Chicago – This month, U.K. twosome Nai Harvest are set to unfetter their latest endeavor, Hairball. Shortly after forming in 2011, guitarist Ben Thompson and drummer Lew Currie started to gain attention with their emo-rock and 2013 release Whatever (Dog Knights Productions). After signing with Topshelf Records, they’re back with a more punkish, garage rock feel, and what Ben Thompson considers to be their “real” debut. Best New Bands spoke with Thompson about the making of Hairball, fans’ reactions to their new sound, and one of his favorite pastimes, touring.
You have a new LP, Hairball, due out April 28, featuring the single “Sick on My Heart.” Can you talk about the making of your sophomore album?
We wrote it over the space of probably around six months, and we wrote most of it on tour. Actually, we toured pretty much for about four months in a row, so every time we did a sound check, we just tried to write a song and in the van, we were messing around with guitars, and hitting the seats with drumsticks, writing songs while we were driving down the roadway. It was kind of a different way to write a record, but I think it really worked because we were on the move so much. I think it influenced how fast and punky the record sounds compared to our other stuff because of the fact that we were doing it on that time scale. We didn’t really do it on purpose; we just had nothing else to do, on tour, in the van, or at sound checks. There’s no point in waiting till we get home. We wrote about 80 percent of it on tour, which was really cool!
We recorded it with our really good friend Bob Cooper, who has recorded pretty much everything we’ve ever done… He knows us so well, so we wouldn’t want to go anywhere else. Especially because the sophomore LP, I mean Whatever wasn’t really…umm… people think it was our first album but it was kind of like a collection of all the EPs we did, onto one vinyl, so I guess you can call that an album, but this album is probably like…
Like your real debut?
Yeah! I know it’s not being called that, but it’s our first one where we sat down together and were like, right, we’re going to write an album, rather than have two EPs that you never got to put on a seven-inch, let’s stick those and a couple new songs on a twelve inch, which is what Whatever was like… We didn’t really think of it as an album… We thought about this as an album, so every song is in a similar key and they kind of run into each other a bit, they have similar meanings. Whereas Whatever was just whatever (laughs)… I guess it is our sophomore album, but I think of it as our debut.
Is there a story behind the title?
Yeah, a lot of the record, because we were on tour (laughs), a lot of the album is about feeling sick and hungover and staying out too late, doing dumb things, and then waking up in the morning, being like, “Ugh, what the f**k did I do? That was stupid!” You know, feeling like shit… “Hairball” is kind of a polite way of referencing being sick everywhere, throwing up. It was kind of like our little metaphor for throwing up, driving down the roadway, with your head sticking out the window… (laughs)
This album is a departure from your first album. So far, based on the singles you’ve released, how have fans responded?
Really well, actually! It’s been cool. I know it’s definitely different to Whatever, by the fact that it’s…umm…I mean, it’s probably still that DIY lo-fi vibe, but Whatever, it was just a bit messy and wild. We didn’t really know how to write songs at the time. I think as we’ve gone on over the last two and a half years, we’ve figured out how to write a successful – well, what we think is more successful – pop song, rather than just like having 18 different parts of a song all in one go. (laughs) That’s what we used to do, throw as many bits in as we could. There was no verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, you know? It was just like part one, part two, part three, part four. There was no real structure, just loads of messy noise. Which I thought was cool, but we’ve definitely parted away from that with more classical song structures, I guess. We’re more garage-y about it. Simplicity is the key. Not too many lyrics, not too many parts, not too many over-complicated things happening. Just straight lo-fi punk… It works so well for us, and I think it’s a sound we’re gonna always stick with.
We did it a little bit on Hold Open My Head, but Hold Open My Head still had a few not as repetitive parts…With this record, just a bit more very straight forward in some ways, but very weird in the way that we’ve like, the lyrics are weird as f**k, and the guitar playing, the distortion on my vocals, the distortion on the drums, it’s all very distorted, like a pop record that’s been drowned in fuzz. I drowned Christina Aguilera in fuzz. (laughs)
(laughs) Well, I like the sound of it!
I think the fans have responded better to it than we thought they would. We just write records for ourselves. We don’t really give a shit. As long as Topshelf likes it, and they’re willing to put it out, someone out there is gonna like it. But we’re not too overly concerned, like we hadn’t sat there going, “Oh, we really wanna write songs that kids will like.” We just wrote songs we like… especially with this record. We really found ourselves. It’s like our own [sound]. You can compare it to whoever you want – a few reviews said Wavves, FIDLAR, a bit like Sparklehorse…I listen to those bands, and I don’t hear it. I just hear us being our own, weird sound that we scraped together. But I think kids really like the fact we just do what we want and aren’t too concerned with what’s trendy or what kind of bands are getting big at the moment, you know giving a certain sound… as long as the people who like it more outweigh the people who like it less, I’m happy. (laughs)
Let’s talk about “All the Time.” What inspired this song?
