Interviews

Nice Biscuit chat about rising from the ashes and sonic storytelling

The ability to tell a story through song is one thing, but to take a sonic pilgrimage is another. No one is better at this sonic landscaping than Aussie underdogs, Nice Biscuit.

Their latest single, Passing Over is a testament to this ability. Amid a sea of revered instruments and cosmic vocals, Brisbane-based Nice Biscuit takes you on an intricate journey of hardship, and growth – one part introspective, one part jubilant, and all parts addictive.

In light of this amazing release, and amid their upcoming EP, Passing Over Happy got the chance to sit down with bassist Nick Cavendish and keyboard vocalist, Grace Cuell, to chat about rising from the ashes, sonic storytelling, and the trials and tribulations of creation amid COVID.

HAPPY: Hey! So firstly I wanted to as about Passing Over – it’s so bloody intricate – and I’m just so curious about how you brought this together as a group?

GRACE: Do you want to talk about this Nick?

NICK: Nah! You go first!

GRACE: Alright! We work really collab… collaboratively… sorry wow. Our writing process is generally someone will have an idea for a track and we’ll workshop it together, and all of the songs on this EP have just come from jams, right Nick?

NICK: Yeah! I think with this one, there was a demo Jess did that had like the guitar line in it, fully done, like the full song. It was one of those things where I had that bass line as well, completely separately, because they were both in the same key – they’re both in A – and we kinda combined them. It didn’t like fully completely link up straight away, but we could just tweaks. Couple of things – because they were two completely different ideas, I guess that’s why it got as intricate as it did!

GRACE: Yeah, all the different sections, and then adding vocal stuff on top of that adds a whole new element!

HAPPY: Yeah! Because it’s like sonic storytelling, I know I sound like a wanker saying that, but is that something that’s considered when you’re bringing it together to keep that intricacy?

GRACE: Yeah! I guess we do write songs in a way that was unintentional. They probably form in that way based off the way we’re writing them so collaboratively – they’re bound to develop as a sort of story because they’re written in that way.

NICK: Yeah. I think with that one as well, we kinda came into the room with the ideas and got them to work together to be like the main idea of the song. Then, we’d just jam on that for a while and then be like ‘oh, let’s do something else’ and then we’d try a few different things and they’d never work the first time, but you’d eventually get to somewhere where you’re happy with it. So, when it comes to the structure of the song, that’s a fully collaborative thing that we’ve all kind of agreed on.

GRACE: That’s a really interesting way to talk about it though, ‘sonic storytelling’ – I like that!

HAPPY: Shucks! Stop it!

GRACE: (laughs)

HAPPY: It’s also funny because this is a post-pandemic album, but it’s a lot bubblier and brighter than you previous works, but a lot of other artists have released works inspired by the pandemic that are a lot darker and morose – I want to know why you broke away like that?

GRACE: I guess the world needs a bit of positivity right now. The songs themselves are all about working through darkness, they all have similar themes of working through other mental health, or difficult times in your life. It’s not about a perfect recovery, but more about the bumps in the road… (laughs)

HAPPY: Valid (laughs). I’ve also been obsessed with Sweet Surrender, Can you give some context into that? There’s something to immediately addictive about it. 

GRACE: Yeah! Well, it’s along the same theme of working through darkness. Bill, the other singer, went through a breakup last year, so there’s a lot of themes of that in the song. Just kinda like surrendering to that dark period because you have no other choice, to just let go and see what happens on the other side. Just to sit with it, instead of force yourself and try to sit with it, instead of trying to force yourself through it quickly. Do you reckon Nick?

NICK: Yeah, definitely! The difference as well with that song and Passing Over, and a couple of the other ones is that Sweet Surrender is the only song that we’ve really properly played live to an audience, we’ve been playing that one for a little bit. All the other ones we’ve written a few months ago, but I think we’ve only played Passing Over twice?

GRACE: Once at a wedding (laughs)

NICK: So, it’s really weird the difference between playing and getting that audience feedback, and just playing live at all.

GRACE: I think after we’d been playing Sweet Surrender live a few times we even revisited it and tweaked it a little bit before we recorded it.

NICK: Passing Over we kinda just wrote and recorded without any audience feedback, so that was just kind of a shot in the dark.

HAPPY: Yeah, I mean, since Australia has kinda gone to custard, how’re you coping as independent artists right now?

GRACE: It’s definitely difficult motivating yourself. We were rehearsing every week, and now we haven’t since everything’s been happening.

NICK: We were just trying to reach this point, to be as tight as possible just before the tour, and then it’s that thing in the morning where you know the days gonna be so busy and there’s so much stuff to do, and the something like lockdown comes in within 10 minutes and you’ve just gotta kinda come to terms with that.

Yesterday we were gonna film another music video, and now we can’t, it’s just about being as flexible as possible.

GRACE: As a positive, you‘re forced to approach situations a lot more creatively, so maybe that’s a good thing to come from it.

NICK: We’re lucky because we do most of the stuff ourselves, so we’re not relying on anyone – we’re also not rushing to some airport somewhere, so we are quite lucky.

HAPPY: I guess, other than the COVID, what was the most difficult and rewarding parts of bringing this EP together? 

NICK: I think just the recording process, just like how we came together quickly. These songs were kinda written in parallel to the Create Simulate EP as well, and we always liked that kind of music and wanted to write something like that. So, I guess the speed and efficiency that we could create music and record it.

GRACE: But also, how fun the recording process was too. We record with our friend Ali Richardson, and he lives on a property out the back in Ipswich, and we just go and be really silly for a weekend. Like you can hear on The Tower especially, there’s like all those weird backing vocals, all the screaming, and it’s just and our friends all screaming into the microphone at 1 am. 

But also just the getting our shit together, and getting it mixed and getting it out.

NICK: And also, I like being that productive, but not being able to put songs through a live test and get audience reactions, the amount of times you play it live really makes the recording.

GRACE: Yeah! We definitely use the live setting as part of our recording process – so not being able to do that you definitely hear a difference in the music.

NICK: Yeah! Even with Passing Over, since we’ve been rehearsing for this tour, I’m finding bits in my bass lines where I’m like ‘yeah, could’ve done that better’ but it’s recorded now.

GRACE: Live version (laughs)

NICK: Live fans only!

HAPPY: Hollup, what do you mean playing it live? What are you getting differently from playing it live?

NICK: Yeah! Just playing it more and over and over again, the more you play it, the more mistakes you can notice. With Passing Over we only played that as a band like ten times, got happy with it, and then recorded it. A lot of the extra bits I’ll add to bass lines are from making mistakes and then adding different parts in. 

GRACE: You tighten it up. Sometimes we’ll play things differently live as well, just to make the set interesting, so maybe if we’d had the opportunity to do that with this EP before putting it out, we might’ve added in more bits or taken it away. But otherwise, it is good!

HAPPY: (laughs) Well, that wraps up everything I wanted to ask, is there anything you wanna add-in? Anything I haven’t touched upon that you think is important?

GRACE: Nah I think we covered it! I hope you’re ok though!

HAPPY: Yeah you too! Please be safe, and don’t get Delta!

NICK & GRACE: (laughs) Thank you! Good luck!

Passing Over is out now on all streaming platforms!

Interview by Mike Hitch

Photos by Tom Schulte and Tianna Harris