Rather Nice is an indie pop rock band composed of lead singer Joe Johnson, guitarist Mike Tenreiro, bassist Nick Reagan and drummer Oliver Littlefield. Together, they write tunes that are equal parts melodic and quirky, while assigning new feelings to familiar emotions. My favorite songs off their latest release Volume 1 have to be “Diversions” (because it’s incredibly catchy) as well as “Hectic” (that guitar solo made my jaw drop, seriously). These guys are so humble about their talents, but that doesn’t make them any less gifted. I was so pleased to get to speak with them a little bit about what they hope to accomplish through their music, and how Mike worked his way into the band before the other guitarist even formally quit! It’s safe to say that these four are fantastic together, so it was definitely for the best.
Angelina Singer (Motif Magazine): I’ve listened to Volume 1 – your latest release, which is great, by the way. What was your process like putting together this album?
Joe Johnson: So we usually make a few EPs every year (so that’s a shorter album). And then at the end of the year, we combine them into a volume – which is one album. So we figure we can either do one album a year, with one release date, or split it up into a few songs every other month, and have more days to hype up releases and stuff. So that’s how we usually go about it.
AS: Do you start with lyrics? Do you start with melody? What’s your process?
JJ: We definitely start with the music first, because none of us are too good at doing lyrics. But writing music, I think we’re pretty cool about it. It’s usually the last thing to come; we’re never able to make good lyrics until the song’s ready, so we can write down what it sounds like. Then we compare it to a story we’ve experienced, or something. Sometimes we’ve finished lyrics the day of recording.
Oliver Littlefield: Or even come up with stuff while we’re recording, like, “Oh that might sound better,” or whatever.
AS: Yeah a lot of people tell me that! And it blows my mind, because I figure you’re in the recording booth, and now all of a sudden, you have an idea. And you want to change it last minute! That’s crazy – but really cool. So I really dig that. And how long have you guys been a band? How did Rather Nice come together?
JJ: We all met in our high school about two or three years ago. Three of us knew each other from our school – and we’re all percussionists, so we were all in the same section, and knew each other pretty well. At a percussion festival in our state, we met Mike [Tenreiro] there – because he’s also a percussionist. He was performing with a different school, but we talked to him at the event during intermissions. So that’s how we met him.
AS: I love hearing that you’re all percussionists primarily, because that makes a lot of sense with the music. Even your guitar and bass is very rhythm-heavy, which makes sense since that’s what you’re most comfortable with. I have been playing guitar for 13 years and want to teach, so I pay more attention to guitar – that’s my thing. So when Mike gets here, I have some questions about the guitar solo in “Hectic” – I’m just gonna say, that’s sick. My jaw dropped. So when he gets here, I’ll be asking.
JJ: Yeah, it’s sick! He did a pretty good job.
AS: What do you hope that people get out of your music in general? I mainly focused on your most recent album, but I know you’ve got a lot of stuff out. So what’s the central message you hope to get across?
OL: Enjoyment. We hope that people can listen to it and kind of relate. Like, if we can do it, you can do it. It’s a feel-good type of thing. Hopefully they think, “Oh, this is nice.”
JJ: We’re a major do-it-yourself band, because we record and write everything at home, and Mike produces it. So we want people to know that if they want to start a band, they can. We’re doing exactly that, and we’re not doing too bad right now. We try to do interviews as often as we can find people, and we actually have a few in-venue shows coming up for livestreams. We don’t have any money to spend on PR and stuff like that, so I’ll just message people on Instagram and see if we can talk to them and play at places and stuff. So I’m basically tour manager, as well as the vocalist. And Oliver makes all of the art for the band, and for the shirts that we sell and stuff. So everything is done by the four of us.
AS: And you guys clearly have such a good ear for music, and business – you’ve got a really slick website. Everything going on is really impressive. I love the mix of your music, because you have very emotional, deep songs – but you also have quirky stuff.
