“I guess I’d better get comfortable with the microphone,” Jason Buehler said as he warily fingered the tape recorder.
“This machine will turn anything I say into literary gold,” Mark Shirazi deadpanned as he grabbed the thing off the table.
Two approaches, one band, nice nice. Buehler, as guitarist for the Portland electronic-instrumental duo, is used to exploring small devices like the tape recorder. He held it in measured fashion like it was another guitar pedal, a tool for experimentation. Drummer Shirazi’s quip was on the money like one of his jazzy fills, or a downbeat not a moment too soon.
The pair’s constant banter makes it plain these two have known each other a long time. Shirazi and Buehler met in Massachusetts 13 years ago; and it wasn’t long before they started playing music together in a school band.
“We played jazz rock,” Shirazi said.
Buehler eventually moved to Olympia for school at Evergreen State College, and had played in a few bands by the time Shirazi showed up in 1991. They picked up where they’d left off in high school – playing “jazz rock.” Olympia’s punk intelligentsia never quite caught on, and after eight long years the duo moved to Portland.
“When we moved to here, we had no idea what was going to happen,” Shirazi said. “We would play in Olympia for five people.” Now nice nice regularly plays shows packed to the hilt.
“We’re one of many bands who moved to Portland from Olympia and found greater success,” Buehler said.
“Something positive rubbed off on us there, though” Shirazi assured – implying the band found inspiration in the DIY-or-Die attitude of Washington’s capital city.
Live, Buehler samples and plays over his own guitar loops, distorting and perfecting little snippets each in turn until he and Shirazi lock into a groove. The layers of loops develop into new rhythms as Shirazi’s ready-steady beat continues. Buehler might signal Shirazi to keep a beat rolling or to move on to a bridge. Or they’ll stop on a dime without warning, only to bust out with some noise or get tough with an edgy electro rhythm. In short, the audience is never sure what will happen next.
About to release a 7″ on the Pennsylvania-based White Denim label, nice nice is currently shopping a full-length around. “People are getting interested. We’re going to go in and record some more stuff pretty soon,” Buehler said.
It’s good they’re getting it down on tape, because a nice nice song never sounds the same twice. In general, music is much more interesting these days because of all of the improvisation going on, and nice nice does it about as good as anybody.
“I think most of any [nice nice] show is improvised,” Shirazi said. “Some basslines and beats we know we can get to – how we get there and when we get there is usually up to how we feel at the time. Whatever goes on top of those basslines or beats – is improvised.”
“Lately we’ve been practicing a lot, and setting clear for where we want to go,” Buehler said. “We’ve been playing with the idea of vocals and a more organized song structure.
In a way it won’t change our sound, there will be one more voice that we can add on top.”
A big part of any band’s success lies in the players’ ability to work together on stage, and when Shirazi and Buehler lock in, it’s more-than-obvious they’re comfortable playing together. The musical rapport these guys share – when Shirazi doubles it up just as Buehler’s loops reach a frenzied breaking point – makes plain their many years playing together.
And the good time they have is a sign of their unabashed love of all music.
“That’s how we started it all, but we’ve never been particularly loyal to one genre,” Shirazi said. “We’re always open no matter what.”
This is evidenced by the variety of the shows they play. Nice nice has performed this year with acts as varied as the now-defunct, legendary Olympia outfit Unwound and local electronic act Supersprite, leaving a pleased crowd in its wake each time.
“In general I’m surprised and overjoyed at the open-mindedness of modern audiences,” Buehler said. “That people are willing to pay attention to weird music.”
Merchandise is a good draw to: “We have a button maker; we made a bunch of buttons,” he said. “I was thinking about making a button that says ‘PDX’ so the Portland kids can show there pride. Represent their community, you know?”
Sounds like a possible back-up plan, a sure moneymaker in case audiences tire of “weird music.”
“I’m doing it,” he concluded.