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Art? Hardly

A conversation with Pretty & Nice’s Jeremy Mendicino

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As former Seven Days music editor Casey Rae-Hunter predicted in his review of Pretty & Nice’s second EP Blue & Blue in 2007, the rest of the world is finally catching on to the Boston-by-way-of-Burlington indie rockers. Released late last year, Get Young, the band’s impeccable full-length debut for Hardly Art — a subsidiary of legendary Seattle imprint Sub Pop — merely confirms what Burlingtonians have known all along: These boys are poised for bigger things.

In advance of their show at The Monkey House later this month, Seven Days caught up with P&N’s Jeremy Mendicino. The guitarist/vocalist took an unscheduled break from his day job at The UPS Store to chat with us by phone about the band, the move to Boston, signing on the dotted line, and, um, wizarding.

SEVEN DAYS: What prompted the move from Burlington to Boston?

JEREMY MENDICINO: Well, we just decided we wanted to do “big-boy stuff.” So Holden and I moved down and figured it out.

SD: But why Boston, specifically?

JM: To be honest, proximity and ease of operation. But, good God, Boston is so lovely, right? So lovely!

Nah, it wasn’t because we were in some sort of love with Boston. It had everything to do with logistics. It was easiest to move to Boston because it was the least distance [from Burlington]. It’s the nearest metropolitan area at the least distance.

Really, the story of Pretty & Nice and the whole Boston thing is entirely superfluous. People will often ask why we moved here and the answer is, like, “Uh, because we had to move somewhere and that was the closest thing?”

But a lot of the time we’ll just make up reasons. Like, I was training to be a wizard and my mentor was in Waltham. So I decided if I wanted to live in a metropolitan area and be a city wizard, I’d have to be as close to my mentor as possible. And Waltham to Boston is a quick bus ride.

SD: Well there you go. That’s a more interesting story anyway.

JM: Which is usually why I don’t start out with the reality.

SD: There is sort of a prevailing paradoxical wisdom that Burlington is a really good place to get a start as a band, but there’s really only so far you can go before the grass becomes greener somewhere else.

JM: It’s a groovy place. It’s a really groovy place. So to do the whole music thing, which is sort of a groovy aspiration, it’s an easy spotting ground for people to think, “Oh, I could really do this,” within the confines of our society. Because in Burlington, you don’t realize the confines of the society because it’s sort of off the map, off the grid. But then you move elsewhere and, obviously, the population is larger. And the ratio is perhaps the same of musicians to the music laypeople. But at least you know there are more people to play with.

Usually the hitch is that the grooviness of Burlington is juxtaposed with the fact that the population is itsy-bitsy. And even though people are groovy, they might not share all the same, I don’t know, all the same intricacies, within the aspirations of being a groovy musician dude.

SD: There’s also a logistical hurdle in that Burlington is something of an outpost. So I’m wondering how much the move to Boston helped from that standpoint.

JM: If we had been able to retain musicians in Burlington and tour as often as we do living in Boston, then the chance of everything happening the way it did would have been just the same. Playing in Boston didn’t have anything to do with any of the connections we made in “the industry.” All that had to do with just traveling all the time and playing shows for various and sundry important people. And them telling their friends and family . . . And their friends and family calling their friends and family on their “Friends and Family” plan with Verizon. And eventually someone lived in Seattle and they heard about it and gave us money.

SD: So that’s how Hardly Art got involved. Did they approach you, or was it the other way around?

JM: I think right when Pink and Blue came out, we did a mailing to, like, maybe 30 different labels, and I think Sub Pop was on that list. But that’s definitely not how they heard of us. Again, it was just touring.

As far as I know, I’m pretty sure the events go like this: For some unknown reason, John Schmersal of Brainiac and Enon heard us . . . somehow. Who knows? And then, coincidentally, Juan Monasterio from Brainiac saw us in Dayton. And we hung out a little bit because they’re, like, our idols, and we gave them records and shirts and stuff and were, like, “Please don’t pay for these.” And he did anyway.

Then John wrote about us a couple of times on the interweb. A couple of different people read those things, one of whom was [head of A&R] Tony Kiewell at Sub Pop. And he, amongst a bunch of other kind souls, got in touch with us and said, “We like what you’re doing.” And then Sarah [Moody] at Hardly Art was made privy to us. And they were happy to hear our music. So we kept playing the music for them. And they said, “Play more music for us and we shall pay for it, gladly.” And we said, “Three duckets, please.” And they gave us three duckets. And when the record was done, we gave them three duckets’ worth of music and they manufactured it on little tiny plastic discs at their expense.

SD: I see . . . so how much input did Hardly Art have on the recording?

JM: They didn’t hear it until it was done. During the seven months that we were recording, I sent Sarah two mixtapes, on which were, like, two-minute clips of rough mixes without vocals. And that was all she ever heard.

SD: That’s a pretty hands-off approach.

JM: That was one of the points of the contract that allowed us to sign with them. None of us has any interest in making a record we didn’t want to make. That has nothing to do with anything we want to be doing with our lives. So we made it clear and they were happy to let us have full artistic rein.

SD: It seems as though signing to a label is almost becoming less desirable, especially with the ease of DIY distribution and putting your music out on your own dime. So what are the advantages to signing with a label like Hardly Art?

JM: Really, as far as I’m concerned, the main advantage is distribution. Making sure that your record actually gets into people’s hands, which is most of the battle. And that’s why we tour, you know? To make sure that people hear us and want to hear us.

Beyond that, it’s just promotions and assistance, as far as making phone calls, tapping people on the shoulder, punching them in the stomach, telling them to fucking listen or die. It’s just extra sets of hands and extra sets of brains thinking about and logistifying . . . logitifying? . . . Anyway, making it possible for people to actually take what you’re making in, so that it’s not for nothing or lost as soon as it’s broadcast.

They’re also willing to give loans in a more gracious way than banks and all other financial institutions give loans, because they care.

It all works out. I think the only real issue in the music industry is that big money has gotten too big and people have gotten away from the reasons why David Geffen, for instance, was putting out records and signing bands. It had nothing to do with returns. It had everything to do with spreading far-out sounds. Making what was unknown known for people who really need it and truly appreciate it.

So for that, I thank Mr. Geffen and Hardly Art for continuing the legacy of legitimate record-label organizations who are not just trying to manufacture schlock that is sellable.

SD: What’s on the horizon?

JM: Touring, touring, touring. Writing, writing. Recording. Touring, touring. Recording. Writing, recording, touring.

SD: Gotcha. So, are you planning to put out another album this year?

JM: Maaaaaaybe this year. We’ll see how fast we end up working. We don’t have a timeline, and the newest record is still new as far as we’re concerned. Most people have not heard it yet and we’d like for more people to hear it before we start throwing more music in their faces.

But there’s definitely more music on the way. Fear not, America! Pretty & Nice shall crank out more schlock for you to wrap your dirty lips around.

SD: How lewd!

JM: Yeah, well. That’s what we’re all about. People think otherwise. But I think not.

SD: Well, your name sort of implies otherwise.

JM: What a stupid name! What a horrible name! What a terrible name that no one should ever name anything! But the beauty of Pretty & Nice is that we are open to do whatever the hell we want and it all fits within the parameters of either literalism or irony. I can help an old lady across the street. Or I can punch her in the face.

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