You know, it’s funny. There have been a lot of great albums released by Brisbane acts this year, but Digital Mountain may very well be one of the best. It was recorded by Nice Biscuit, a group based in the capital of the Sunshine State but with all members bar one hailing from regional towns just inland of the coast.
The band itself was born in Mullumbimby. A kind of jam collective between friends, they threw together a name and setlist on the fly to satisfy the demands to play one of their mother’s house parties. They’ve come a little way further since then.
But the victories have been hard won. When it comes to the more commercial ends of their operation – recording music, releasing records, sourcing shows and printing merch – the group are self-taught and almost entirely self-managed. Then again, as they themselves will readily point out, having six pairs of hands dedicated to the same cause does make for lighter work.
There’s an independent streak. They’re a tight-knit unit with a family feel. Music is something which matters to them and they want theirs handled with care. Creativity comes first – this band is not content simply repeating previously successful formulas.
Whatever they’re doing, it seems to be working. While the band themselves are modest when it comes to discussing fans, they’ve built a following. Nice Biscuit are the real deal, an outfit which is on a journey. Something to get behind, something you want to succeed.
Finding Ben, Billie, Nick and Grace at BIGSOUND, we look back at where the group have come from, and dive deeper into their creative ethos along with the psychedelia which touches their sound. Taking it all into consideration, we speculate as to where the future might take them next.
With their debut album, Nice Biscuit are beginning to take another significant step. Which makes it as good a time as any to catch up with four of the six.
HAPPY: You’re based in Brisbane, Fairfield, but by way of Mullumbimby?
GRACE: Yeah, kind of!
BILLIE: Well not all of us, we’re all from different places. Ben and I are both from Northern Rivers. That’s how we know each other and Jess as well. Grace is from Narrabri. Ben’s from Brisbane.
HAPPY: How did you all come together as a band?
GRACE: Ben? Probably Nick.
BILLIE: How did we come together originally? Well, Grace and I got kinda…
GRACE: Set up!
BILLIE: …set up by a friend. They knew that we’d be best friends if we met. Then we were all just mates and just started to jam.
GRACE: Without wanting to sound cliché, it all just kind of happened very organically.
NICK: Yeah! We just started jamming and stuff and it just worked itself out among us.
GRACE: And then my mum had a party. She wanted us to play in Mullumbimby.
NICK: So we put together a set and a band name!
HAPPY: Ah I see. So the initial Nice Biscuit set, the birth of the band you might call it, was in Mullumbimby?
HAPPY: Tell me about the creative process. Are there people that lead into things with songs and ideas or is it just jamming?
GRACE: Ben and Jess write a lot of the songs.
BEN: Yeah, we sort of write songs, pull them apart and then put them back together to see what works.
NICK: Somebody usually comes in with about 70 per cent of a song…
GRACE: And then we all add our bits.
NICK: Billie, almost always, writes the lyrics.
HAPPY: There’s six people in the band. What does each of the group’s personalities bring to a song?
BILLIE: Ben and Jess like heavy psychedelic rock, but with Grace or me it’s probably a bit more chords and lyricsy. Not folky, more bluesy.
NICK: It’s just more vocal driven,
BILLIE: Yeah, ours are vocal driven and guitar driven.
HAPPY: What has been your experience making music here in Brisbane?
BILLIE: It’s great!
GRACE: The music community here is amazing.
NICK: Extremely supportive.
GRACE: Everyone is supportive. Everybody is in each other’s bands. People write together…
HAPPY: You sound like you’re really engaged here locally but at the same time you’re a band taking that step further too. I mean that in the sense that you’re touring nationally, releasing an album and also handling the industry side of things too! It seems like it’s an interesting period for you guys…
GRACE: We’re starting to have a little kind of family…
NICK: A community!
GRACE: …and we all help each other out.
HAPPY: I have to confess to being a bit of a psychedelic obsessive. Can you tell me about the influence of psychedelia on your music or maybe even going further on you yourselves? What drew you in?
BEN: For me, it was when I listened to the Mars Volta. I don’t know, it’s just different. You get sick of listening to shit that sounds the same, that constantly sounds the fucking same! [Something is psychedelic] when you can put on a song for 15 minutes and you don’t have to change the record. Even if it is the same thing for 15 minutes you can always find these little things to listen to each time around…
BILLIE: It takes you on a journey!
GRACE: I feel with psychedelic music it’s more like an experience than just a cookie-cutter song that has a formula.
BILLIE: …has a formula.
GRACE: We finish each other’s sentences!
NICK: I don’t think we’re a very psychedelic band in particular. Our songs are quite structural.
BEN: There’s elements though.
HAPPY: I think if something is psychedelic even in the slightest people will lock onto that.
NICK: It’s a pretty broad umbrella. I mean if it’s got reverb on it it’s ‘psychedelic’.
BILLIE: But it’s just, I don’t know. I guess it’s very experimental. People are always looking for new things in that genre, something outside of pop music.
HAPPY: Do you find you have to reign that experimentation in sometimes? Nice Biscuit does seem to have this contrast between shorter more concise songs and these massive jammers…
BEN: A lot of the time we chop the fat off of the songs when we get together.
BILLIE: Mainly just because of set time restrictions and stuff like that. But for the album, we kind of let loose for a couple of tracks!