JJ: *Laughs* so that’s the thing about indie – even when you have a song that sounds fun, the lyrics are usually really depressing. It depends – sometimes it’ll be a real unfortunate experience. Other times, we just think it would be funny to talk about. That’s the range that you get. If you can think of the song that you’re thinking about when talking about sad, we can go into the story of it.
AS: Yeah, I was thinking in a more general sense, because it wasn’t sad so much as maybe melancholy, or emotional. But I think “Honeymoon” has a lot of those qualities. Even “Cheese Milk” has a lot of depth to it. I was very curious to ask you about “Waste.” I think I have a love-hate relationship with that one. *Laughs* I mean it’s sonically interesting, but the lyrics are surprising.
JJ: Yeah, so first of all, we wrote that when we were 15 – actually, I think it was 16. Okay, Oliver was 15, I was 16. So the thing about that song is, obviously you have the imagery of wetting yourself, but the fun part of that song is that it’s supposed to tell the story of releasing depression. Like not being able to get out of your bed to use the bathroom. We wanted to end it in a place where you didn’t know how the character was doing. The character asks himself why he was so stubborn. So the story is – did he overcome his depression, or did he succumb to it and accept his fate? We don’t really know what happens to him; we just left it open-ended.
AS: Yeah, and I definitely got that. I will say that lyrically, it’s a bit distracting, just because I was like “What is going on here?” *Laughs* But I enjoy the idea behind it; I think it’s very powerful, and I think you’re speaking to a lot of things that, although that may be an extreme, a lot of people might feel touches of that in their life. Even if it’s not quite to that extent. I enjoyed the emotion and the creativity behind it, as a metaphor, for sure. What would you say is your favorite song off of your latest release? I know you said it’s a collection of EPs, but still – what’s your favorite?
JJ: Let’s go around. Nick, what’s your favorite song on the album?
Nick Reagan: On the album right now, my favorite song has to be the revamped “Diversions.”
AS: Oh it’s so catchy! Oh my gosh, guys, I was gonna bring that up, too. It’s so catchy.
OL: Thank you! My favorites from the new album are definitely “Gentle” and “Dusk.”
NR: I like those too.
JJ: My favorite’s been “Friday” for a while. That one’s just really fun to play.
AS: Yeah, I’ve also noticed Joe – you have a really beautiful vocal range. I feel like for guys especially, it’s hard to get those high notes. And you’re pretty on key, like for the most part. It’s pretty impressive!
JJ: The fun thing about my vocal performances is that usually – at least once per song – I’ll be really flat or really sharp on one note. And we just leave it in, because it just makes it feel more real to me. So on “Friday” in the second verse, I just totally and absolutely do not sing the right note, and we just left it in, because it felt more realistic, I guess. That adds to our DIY-realism kind of thing. We get an excuse to not be perfect, and we don’t have to fix it.
AS: I totally feel that! Some people want it to be perfect stylistically – whether it’s auto-tuned, or whatever. Then other people like you guys wanna leave it kind of open. Oh, there’s the guitarist!
JJ: Mike, she wanted to ask you specifically about the new solo in “Hectic”.
AS: Okay, so I’m a guitarist primarily, and so you are so slick with that solo. It was intense; I was so impressed. Tell me about your experiences playing and writing that, and everything.
Mike Tenreiro: So I never grew up knowing how to read music or anything. I just kind of understood scales. And I’m going to school for jazz guitar actually. Loyola, big rep! I’m going as a jazz guitarist, but I was trained in rock and blues. So from the very beginning of my guitar playing, I was really taught about pentatonic scales. That was literally my first two years of playing. And that’s all that solo is – it’s all F# minor pentatonic. Just kinda down the neck, then up the neck, and then back down the neck. And honestly, solos aren’t really how fast you can play notes or the amount of notes you play. But how you play them, and the phrasing, and the different rhythms you use. And then when you go down the neck, and how you bend them.
AS: Absolutely! And it was so slick and I was so impressed. I’ve been studying for 13 years myself. I’m pretty fast, but I mean you’re just so polished! So congrats to you for pulling that off.
