On a recent Wednesday night, in a house tucked away on a side street where Lower Allston gives way to Brighton, a group of kids are listening to Neil Diamond’s Moods and assembling chicken tacos in a kitchen tidy enough to make Martha Stewart blush. Oh, and when these four chefs aren’t cooking up tacos, they’re playing in the loudest, most aggressive band signed to the new Sub Pop imprint Hardly Art. Indeed, they’re just taking a break from recording an album in the basement.
HARDLY ART: Pretty & Nice are the first local band to be signed to the new Sub Pop imprint.
There’s a lot about Pretty & Nice that’s surprising. The band have stormed not only onto the local scene but also into national indiedom’s consciousness, getting nods from high-profile Web rags like Pitchfork and Paper Thin Walls. They’ve played a small handful of local shows since singers/guitarists Holden Lewis and Jeremy Mendicino moved to Boston from Burlington, Vermont, last May (they found bassist Andy Contois and drummer Bobby Landry through the Internet within a week of arriving in town), but they’re already gearing up for their third national tour, which kicks off upstairs at the Middle East March 5. (It was their first tour, last summer, less than two months after the current incarnation came together, that — through a serendipitous chain of events involving a show in Dayton and members of the defunct band Brainiac and their offshoot, Enon — led to the Hardly Art deal.)
Then there’s the band’s sound: spiny guitars, early-’80s-British-new-wave melodies (think Elvis Costello, the English Beat, Squeeze), spry punk-rock rhythms going head to head with fizzing analog synths and drum loops. Someone dubbed it “tazer rock,” a tag the band seem to dig. “We normally describe ourselves in the simple sense as a pop band, because we’re writing pop songs,” says Lewis. “We’re just treating them differently.”
The Pretty & Nice name dates back to 2004, when Lewis started writing music at home in Vermont between semesters at BU. He was playing with a rotating cast of musicians when he met Mendicino. “I saw a picture on the Internet of a tape machine, and Jeremy was mixing next to it. I was like, ‘Oh, he’s recording to tape. I oughtta send him an e-mail because we should do that.’ ” Mendicino engineered, produced, and played on what became P&N’s debut, Pink & Blue, which was followed by a “gay dance remix album” called Blue & Blue, a collection of commissioned remixes of four P&B songs plus two new tunes. It soon became obvious that Lewis and Mendicino were more serious about playing music than the rest of the band, and that it was time to get out of the “limiting” confines of Burlington.
They found a big place in Brighton, and Mendicino — who grew up in a “hiply hippie house,” the son of a “playwright and audio enthusiast” and a singer who once put out a children’s liturgical album on Epic — turned the basement into a bona fide studio, replete with all manner of recording equipment, amps, and keyboards ranging from a Realistic “Rap-Master” to a vintage Yamaha DX7. They proudly note that the basement is home to 44 guitars.