Flat Pabst Blue Ribbon, stale cigarettes, unintelligible graffiti on the walls, and floors no person ought to touch without sanitizer and a blanket. The underbelly of Allston is usually not a place you would expect to find gentlemen.
But Nice Guys, a recently-formed band featuring three Emerson students, thrives in the sullied environment for both rehearsal and performance space.
Self-described as a “surfy Black Flag,” the punk quartet includes visual and media arts majors Alex Aronson, Matt Garlick, and Jake Gilbertson. Drummer Cam Smith is a Bay State College sophomore who studies music management and audio engineering.
The musicians came together in January, when they held their first jam session. Garlick and Smith, whose Allston residence serves as the band’s practice space, were previous acquaintances who had played together in the past.
“We would get together, write lyrics and come up with ideas,” said Garlick, a junior and one of the band’s two guitarists.
Garlick says those ideas hadn’t resulted in anything until he went to the Netherlands for the Kasteel Well study abroad trip in fall of 2011 and met guitarist Aronson and bassist Gilbertson, both sophomores.
Once the European adventure ended, Garlick brought his new friends to meet Smith.
“I talked him up to the guys,” Garlick said. Once they met in early January of this year, the quartet found a similar interest in all things punk.
Each band members’ musical interests lent themselves to Nice Guys’ sound, an aggressive cacophony of crunchy guitar riffs, drum beats, and unintelligible vocals.
“Alex is more 90s psychedelic rock, Jake is ska, Cam is definitely hardcore, and I am more garage,” Garlick said.
They name the Portland surf-punk group Guantanamo Baywatch and the prolific Bay Area garage rockers Thee Oh Sees as their main influences. The wavy but occasionally vigorous guitar blasts of both bands frequently come out in Nice Guys’ high energy tunes.
In an anonymous house — a makeshift concert venue dubbed The Hidden Fortress — the band has been able to try out their energetic music for intimate, if riotous, crowds. To find out the location of the pad, concert-goers were encouraged to “like” the Nice Guys fan page on Facebook and message them directly for the address. The confidentiality of the venue is a necessity to avoid any police interference so the location can remain open for continued underground concerts.
On April 20, a widely acknowledged day of celebration for marijuana users, the band entertained the hazy gathering at the Fortress with a brief, five-song set. Tracks titled “Burrito Boner,” “Pizza Bong,” and “Fuck If I Know” riled the crowd into a sweaty, 40 ounce-gripping mosh pit in the middle of the living room.
The performance was not without glitches — issues with chords and power strips resulted in a delay. The inebriated crowd paid little mind. A disc jockey performing at the concert filled the gap of silence. As Aronson and Gilbertson fiddled with plugs, Garlick could be seen talking with the crowd and taking sips from an audience member’s brown paper bag, while Smith banged on the drums in their cognitive absence.
Once the set began, raucous songs filled the room with muddy vocals and distortion that kept ears buzzing once the audience left the Fortress. The songs tended to blend together in the flurry of noise, and each ended with a commotion of shouts, cymbals, and guitar — great for a drunken, rowdy crowd that wants to head bang or mosh. Aronson finished the set demanding of his audience, “If you have a beer, drink it. If you have a joint, smoke it. Right now!”
Before and after the show, the band’s EP, Mean Songs, and a button were sold for a package deal of $1.The EP was recorded in Emerson’s Ansin Building in a span of a few hours.
Although the band has a scant budget, Nice Guys’ motivation for performing is not monetary.
“If there’s no money, there’s no money. We’re still going to do it anyway,” Gilbertson said to nods of agreement from his bandmates.
Garlick had a few additional motivations.
“I’m in it for free drugs, girls, and free booze,” he said.
The immediate future of Nice Guys is uncertain. Gilbertson leaves Boston for the summer to return home to the West Coast, and in that time a replacement bassist needs to be found.
Nice Guys hope to tour over the next year, possibly opening for bands in Philadelphia or Massachusetts — if the prolonged exposure to Allston basements hasn’t left them too debilitated, that is.