It’s a reply so immediate it feels like a reflex. It drops from mind to mouth like a vending machine selection, clunking into existence.
Minneapolis post-punk band Niiice. don’t overanalyze their song titles: They’re flippant stoner braindroppings. But the title of the bereft three-piece’s new EP, Never Better, sings with purpose. Every note of the record’s five songs fights off the silence. With ironic dismissals. With fitful bouts of self-loathing. With painful, cathartic dirges. All lacquered by a protective layer of social obligation.
Niiice. dropped the new EP today, so in celebration of the release and in anticipation of their March 17 show at the Garage, we spoke to singer/guitarist Roddy Gadeberg and bassist Abe Anderson about the unkind realities that boil beneath the pleasantries of Never Better.
Never Better opens with a bout of depression. On “Snowbored,” Gadeberg is housebound and anxious, fidgeting around his apartment as the snowdrifts mount and his mind deteriorates.
“All I do is talk about myself,” Gadeberg sings in the song’s frustrated build. “Please shut my mouth because silent keeps me healthy.”
“I wrote that song about a year ago around this time, and I was fucking over winter,” Gadeberg says. “It’s so hard to get anywhere, and you slip and fall on your ass all the time. The normal depression you go through is that much worse because you can’t even go outside. “
It’s quaintly Midwestern for Niiice. to open the record by talking about the weather, but the reality of seasonal depression and ice-enforced agoraphobia is Never Better’s most universal moment. If the temperature doesn’t suck you into a vortex of ennui, you’re not being as honest with yourself as Niiice. is willing to be. “Snowbored” is, however dour, the theme for the season.
In the song, the weather becomes both the cause and the effect. It’s its own excuse, exacerbating and justifying the darkness that’s been dormant in Gadeberg all year.
“When I’m going through a depressive episode, I isolate a ton,” he says. “I don’t talk to anyone. I just go to work and go home. That’s what it’s about. Recognizing that, and also wanting to pull yourself out of that but not knowing how to.”
Niiice. quickly dispenses with all banter on the lead single “Love Handlez.” The tension that’s built up in “Snowbored” comes to a sudden and vicious head in what is unquestionably Never Better’s least self-flattering song.
In a blistering emo-punk screed, Gadeberg paints himself as a jealous saboteur. “I know that you’re getting drunk without me,” he screams, “Sitting at home, and you’re feeling real lonely surrounded by people who swear that they care about you.” If you grew up on Maybe I’ll Catch Fire-era Alkaline Trio, the emotions are immediately recognizable.
“I have a really weird family dynamic,” Gadeberg says. “Everybody is really fake, and I know the things they think about me and say about me when I’m not around. I get nostalgic for the times before now, before I knew all the bullshit.”
On “Love Handlez,” we see Niiice.’s most prominent coping mechanism. Abandoning a typical verse-chorus-verse structure, the band retreats into prolonged musical interludes following each of Gadeberg’s scream fits. The bridges not only allow Gadeberg to recover from the more difficult admissions but also allow him to focus on working his emotions out over the guitar.
Gadeberg started as Niiice.’s rhythm guitarist, but he took on lead duties after former member Allegra Hernandez moved to Iowa, following their 2018 LP Try to Stay Positive. He admits he’s a less accomplished musician than Hernandez, so he welcomes the opportunity to focus on his playing.
The instrumental swells also give the crowd a moment to join in on the catharsis. When Gadeberg steps back from the mic, and Anderson and drummer Sage Livergood help exorcise his family hangups, you can picture the mosh pits starting to stoke.
“Having a break from the lyrics allows us to be a little more creative with our instruments,” Anderson says. “We’re a three-piece, and having only three members, it’s hard to make a big sound. But when we have those instrumental parts, we can be bigger, make it sound more interesting.”
“Blunt Force Marijuana”
But the emotional baggage of Never Better is not fully unloaded by the end of “Love Handlez.” The following track “Blunt Force Marijuana” opens to more isolation and self-destruction.
