talking to Boring Story's Nick Harley about bass melodies, lyrics docs, and ohio

talking to Boring Story's Nick Harley about bass melodies, lyrics docs, and ohio

One thing about me, editor-in-chief of I Enjoy Music, is that I am open for pitches. I can't guarantee I can write about everything, but I always want to hold some blog space for direct inquiries, because the internet is very large and if you dare to reach out across the void to ask me to listen to your band, I will try to do it.

Nick Harley, bassist for Cleveland band Boring Story, reached out on Twitter and alerted me to a few singles the band had just released in advance of their album Rust ("Wreck" and "Below Us"). They describe themselves as "indie/garage/alt rock" in their IG bio; I would add that they remind me of a somewhat abandoned micro-era of rock that I wish would come back in a more significant way: post-indie sleaze and nü metal, pre-Pitchfork-approved quirked up indie rock...a time of hooks and harmonies, of alternative aesthetics but pop-oriented vocals...I hope they won't kill me for saying this but Boring Story remind me of Songs About Jane-era Maroon 5, and Gavin DeGraw! And I think that's a very good thing! Anyway, if you too fuck with "I Don't Wanna Be" and its various sonic cousins, I'd recommend taking Boring Story's new album for a spin for sure.

I interviewed Nick over DMs to get the non-boring Boring Story backstory. Here is that, right now, under the divider line.

Okay. First, getting the background out of the way — who's in Boring Story, and how did y'all get together to begin with?

Boring Story is myself, Nick Harley, on bass and lyrics; Zach Griffin on guitar, vocals, and lyrics; and Ben Taylor on drums. We're originally from Brunswick, Ohio and started playing together in high school. Ben and I lived in the same neighborhood and played music with each other throughout our adolescence in a different project, but once we met Zach we became a pretty tight unit. We played a ton of shows and released some really crummy DIY stuff under a different name, but this is the first thing that we're really proud of, and the first music we've released publicly since 2013.

Wow, so this is a long time coming! How would you describe the musical vibe of Boring Story to, let's say, an alien who has just arrived to earth and has never heard human music before?

Wow tough one! I would describe our vibe know the big dinosaur exhibits at the natural history museum made of dino bones? Imagine if one of those was made out of metal and was all rusted out, but was sitting next to an ice cream parlor that served the most delicious Pistachio ice cream that money can buy. I think our focus as a band is to put a creative spin on some established indie rock/'90s alternative sounds by focusing on melody/counter-melody of guitar and bass, hard-charged drums, and sharp, clever lyrics.

Incredible answer. I knew I was slinging a curveball with that one.

I dig it.

Now having listened to both of your singles, I can definitely hear the focus on melody (and very much appreciate the bass counter-melody, I love when bass parts are Their Own Thing). What's the average songwriting process like for a Boring Story song?

I would say that there are a few ways that we typically do things, since Zach and I both kinda share songwriting duties. Sometimes one of us will come with a riff or some instrumental part that we're working on and we'll bring it to the table and hammer the whole thing out together. Other times one of us has something mostly fully formed, but just need some help finishing it up — maybe contributing a bridge part or something like that.

Lyrics are a different beast. I am constantly sending Zach words, sometimes just a line or two, other times paragraphs on paragraphs. I try not to filter myself or think whether they're good or useable or not. It's a vulnerable thing but I leave it to Zach to sort through. He stores all of them in a document, then whenever he needs to put lyrics to a piece of music, he'll pick and choose, like a really good editor. There are times when a lyric I wrote years ago will pop up in a song. I'll say, "Wow, that line was really cool!" and he'll say "Well, you wrote it!" and I'll be shocked haha. Sometimes he'll write all the words himself, sometimes it'll be a combination of both of our voices. On rare occasions, I'll have words and a melody that I want to use, like "Below Us." It's probably 80% of my first draft of lyrics, then punched up by Zach. For "Wreck" it's the other way around; most of the words are Zach's, but then littered with some of my stuff. It's an extremely collaborative process.

This is so neat! I love the document approach, feels like a great way to figure out what really pops. Do you have any particular lyrics from the new album that you would call 'your favorite' and if so, would you share 'em?

A few that standout to me and why:

Anxiety's alive in every absolute
("Below Us")

There was a period of time where I was considering quitting drinking when we were writing this record. It was after college and in a normal, suburban Ohio environment the amount and frequency I was drinking didn't seem so cool. Then the idea of adhering to "No drinking, ever!" also started to stress me out. Creating absolutes like "I will NEVER do XYZ" just are not helpful for me. I realized that I could still drink, I just needed to be more choosy and do so in moderation. I also like the double meaning of "absolute" and "Absolut" the shitty vodka brand.

I've been regressing since I got back in the nest
("Hot Mess")

This really is where a lot of inspiration for this record came from; being out of school, back living at home, looking for a job, seeing my social life slow back down to a crawl. I was interning for Den of Geek, playing video games between writing news stories, with my mom bringing home fast food for lunch. To some, that probably sounds like heaven, but to me it felt like full on regression.

I’m a buzzkill, with a buzz on
At the kind of party where you take your shoes off

("Sad Sack")

I think this just is a funny way to set this scene and describe the character of this song. There's something intimate suggested by a gathering where you're asked to take your shoes off at someone's home. It's also probably not the type of environment where you should be feeling so chippy.

Getting any better's taking too much effort
It’s infected but it's never getting severed

("Bottoms Up")

There's usually a wide gulf between acknowledging when you have a problem and then actually taking the necessary steps to fix. Being self-aware is not enough; you actually have to do the work and change.

These are great, thank you for sharing. I especially love "Anxiety's alive in every absolute" — I feel that in many aspects of life. I think my last question will be about Ohio: a great state that has produced a ton of interesting music. What do you like about Ohio? Do you think Ohio naturally inspires good music? And do you feel Boring Story is particularly Ohioan in any specific way?

Ohio is too big of a place for me to speak to all of it. Most of Ohio beyond the Northeast is a mystery to me and not something I feel particularly connected to. At the moment I am pretty ashamed of what is going on at the state legislature level regarding women’s reproductive rights and how comically gerrymandered the state is so that the corrupt GOP has a fighting chance. I only will rep the Cleveland area and Athens, Ohio, a wonderful little oasis in Southeast Ohio where I went to school.

I cannot speak for the other guys, but I definitely think that there’s a Cleveland mentality in my work. I think I’ve absorbed some of Cleveland’s inferiority complex, always being the butt of jokes at the national level. I think this record definitely has a chip on its shoulder, similar to Cleveland. For a longtime, I would get frustrated at the city’s reputation, but now I secretly hope that people continue to call us “the Mistake on the Lake” and things of that nature because I don’t want the secret to get out and my rent to go up (though I suppose talking about it in an interview isn’t a great way to keep that secret).

Cleveland is a wonderful place to live. There is a palpable emphasis on the arts, wonderful metro parks, access to the lake, and a wonderful culinary scene. I live in Lakewood, which is one of the few truly walkable communities in the area and I am a stone’s throw from Mahall’s, one of the coolest music venues in the state. I think being surrounded by music, art, and artists (like Shelly Duncan who did our single and album artwork) inspires our band daily, creates community, and pushes us to grab someone’s attention.

Check out Boring Story's link hub here. And here's Rust on Bandcamp.