My encounter with Hardly Boys begins with a bang.
At six-thirty (our appointed meeting time), I sit in Little Oddfellows (our appointed meeting place) and finish the last of my yogurt (not appointed, but satisfying). I watch from my seat across the room as the band walks in, looks around, and then, before I can say anything, sits down with a person who is definitely not me.
Strange, I think to myself, but I do not interrupt. I assume they have, in some kind of quaint but efficient power move, lined up multiple interviews in a row. Admittedly, this seems weird, but they are chatting with this other person excitedly, and who am I to tell somebody they can’t arrange a DIY press junket? I shoot them a quick text to let them know I’m ready whenever and settle in to read.
Suddenly my phone lights up. “Hello?” Across the cafe, four face turn slowly in my direction, then burst into laughter.
Five minutes later we are all seated together, the four members of the band – Miranda Hardy, Anna White, Emma Roffey and Zeke Bender – apologizing and then dissolving into laughter. “We thought he was the one interviewing us!” one of them exclaims. “We did start thinking it was all kind of weird when he asked us if we were ‘a band or something,’” adds another. They all laugh.
It’s an appropriate opening for a band that, until recently, described themselves in their bios as “90 percent comedy, 10 percent music,” though they assure me that they are, in fact, serious about the music.
Assuring people that they’re serious, seems to be part of the gig for the band, who started playing together in high school. Hardly Boys enthusiastically describe their sound as “friendship punk,” a phrase they borrowed from a write-up by Robin Edwards (Lisa Prank, if you prefer). Last year they released Tit Punch, a scrappy four track EP that packs odes to Goodwill, meditations on hot mullets and a yearning for the subcultures of yore into roughly six minutes. It’s a goofy, good-natured take on punk – politically aware and keen but bubbly instead of mad – and one befitting a group of young friends making music together. “Everything we do… it all kind of starts as a joke and people take it seriously. That’s what happened with Hardly Boys, basically.”
That’s also how they describe their label, Make Fart Records. It’s actually less of a label and more of a collective of bands (Emma Lee Toyoda and her band are the other primary members) who put out and promote each other’s records. Initially the idea for a label sprang out of the band’s desire to put their music on Spotify, but has since gained legitimacy with the release of Toyoda’s debut LP, Sewn Me Anew. Now, Make Fart adds another achievement to the pile: Hardly Boys’ debut full-length release.
It’s this latest release, DEAR DIARRHEA, I’m here to talk about. “It’s a mixture of songs that we wrote in high school, and songs that we’ve written since, and one song that we wrote in the studio” Miranda tells me. Zeke laughs at the seriousness of the statement, “Yeah the studio.” DEAR DIARRHEA was recorded over roughly four days of winter break, when multiple members of the band returned from college, and it features their newest single – the second off the record – “Middle School.”
“I originally wrote it for one of my other bands,” Emma says of the song. “I guess it’s just about shitty things happening to me and my friends in middle school – like stupid boys asking us like, ‘spit or swallow?’ And you’re just like ‘AH! I don’t actually know! I’m thirteen! SEX!’”
“Middle School” feels different from past Hardly Boys releases – less buoyant, grittier, more immediately introspective. The structure is familiar (short, relatively simple) but bizarre. Most of the song is a slow, sludgy trudge, until suddenly, with about thirty seconds left to go, it throttles forward, accompanied by ghostly “oohs.” The vocal delivery is deadpan but veers towards full-on pissed off towards the end. The silliness of Tit Punch is still detectable, but the whole thing seems a bit… older?
When I remark on the change, the band tells me that it’s true of the whole album. “We’ve grown up a little!” Miranda informs me laughingly. “No, but I do think we have! Being away and then coming back together – that’s definitely some perspective.”
I ask them what they’d like to do, where they’d like to go from here. Their response, per Miranda: “I don’t know. We’ve come this far, so we just need to keep honoring what we’ve done.” Per Anna: “We reached one thousand likes on Facebook. That was kind of a milestone!”
You can catch Hardly Boys this summer on July 8th, at a studio session for KEXP, on July 20th at Chop Suey with Emma Lee Toyoda and T-Rextasy, and on their new release, DEAR DIARRHEA, out in June!