inspired by what they’re doing or how they’re doing it and everyone’s driven to come and play in Kalamazoo. I think it’s an overwhelming time right now especially for people willing take their art out which is cool.

So then how did the song you guys did with Jamila Woods come about? Was it a similar, did you guys know each other? We had met a couple times but honestly our kind of idea was that we had that song exist on our first record and actually our manager had the idea, what if you tried and reimagined a song and so obviously Jamila’s music is super awesome and we’re all big fans of hers so we kind of went back into a studio and kind of deconstructed the song and took the main elements of what made it like a cool and interesting as a rock song and repurposed it and gave it way more groove and then we sent it to her and she dropped some versus and we kind of chopped it all up and that’s kind of what you hear. It was really fun and totally different for us, it got us out of our whole zone we’ve operated in which I think going forward is where we’re kind of headed towards, not just like a straight rock and roll band anymore, there’s a little bit more going on which we’ve been working on right now.

Are you guys recording? We are – endlessly! tirelessly! Basically we’ve been writing all year and we started demoing seriously and recording starts in October into next year.

Do you have a set demo period or does it just kind happen however it happens? I mean you can make plans but we’re pretty unreliable guys. Keeping a schedule is a bit tough but we’re doing alright and we’ve been getting serious now.

So you mentioned how exciting it is to take your music elsewhere, outside Chicago, I know you guys have toured obviously, has it always been more exciting to travel around or is it more so now because as you mentioned it’s sort of picking up? I mean I don’t think it makes any difference. It’s fun to go somewhere else, you can’t play in Chicago every night, so you might as well go on tour and play every night.

What’s you favorite spot that you’ve travelled to? Oh my God. There’s a lot of cities in the world. I could give you like a top five: Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Total Drag Record Store, the best people run it, also just the sickest people live there. I like playing in California. Also obviously Chicago, Cincinnati. Cincinnati is a funny place and I love playing there. My favorite coffee shop is there, and the people are really great and the bands are really sick and I feel like people skip Cincinnati all the time so when you go there it’s fun because people are down. They have a great music scene, They have great music already but when you go into town it’s like an extra excuse to hang and see something new I guess. There are a lot of cities in the country that people just skip because it’s not worth it for them or whatever and i think we make a point to go to a lot of those place because its fun. 

So your stage presence, your actions on stage are very energetic, very noticeable – is my impression and I don’t mean that in a bad way, but is that a conscious decision on your part or something that you feel and it happens? I just kind of wanna have fun on stage, honestly if I just stand around I can’t play very well cause I’m just acting out what I’m playing basically. If I were to stand still it would just kind of sound like Guitar Hero flubs, all the clangs and boinks. It’d be terrible, you would boo us. I don’t know, playing roc and roll music is what we’re doing and it’s supposed to be fun, it doesn’t have to be this serious matter, I wanna have a good time and I think also having fun allows people who are watching it to maybe get loose. It’s a transfer of energy. 

I want ask you also about Accessory, your side project. We just talked to Vivian and she mentioned it and I was curious if you approach that in a different way? Songwriting or performance-wise? Yeah it’s a much different animal as far as music goes. I’m interested in a lot of different things musically and so that is my opportunity to write songs completely free of having to fit in any realm. I just made this record with sort of pure freedom in mind. I wasn’t even thinking about putting it out but it just kind of happened. 

What kind of stuff inspired it musically or otherwise? I guess I was really inspired by the art ensemble of Chicago. It’s like this jazz group from the 70s. That kind of really wild jazz era of stuff was pretty inspiring. There’s a certain amount of joy in exploration sonically that was interesting to me. And then I love things like Sonic Boom, his solo records and Jesus and Mary Chain, kind of anything that’s kind of fucked up and kind of dark. It’s like a conglomerate. 

Well that’s all I have – thanks so much for talking to us!

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