Like Daft Punk or Mogwai, Nice Biscuit’s name started out as a joke. During the band’s first jam session, drummer Kurt Melvin brought along a packet of Arnott’s Nice Biscuits and, when the band started a private Facebook group to plan future meetups, someone set the group’s cover image to a picture of the coconut-flavoured snacks.
“What started out as a dumb in-joke became the band name when we couldn’t think of a name before our first gig,” bassist Nick Cavendish says. “They’re not even the best biscuits that Arnott’s makes.”
The psych-garage six-piece, whose sound floats somewhere between Dandys Rule OK and vaporwave, are dropping their debut album, Digital Mountain, later this month. Rather than book time in a Brisbane studio, Nice Biscuit called on musician Ali Richardson, who runs a studio near the town of Boonah in Queensland’s Scenic Rim. The band packed as if they were going on a camping trip and set out to cut a record.
“Once you’re out there, you can really focus on the recording,” Cavendish says. “Once you finish your part and you need a break, you can go outside in the Ipswich/Boonah area and it’s beautiful, with cows walking around and birds everywhere.”
Scaling Digital Mountain was a growth experience for the band, and the album includes a mixture of new material and songs that have been worked and reworked for the past year-and-a-half.
“We had a more focused idea of how we wanted it to sound than when we were green,” Cavendish says. “We really needed to have a fully-formed idea of how we wanted it to sound, which came through by playing the songs a lot live. That formed it and whittled it down to what it is now.
“There’s quite a lot of different aspects to the album. There’s a few quieter songs and then a few that are quite heavy. I think we really hope people will enjoy it. We’ve definitely focused our sound and refined it by playing a lot of shows and having a lot of time to record. We haven’t been doing it by the hour – we just go for the weekend.”
Digital Mountain winds together psychedelia, disco, krautrock, and pop into a densely layered, retrofuturistic sound that matches their stage presentation. Frontwomen Billie Star and Grace Cuell appear in matching outfits – for instance, lemon-yellow go-go dresses – that they tailor themselves. It’s hard to tell if the band are time travellers from the early ‘70s or holiday-makers from Portland.
“I don’t even know what they’re going to be for the next show,” says Cavendish of Star and Cuell’s outfits. “They can get an outfit out in about a day now. They’re getting very good at it.”
Nice Biscuit had the opportunity to open for legendary neo-psych group the Brian Jonestown Massacre in Byron Bay and Sydney this year. To prep, Cavendish watched the 2004 documentary Dig!, which chronicles the rise and/or fall of Brian Jonestown Massacre frontman and professional enfant terrible Anton Newcombe, and his tempestuous relationships with bandmates and the world in general. It’s hard to miss a twang of Brian Jonestown in ‘Captain’ and other languorous and psych-tinged Nice Biscuit tracks.
“I watched [Dig!] after we heard we were going to be playing with them, which was sort of unwise,” Cavendish says. “In truth, it was nothing like that. It’s quite an edited movie. It was quite weird to talk to Anton knowing so much about him and his history. All in all, working with the band was a great experience. All the guys were really good. Anton was really helpful and had some really good pointers for us.”
The Digital Mountain tour marks a jumping-off point for a band that, like the Brian Jonestown Massacre, is both stylistically retro and forward-looking. Cavendish hopes that touring will give the band a chance to focus and refine their sound further.
“We’re really having a go,” Cavendish says. “It’s very DIY. We do everything ourselves, from mixing the songs and making the costumes to managing and booking. We want to do it all ourselves, not just writing and playing the songs. It’s sort of like a school project.”
Digital Mountain is available Friday September 14.