PASTE – NE-HI: The Best of What’s Next

The Empty Bottle, in Chicago’s Ukrainian Village, is everything you’d ever want out of a rock venue: it’s a little dingy, it’s very loud, the beer is cheap. On Mondays, they put on free shows. Oh yeah, and the green room walls are covered in drawings of dicks.

It’s my first time in the Bottle’s green room, and I sit on a couch with NE-HI singer/guitarist Jason Balla, waiting for the rest of his band to arrive. This place is a second home for Balla and his fellow singer/guitarist Mikey Wells—the former works sound here, the latter works lights and door—so they’re completely unfazed.

In a way, the aesthetic down here matches NE-HI’s general outlook on life and music: don’t let thought get in the way of your ability to live and laugh. Their debut, eponymous LP, released in 2014, has ridden its lyrical simplicity and straightforward, jangly guitar riffs to popular and critical acclaim in the city, where the Chicago Reader named NE-HI the best band primed to break out this year in June. And with a November tour opening for Car Seat Headrest under their belts, they seem ready to take a national-level step when their sophomore album, currently in the works, is released later this year. Their craft, however, is just about the only thing they take seriously.