That song is actually about wanting to be on tour, all the time. It was definitely one of the [songs] we wrote on tour, when we were in Europe, I think it was [written] between three days, between three German shows. We just did our sound check, then asked the sound guy to f**k off, so we could practice. Then we just wrote. It came to me as we were writing the music. I went over to the mic and started singing and anything that came out of my mouth ended up being in “All the Time.” I’d like to be on tour all the time, just hang out and not have any responsibilities… We’re both coming to the point in our lives where we feel like we should be getting “real” jobs, getting on, but we’re still doing this “stupid” band dream, working these shitty jobs. We’re both artists, so we do art for a living, trying to sell artwork and do record covers for bands and poster designs. We try and scrape by with that, and try to scrape by with the band, but we don’t really have “real” jobs. It’s about not wanting to come home off tour, and just being paid to do that forever, even though that’s not really realistic.
I’m an artist, too, so I get it, like can I get paid just to make art, please? (laughs)
Yeah, you know how it is. It sucks. (laughs)
One of my favorite tracks on Hairball is “Ocean Of Madness.” Can you talk a bit about that song?
“Ocean Of Madness” is probably the slowest song we wrote, ever… the song’s about getting caught up in drugs. I’m not anti drugs in any way, but there’s definitely a point where you get caught up in it too much, where it rules your life. “Ocean Of Madness” is about drowning under the pressure of drug abuse… I have a few friends who have been in that boat. It’s sort of an ode to them and keeping your head above water in this crazy world we live in, where you can get anything you want from anyone with a phone call. It’s about being responsible with your vices, if you will. Everyone has a vice. It’s okay to have a vice. It’s okay to have something you’re guilty of doing… but it’s about keeping control of that.
And do you have a favorite track?
My favorite track is probably “All the Time,” and I think Lew’s is “All the Time” or “Melanie.” One of those two… [“All the Time”] is definitely me and Lew’s favorite to play live!
I really like “Sick on My Heart.” It makes me want to lose myself and go crazy. Does it do that for you?
Yeah, yeah. Every time we play that song, we extend parts of it live, so I can roll around on the floor and like essentially jump into the crowd, depending on how the crowd is receiving…we did a show at the NME Awards, like three days before “Sick on My Heart” came out, and I was really annoyed because I wanted “Sick on My Heart” to be out before the NME Awards, so people could hear it. We played it live anyway. We just said, “Here’s a new one,” and the crowd was really loving it. Normally you don’t get that because if you hear a band say there’s a new song, you usually just go, “Ugh!”
I saw Nai Harvest open up for Kittyhawk in Chicago and was impressed by your stage presence and how much noise was coming from just two people. Did you always have a duo in mind, or did it just so happen to work out that way?
Yeah, it definitely happened by accident… Lew was in another band… they broke up just after Nai Harvest started – for reasons not to do with Nai Harvest – we were living in this house with Best Friends… we ended up wanting to start this other band… we had a couple of practices, just two people. Then we had some friends come and play bass for us. In the end, we thought it sounded best just the two of us. So we left it like that.
You have a European headlining tour in April. You obviously love touring, but what’s your least favorite part of touring?
Lew gets very homesick, and he wouldn’t mind me saying that. He has a girlfriend. They’ve been going out for a long time. He misses her. I think she’ll like to read that. (laughs) Sometimes we’ll be hanging out, and he’ll nip off for an hour to call her and stuff… he doesn’t not love touring, but like we’ve done like 30-day tours before. To not be at home, to not have your comforts, I guess it’s just the little things, like not having a shower at home, sleeping in your bed, kinds of thing that you miss a little bit after awhile… Any more than ten days, it becomes less of a holiday and more of work. The first ten days are like party central and then the next ten days are like, oh this is like a job, waking up every morning to go to work. So you feel a bit stressed about it, but then when you actually get on stage, all that goes away.
I recently talked with Izzi from The Preatures, and she said sometimes you just miss the ordinary of life.
Yeah, I think that’s just like waking up, having breakfast at the same time every day, going about what you normally do. There’s like no real routine on tour. Everyday it’s so different. It keeps you on your toes, but like some days on tour we don’t eat till like seven o’clock at night because we just have to get up and drive. Or we’ll stay up real late one night and not wake up till three and then we have to sound check at five, when we’re three hours away from the venue, so we have step on it and drive… It’s exhausting a bit, but that’s probably due to our own immaturity. (laughs)
If you’re in Europe, you can catch Nai Harvest on tour, in all their immature glory. (Click HERE for tour dates.) No matter where you are, you can check out Hairball come April 28, via Topshelf Records.
Photo credit: Daniel Read
After attending The School of the Art Institute in Chicago, Sarah went on to study education at Dominican University, earning a degree in history. When not teaching, writing, or taking in a show, she is most likely to be found with a camera to her eye or hanging out in a darkroom.
You can follow Sarah Hess on twitter at @Sarahhasanh and view her music photography on her website: smhimaging.com.