JJ: Mike’s just like way too good for us. *Laughs*
MT: Yeah I mean that guitar solo was one take. I don’t go into the solo knowing what I want to play.
AS: So that was on the fly! Wow.
MT: Yeah, I’ll keep the track running and I’ll just kinda take one take that sounds good, and be like, “All right.”
AS: *Laughs* I love that! And I feel like my biggest issue – which I’m sure people relate to – is just overthinking. And it’s like you think about all the things you study, and the structures – but it doesn’t come out as good. So I was so impressed with that – especially because the rest of the album isn’t as lead-guitar heavy. Like there are some subtle things, but that’s really the only one that has that ripping solo. Was that a stylistic thing you wanted to hang in the background more? Because clearly you can do it, so why hold back?
JJ: Well, Mike is the newest addition to the band. There was the three of us, and then we met Mike. So most of the music was vocal-driven. Most of the song is usually having lyrics spoken. There aren’t many instrumental parts in our songs – and we only have one song that’s purely instrumental. So now that Mike has joined, we can probably have more solo stuff. And more solo stuff is coming this summer. But the EP coming out in April is super short, so he doesn’t shine very much. But I promise you this summer, you’re gonna get some more rippin’ solos.
MT: If I have to say one thing to all guitarists out there, don’t feel embarrassed by playing the pentatonic scale over and over again. Just make sure you play it correctly. Just don’t play it bad! The pentatonic scale is awesome and all the lead guitarists are always like, “Oh, I only know the pentatonic scale.” That is literally all you need to solo. It’s just how you play it – it’s crazy.
AS: Yeah, that’s actually really good advice. Especially because with me right now, I’m kind of a music theory geek, and I want to learn modes; I want to learn all that crazy stuff. But it’s all to each their own. You can absolutely solo with just the pentatonic – nothing wrong with that. But it’s also fun to have the academia behind it to kind of influence your decisions too. So I like having both, personally. So I feel that.
JJ: Yeah, I’m currently going to music school, and Mike is going next year, so we already know a good amount of theory between the two of us.
AS: Yes, and I can see that! Even if you said that particular thing was kind of simple, the fact that you execute it so well shows that you have an understanding of sound and creativity – and you’re also educated in that. So it’s really cool! And I really enjoyed it.
AS: What do you guys think are your biggest struggles in being in a band? What is the most irritating aspect of it?
MT: Just the absurd amount of women that just won’t leave us alone. Like when we walk out in public, just the crowds…
OL: I’ve had to move houses, I think three times now? They just get overrun.
JJ: We’ve run out of money from the moving costs.
MT: For me it’s just like, stylistic changes like writing stuff that is just the same pentatonic lick over and over again. But kind of being able to branch out.
JJ: Yeah, I think there are like four songs right now that have the exact same chord progressions. *Laughs* No one’s noticed yet, but we know. And we’re teetering on the edge of the next song being the exact same thing. For me, the biggest issue would be that none of us are super rich or anything, so we want to go on tours and stuff in other states. But we would only be able to do it once a year.
MT: Green Day toured in 1990 in a book mobile van, I’m just saying!
AS: I mean honestly, if there’s a will there’s a way. And I’ve talked to a lot of local artists, and Rhode Island is a great place to solidify your fan base. So just do like a little, New England tour. Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut – that’s a great place to start.
JJ: That’s the plan for this summer, hopefully. We want to do that. And I think within the entirety of the two years, I think we’ve made like two hundred bucks, so we’re doing pretty good.
MT: That’s like what – four trips to Chili’s?
AS: *Laughs* That’s great! You know, even the biggest bands had to start somewhere, so you gotta start slow. You guys have so much talent to back it up, so you should be very proud of yourselves.
JJ: Yeah, we’re pretty happy with how far we’ve gotten so far, especially without any help from anyone, essentially. In retrospect, we literally booked everything ourselves, so whenever we do get a show, it’s a mini-miracle. We introduce ourselves – we do everything.
AS: Think back to when gigs could happen in person. What’s a funny, but embarrassing memory that happened at a live gig?
