Hear First: Nice Guys’ Nice Guys

The premiere of the band's debut album, plus some words on it from Boston hardcore legend Mr. B.

Hear First is Talkhouse’s series of album premieres. Along with streams of upcoming albums — today’s is Nice Guys’ self-titled debut — we publish statements from artists and their peers about the mindsets and impressions that go into, or come out of reflection on, a record. Here, Mr. B — an integral part of Boston’s early hardcore scene and one of the producers of the iconic This Is Boston, Not L.A. compilation — shares some words on the debut album, which you can also listen to right here.
—Annie Fell, Talkhouse Senior Editor

Nice Guys began as a chance encounter of three Boston-based college students during a study abroad program in the Netherlands. Edibles were shared, musical influences were discussed, and promises were made. Alex Aronson, Jake Gilbertson, and Matt Garlick agreed to start a band as soon as they returned to Boston.

With the addition of drummer Cam Smith, Nice Guys became a fully formed unit. They immediately recorded a demo tape of original, but extremely primitive, garage rock songs and began playing house shows two-to-three nights a week throughout Boston’s DIY neighborhoods. Their very first show (from April 2012) is on YouTube: 

Early Nice Guys music was a lo-fi take on the surf, garage, and hardcore bands that had initially inspired them to start playing together. Their song topics were limited to weed, booze, and snacks, and their performances were sloppy and chaotic. They looked like they were having lots of fun, but could barely finish a song with all band members remaining upright. It was not unusual for the band members to end the night with broken equipment and blood on their guitars. They had few expectations that the band would ever continue beyond their next show.

Several months after the Nice Guys began, Alex moved in to a large yellow house in Allston, Massachusetts that would serve as the band’s practice space. Dubbed by Matt as the Black Lodge (a Twin Peaks reference), Alex organized the first house show there in September 2012. Jake, Matt, and Cam all moved in a year later, and they collectively established the Black Lodge as an important DIY space to showcase local and touring bands.

Over the next few years, Nice Guys members completely immersed themselves in the Allston DIY community: hosting shows at Black Lodge, playing house shows whenever and wherever they were asked, and gaining musical experience as band members in other local area bands. They also developed the Nice Guys sound into increasingly powerful, high-energy stoner punk and diligently documented their musical progress on Bandcamp.

When Pete Bayko joined the Nice Guys as their new drummer in December 2016, the band was ready to start working on fresh songs and music that reflected the frustrations of trying to make it on their own in a rapidly gentrifying Allston. Their days of weed, booze, and snacks were not completely over, but musically they were ready for some changes and new challenges. By the Fall of 2017, all band members had moved out of Black Lodge.

Nice Guys’ self-titled album marks a dramatic departure from the low-fidelity of the band’s Black Lodge days and illustrates the band’s success in incorporating more complex and compelling song ideas. Although the band hasn’t lost any of the intensity of its punk rock beginnings: some of the angry songs still focus on crappy jobs (“Exhaustion,” “Sanitizer,” “Pissin’ Dirty”), and bad bosses (“Brunch Poisoning”), they let us know that they are also pissed off about how real estate development is displacing musicians and artists throughout Allston (“Gutterbug,” “Condos”). The album also some of their more sensitive observations regarding interpersonal relationships (“Class of Jenkum,” “Fine,” “Best Buds”).  

Two songs on the album pay special tribute to the Black Lodge and breaking down that barrier between a band’s performance and the audience‘s participation (“Great Basement Show in the Sky,” “Weed is Dumb”). These songs celebrate those rare “Be Here Now” moments when everyone at a house show becomes enveloped by one shared experience. It’s one sure way to make being in a band completely worthwhile.

— Mr. B

Postscript: On July 27, 2019, Nice Guys played at the Black Lodge one last time, before all its tenants were kicked out. The house is currently being renovated to make room for the next generation of young professionals moving into its increasingly desirable Allston neighborhood.

Nice Guys is a band from Allston, MA consisting of Alex Aronson, Jake Gilbertson, Matt Garlick, and Pete Bayko. Their debut self-titled album is out October 2019.