Interview: NE-HI Talk Current State of Chicago DIY

By: Seth Johnson
Photos: Berto Campos

Following their high-energy set at Pitchfork Music Festival 2017, our Seth Johnson caught up with Chicago’s NE-HI for an afternoon chat.

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Seth Johnson: What background did you two have in Chicago’s DIY scene prior to NE-HI? How did your individual paths eventually cross?

Alex Otake (drummer): Me and Jason play in another project called EARRING.

James Weir (bassist): You also have deep history in Chicago with putting on shows.

AO: Yeah. I’ve lived at a bunch of show spaces. Like, I used to live at this place called Treasure Town on the south side (see footage of The Men playing there in 2012 here). That was like a three-times-a-week kind of show house. It was like a three-story warehouse. So we have been deeply rooted in Chicago’s DIY scene, which is now unfortunately very depleted in a big way.

SJ: What has changed about it?

AO: I mean, there are always peaks and valleys when it comes to show spaces and DIY houses in Chicago. But right now, it’s a very deep valley it seems. There are still definitely DIY spaces, but it’s not at all what it was.

JW: I think a lot of the bands we had been playing with were just moving to bigger venues too. There was just so much concentration on that specific scene, and it just kind of outgrew its space.

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SJ: Even though you say its depleted, are there still things that excite you about Chicago’s DIY scene?

AO: When I say depleted, I mean that the spaces aren’t all there. The music is all there 100%, even more so than it has been in the past. The space for having a larger DIY show is just not really there. There’s so much exciting music coming out of Chicago right now.

JW: The spaces might not be there. But as far as the sound of new Chicago bands, it’s even better than I think it was. The boundaries are being pushed more, and there are so many awesome bands out here. It’s not even just bands, but hip-hop and R&B too. From every genre, there’s just good fucking stuff going on right now.

SJ: Who are some people that you guys are personally excited about from Chicago?

JW: Jamila Woods. My cousin used to be a part of this group called Young Chicago Authors, which Saba and Chance the Rapper got their start through. I’ve seen her do poetry for the past five years, and now she’s just putting out amazing music. I think she’s going to be really big, and I really appreciate her message and her music.

AO: And then, we just saw our really good friends Deeper play, and they’re unbelievable.

JW: They feel like a piece of that old Chicago that we came from too. They’re new, and they’re great. We love them.

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SJ: Obviously, you guys aren’t playing DIY shows as much now. What adjustments have you had to make with playing more conventional venues?

AO: For me, the real thing is trying to bring the kind of energy that we were able to create in a small space into a bigger space, which is really hard to do (laughs). The real challenge is trying to bring that kind of energy and trying to get everyone on that energy level with you while you’re playing.

JW: It’s just more preparation and trying to keep the same spirit and energy.

AO: We try not to waiver from the way we perform.

SJ: I know you went through some ups and downs with the making of your latest album, Offers. Can you talk to me a little bit about that?

JW: The process was just putting your whole life into it — not only your time, but also your emotions.

AO: It was very emotionally draining when we were having difficulties with it.

JW: But the beauty is that it’s so emotionally rewarding in that we put everything in, and there’s been some really awesome payback.

AO: As cheesy as fuck as that all sounds (laughs by all). But, it’s real though.

JW: People have been giving us a lot of love, and it’s really cool. At the end of the day, we put out a record that we’re really proud of, and I think we can do even better next time.

SJ: What’s on the horizon for you guys? More touring?

JW: We have some really tight tours coming up. We’re going to be in Indy with The Drums in August (event info here).

AO: We’re rolling with Chad VanGaalen to the West Coast, which I’m really, really excited about. He’s just a total badass, and we’re very excited to go on the road with him.

JW: We’re also touring with our really good buddies Whitney in late November/December.

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