NICK: We needed to cut down the songs so they fit on vinyl a little better.
HAPPY: Tell me about the new album Digital Mountain! I might just be going crazy, but I feel you put out an EP online somewhere before this point?
BILLIE: …deleted a few songs. A few singles.
BEN: Thank Christ, thank God!
GRACE: This is our debut album but!
HAPPY: An album is a big step, it’s a statement!
GRACE: We’re really excited about it!
HAPPY: What’s Digital Mountain’s vibration relative to some of the earlier tracks people may have heard?
GRACE: We have a lot of different elements to our songs. Kind of groupings of songs I would say, different kind of moods and feels. We have a bit of all of that in the new songs. A lot are guitar-driven and a lot are vocal-driven which I think is good for people that like our music. People can latch on to all these little bits and then maybe keep listening to all the other songs and gain something from them.
NICK: It’s quite voyeur-y which I don’t know is a good or a bad thing!
BILLIE: It just captures exactly what we’re doing right now, and I think that’s a great thing.
HAPPY: What is that in a sentence or in a word?
GRACE: Hmmm. It’s like an eclectic mix of…
NICK: …songs that we thought were…
BILLIE: …songs that we think that we like? [Laughs] But it’s more just a representation of what we’ve done in the past few years. We were really ready to, I don’t know, make music and move on to the next step from that.
NICK: Not even two years, maybe even more recently than that. Maybe just the last 12 months.
NICK: We ditched a lot of our old songs pretty quickly last year.
GRACE: But also, they live on. We kind of layer up and build up from those songs.
HAPPY: Have the new songs been informed a little bit by what you’ve been doing live? Seeing what kind of songs people respond to live usually seems to be a bit of an education for bands…
NICK: We don’t want to be too dictated by the audience, but it does help.
BEN: Everything happens live first, before we record it.
BILLIE: Apart from one song!
HAPPY: You seem like a band that has pockets of diehard fans all over the place…
BEN: Mostly friends!
HAPPY: Just your friends?
GRACE: Mostly! But last night [during one of the band’s many appearances at Brisbane’s BIGSOUND festival] I saw someone singing along to one of our songs!
NICK: Yeah! I saw that when we supported The Babe Rainbow as well!
GRACE: It was just like, “What?! How do you know the lyrics? Can you actually hear them?!”
BILLIE: Yeah, I don’t know!
GRACE: That always shocks me.
HAPPY: I think it’s all about the myth though, being a little bit larger than life. And that’s the next step for a band like yours I guess, seeing all these different kinds of people who aren’t friends or even friends of friends filling out the crowd…
BEN: It was weird when people started coming to the shows that we didn’t know!
NICK: It’s like when people add you on Facebook and you’ve got zero mutual friends.
HAPPY: What’s coming next for the group? Is there anything else you’d like to put out there to the fans and readers?
GRACE: We’re touring this month, that’s the next big thing. Melbourne, Brisbane, Byron and Sydney. Then Jungle Love at the end of the year.
HAPPY: Jungle Love is a great festival. I’ve been before and am really looking forward to heading back!
NICK: To Jungle Love? It’s a fun little place!
BILLIE: So good, but I guess another thing we’ve been trying to throw out there is how we’ve kind of done all of this all on our own.
HAPPY: Is it important to you that you operate as an independent band? I sense that you are a very… there’s a degree of independence about what you do. I’m mean obviously there is a point you get to where you have to have other people coming in to assist…
NICK: At the moment there isn’t.
GRACE: We’ve got a publicist.
BEN: Well besides from public relations people it’s pretty much all internal.
HAPPY: Is that a Brisbane thing do you think, having that independence? I’ve lived in Brisbane for many years and I do feel there’s a certain independence to the way a lot of bands here think. It’s like punk without being punk…
NICK: We’ve only recently realised how not normal it is to print our own merch and not to have a booking agent!
GRACE: But it’s great!
BILLIE: It is good to be able to do that.
HAPPY: I think it’s great, there really is this personal touch to the band’s visuals and what you do, especially with the clothing and other merch.
NICK: It is the upside to having six people in the band!
GRACE: We all have different skills so we all get to utilise them in different ways…
BEN: Grace prints all the merch which is very, very handy!
GRACE: …things like that and I wouldn’t want it any other way. It’s like our baby you know?
BILLIE: We know what’s happening so we’re never going to have any surprises. And it means that when we do get a label and a booking agent, stuff like that, we’ll know we’re not blind to what’s happening. We’ll understand the process. It’s been a big learning curve, definitely.
GRACE: A lot of hard work!
BILLIE: It’s surprising how many gigs we’ve gotten without booking agents! But we’ve had people helping, like Shannon [Logan] from [record store and cornerstone of Brisbane music] Jet Black Cat.
NICK: She’s been so great!
BILLIE: She’s like our champion!
HAPPY: And a lot of other people’s champions as well!
BEN: The best!
GRACE: She’s the backbone of music in Brisbane. She is probably why it’s so good.
BILLIE: She is! I really, really stand by that. I said that to her when I saw her last night. She got embarrassed with me!
Digital Mountain tour
21 Sept – The Zoo, Brisbane
22 Sept – The Northern, Byron Bay
28 Sept – Oxford Art Factory, Sydney
29 Nov – 1 Dec – Jungle Love Festival – Sunshine Coast