But unlike on the previous two songs, Gadeberg pivots to the first person. On “Snowbored” and “Love Handlez,” speaks to himself as “you,” adding a protective layer of ambiguity. By “Blunt Force Marijuana,” he’s confessed enough to confidently take on the “I.”
“It’s like my father said, I’ve got no direction,” Gadeberg sings. “I hate the way I look like him when I’m staring at the mirror.”
“My dad was really abusive growing up,” Gadeberg explains. “Very quick to cut you down. At any opportunity, he’d say really crummy or mean things. It’s been hard to realize how that still affects me. At 21, I haven’t talked to my dad in years. I’m realizing how much that’s still with me day to day.”
This trauma is worked out in a straight-ahead pop-punk song. Retreating to a minute-plus of power chords and distortion, Niiice. resolves to pogo instead of facing the damage. This tactic is also classic Niiice. As indicated by their tongue-in-cheek name, the band deflects conflict with a sense of humor. They revert to adolescence in a snap, covering their well-scarred hearts.
“We try to not take ourselves too seriously,” Anderson says. “Our songs have personal lyrics, but we like to laugh about it. If you’re too serious about it, it just gets depressing.”
“There’s some pretty dark stuff up in here,” Gadeberg adds, pointing to his temple. “Y’all don’t want the full picture.”
Finally, after three emotional dirges, a moment of quiet finally comes on “Haterade.” Strumming contemplatively, Gadeberg enters alone, trying to forgive himself for being unable to fix everything.
“I’d like to go lay in bed at home, turn my phone off, and watch TV,” he sings, pleading with himself for space. “I’d like to be somewhere far away from here/I’m going home/ I’m going home.”
“Haterade” is the most direct piece of therapy on the record. Everything that needs saying is said. Gadeberg lays it all out in the song’s first half so that he and his bandmates can take the last few minutes to let loose. They end the song on a proggy riff-fest, building up a big wall of reverb and drum fills to drown out the noise in their heads.
“I always write about such heavy things,” Gadeberg says. “Instrumental breaks are our party time. That’s why I like doing mathy stuff like that.”
“Haterade” was therapy in its conception, too. It was the first song that Gadeberg, Anderson, and Livergood all wrote together. They sat together and did the work, revising and adjusting until they were thoroughly annoyed with one another. But the result is a track that Gadeberg calls “one of my favorite things we’ve ever written.”
“We were thinking of trying out [new] guitarists, but the more we kept jamming as a three piece, the more we felt like the group dynamic between the three of us was really working,” Anderson says. “We didn’t want to mess that up.”
“Minneapolis vs. St. Paul: This Time, It’s Personal”
Gadeberg is originally from Montana, but as both a resident of downtown St. Paul and a musician embroiled in his own domestic turmoil, he finds some absurd inspiration in the fraternal rivalry between Minneapolis and the Silver City. Thus: “Minneapolis vs. St. Paul: This Time, It’s Personal.”
The title came to Gadeberg one night when he was “just stoned to the bone,” and it has nothing to do with the self-deprecating outro. “Minneapolis vs. St. Paul” is a song of social failures. A song about a person who can’t seem to find a place. A song that can’t get out of its own goddamn head.
“I remember being 12 and starting to feel depressed and feeling anxious and having panic attacks,” Gadeberg says. “Now, it’s like, shit, it’s been 10 years since I started feeling these things. I really thought I’d be at a different place 10 years ago than I am now.”
Maybe things don’t get better. That’s a reality Gadeberg is ready to confront by the end of Never Better. It’s an EP of confrontation and rebellion, but it ends on an ultimate note of acceptance. And now that acceptance has been reached, why not make a big joke out of the whole thing and name the journey after the first thought that enters your mind after hitting a joint.
“I don’t feel like songs need to have anything to do with their titles,” Gadeberg says. “Life is too short to have short and serious, dumb songs.”
Niiice. EP release show
With: Victor Shores, Marmalade, Honeygold, Doggy
Where: The Garage
When: 5:30 p.m. Sunday, Mar. 17
Tickets: $8-$10; more info here