JJ: During the height of summer 2020, we had an outside show at our park, and we played under a gazebo. And our family and friends came to watch – so it was really cool. And that was after we had met Mike, but we had a different guitarist at that time. So we played this show, and Mike was like, “Hey dude, I totally think we should jam at some point. It’d be super fun.” And we were like, “No, leave me alone – we already have a guitarist.”
But eventually, the other guitarist got promoted at his job, and went to college and stuff. So when he got too busy, we fortunately had this guy right here. And he was still super desperate to join. Realistically, it was just a couple dudes hangin’ out. And that’s how he got into the band. That’s essentially the story – we had another guy, but that’s the story we tell interviewers.
OL: It was so much more gruesome than that.
JJ: That’s the embarrassing moment for Rather Nice.
MT: How is that embarrassing?
JJ: Because the show was pretty bad. Oliver and I played a few covers, and it sounded horrible – we weren’t prepared. It was just not a good experience.
OL: “Hot ‘n’ Cold” by Katy Perry sounded the best!
AS: That’s a classic!
NR: The best moment, was probably at that show as well. Where we decided to play a cover of a band I really like – Morphine – a song called “Buena.” And Joe was like, “Oliver, just sing it” and Mike was like, “I’m not doing this.” We played one verse, and then just called it.
JJ: Another experience, before even Mike, we played our first EP at our school. It was 6:30am before school, and none of us were prepared. My voice was groggy, and sounded really bad. And we didn’t have any water to drink. That was pretty terrible too.
MT: I must say, it did lead up to us putting on an awesome show in Oliver’s basement though!
JJ: So we don’t still suck!
AS: Yeah, live performing is kind of a special animal all by itself. You can know all your scales, but if you can’t hack it live, it’s a whole different thing. Even me – I’m out of practice. I play guitar at church, and I haven’t really played live in a while, so you kind of lose that confidence – and you’re out of sorts. It’s very weird!
MT: I’m also a church guitar player, and I understand only having church to be your gigs right now, because that’s what I do. Three times a weekend, I’m up there playing church music.
AS: Yeah same! It’s really fun. My church is tiny so it’s really low-stress, but I mean it’s still that same level of not wanting to mess it up – because it’s still embarrassing. That’s really cool though. And as soon as things open up, I really hope you guys get into some more gigs. Hopefully I can see you guys live sometime. So Mike, what’s your favorite song that you guys have written? I asked the other guys already.
MT: Oh man, I love “Waste.” I wasn’t even in the band when they wrote it. But I just love “Waste.” I don’t know why – it’s different, and it’s funny, but it’s also not funny. I don’t know.
AS: It’s definitely quirky! I feel like it’s the kind of song that people will know you for. And it kinda feels like a joke song, but the message is not – which is interesting. It’s got that kind of quality, which is funny.
MT: In the band, though, I really like playing “Friday.” I really liked recording and rehearsing “Friday.” It’s my favorite song off that EP.
AS: So as we’re finishing up, what are some things you would say to the Motif readers? Talk about your band. What should they know about you guys?
JJ: Believe in yourself! Un-ironically, though, since we do everything on our own, I feel like it could be a good story for musicians who are too scared to start. The hardest part was finding the right guys to play with. But after we did that, we were already friends, so we had an advantage. Like when you’re comfortable with the people around you, you can have a really good experience come from it. And if you’re a musician looking to start a band, you should just reach out to people in your area as soon as possible. We started at the tail end of 2019, so most of our operation was during 2020, and we didn’t really get to play or do anything big. So I feel like if you already know people, then just go for it.
MT: Don’t wait to be in a band – you just gotta go for it. That was the advice someone gave me, and I was an eighth grader. If you wanna be in a band, make a band.
Stream music by Rather Nice on Spotify HERE: open.spotify.com/artist/4PFth2EYBdcDvVMs7y3BUr?si=Z3MK8sEuROmEK4s9lGu0tQ; Subscribe to their Youtube channel HERE: youtube.com/channel/UC–kIq0aPEZGUxEGvOs2cQA