Shapes I’ve Never Seen is an album name that left me thinking a good deal more than I anticipated. You can’t think of a shape you haven’t seen, can you? Square, circle, and most of the other good ones are taken already. That being said I can tell you plenty of shapes I couldn’t believe saw. I can’t believe the shape this country is in right now, and with my exercise routine currently being one set of stairs daily to check the mail, my body is becoming shapes I never wanted to see. For three friends from Eatontown, NJ this record means all of that and more, as playing music together has truly shaped their young lives. Their music has brought them to places and showed them sights they never dreamed of seeing. Among those places were the mountains of West Virginia, which sit beautifully behind their band, Have a Good Season, on the cover of their debut album, Shapes I’ve Never Seen.
Have a Good Season’s origins go all the way back to 2012, back when I still had a Blackberry Storm and they were just three middle school graduates jamming in a Jersey basement. It was clear from the very beginning something felt correct with this group, due in no short part to a consistent work ethic and a mutual admiration for four key bands: Dinosaur Jr, Modest Mouse, Built to Spill, and American Football. The three continued to play together for several years through an instrument rotation and a few band name changes. There were side projects and other bands in between but the core three always felt they were uniquely on the same wavelength, eager and excited to contribute equal parts to make tracks together. They played covers of local heroes like Titus Andronicus during the day and would go catch whoever was playing nearby at night. The gang told me seeing The Front Bottoms play in Jersey basements and record stores to tens of people and watching the heights they’d reach was particularly inspiring, especially shaping the band’s early sound. HAGS dropped two EP’s in back to back years, 2014’s Last Picture Day EP and 2015’s Joseph EP, that made them local legends. Bouncy pop punk inspired tracks like “Oh Carl” and “Shel Silverstein” had HAGS rocking every basement, brewery, and backyard in Jersey till the band took an indefinite hiatus when drummer Dan Sakumoto enrolled at Virginia Tech. He missed the beaches and pork roll egg and cheeses of New Jersey however and transferred to Ramapo College. The gang quickly got back to jamming which lead them to writing some new songs. With time came growth. Each band member brought a piece of what they had been listening to since they last played together and they got to constructing songs democratically as they had a half decade prior.
Shapes I’ve Never Seen is the culmination of all those hours they can’t believe they practiced, the shows they can’t believe they played, and the friends they can’t believe they made. The band managed to move forward from their pop punk sound while getting both poppier and punkier. When I asked HAGS what genre this album was Nic answered “alt rock” which both makes perfect sense and is funny upon investigation. Alternative rock implies that there is some mainstream rock for there to be an alternative to, and any band that may have got classified as alternative years ago either doesn’t exist anymore or has become big enough to be an institution onto themselves. But this album is “alt rock” in the sense that I could see a track like the beautiful and breezy duet “Shoulder Blades” having been an iTunes Free Song of the Day back when Ridgewood NJ’s Real Estate was still playing basements. There are points that feel even a touch older. The ooo’s and aaah’s on “Shoulder Blades” gave me flashbacks to The Soft Bulletin where a song like “Balloons” has a crunchy pop bent that feels like it would have fit in perfect on UGA’s college radio rotation back when they were spinning R.E.M. and back when Rowan was still Glassboro State.
HAGS came out of this recording session in a shape they never could have imagined. They worked together to develop a signature sound and wrote twelve tracks that showed off its range. The album gets heavy, it gets bubbly, it gets slow, it gets fast, all while sounding a touch familiar and yet like nothing else released in 2020. I (GSC) had the chance to Zoom with HAGS lead singer Nic Palermo (N) and drummer Dan Sakumoto (D) about growing up in New Jersey and their beautiful debut album. Each was quick to give credit to the group before themselves and were especially appreciative of the work of the Beehive Collective, the NJ DIY booking and promotion group who are helping HAGS self-release the vinyl print of the album, now available for pre order. Our chat below was edited and condensed for clarity:
D: What’s Up!
GSC: How’s it goin!
D: Hey! I’m Dan, I’m in the band, I’ll get the other guys in this Zoom. What’s up dude how you been?
GSC: I’m doing great, you know I am gonna close my two windows quick I’m on a busy street and I’m tryna mitigate noise. I swear nothing all day and you hop on Zoom and an eighteen-wheeler flies past.
D: Yo forreal, we were prepping a live stream for the album, like an acoustic thing we’ll do soon on Instagram Live, and we practiced outside today because it was so nice but cars were wizzin by.
GSC: Where did you guys grow up?
D: We’re all from Eatontown.
GSC: I grew up in Summit so I’m a Jersey guy.
D: That’s definitely familiar territory. Summit is where Mondo Summit is right?
GSC: Yea, why?
D: We’ve played there a few times.
GSC: Oh no way, its run by like a bunch of local Moms. Cool little spot.
D: Really?? I did not know that *laughs* Yea, there’s a lot of history in that with old HAGS, lot of memories.
**Nic pops in the Zoom**
D: Ayy! There he is.
GSC: How’s it going?
N: Hey, how are you?
GSC: Doing very well.
D: There he is. So Dan Stattner is the bassist, I don’t believe he will be joining us he has some work engagements, but if you see in your dialogue box, he might pop in.
GSC: Gotcha. Does that get confusing? You’re both Dan S’ what do you do at Dan practice — Good Lord, band practice?
D: *Laughs* I usually go by Saku or my last name and Stattner is usually Stattner or Stat.
GSC: That makes sense. I sent over a list of questions, we’ll get to those but I wanna hear your guys story going all the way back to the beginning.
D: Nic why don’t you start us off.
N: Lemme think back, so I met these guys quite a while ago. Middle school, right? Or high school.
D: We’re all from Eatontown so we’re all from the same public-school system.
GSC: What county is Eatontown?
N: Monmouth County.
D: We’re Shore people.
N: We were in different bands growing up, obviously Have a Good Season is the one that stuck, but we jammed with others for a little while. You even mentioned in your questions that we were in a band called Terrapin, that was a throwback, like super early we were just like doing classic rock covers and stuff.
GSC: That’s a good band name too.
N: Thank you *laughs* but HAGS was the group that stuck. We’ve been jamming for years, ten years now.
D: The main difference is we were all playing different instruments. I used to play lead guitar, Nic was on bass duty, Stat was on rhythm, so we were all literally doing different respective stuff.
N: And I was hardly even singing then I was just playing bass.
GSC: Who was doing the singing?
N: We had a few friends, we had a revolving line up of friends who did the singing.
D: It was like Guitar Hero singing, it was not that serious. Like our friends would be like “Yo! Our friend is a big fan of Dio or Megadeath,” and they’d sing.
N: Eventually my dad bought like a student drum kit and it was in my basement sitting there and I’d play it here or there not really getting the grasp of drums. I remember one day Sakumoto came over and was naturally a great drummer so he hopped on drums, I moved to guitar. We were in a band for a little bit, Understanding Fractions, just for fun high school stuff, but that sorta dissolved and became Have a Good Season.
D: And that’s at the end of summer 2012 when we officially started.
GSC: When did you guys graduate high school?
N: I graduated 2014.
D: I’m 2015 and Stattner is 2016.
GSC: And then do you all go to Rowan together?
D: Stat is going solo, Nic graduated from Rowan.
D: And I am still finishing out my degree at Ramapo.
GSC: That’s interesting so when the Last Picture Day EP came out so then 2014, you’re in…?
D: Okay so 2014, so Stattner knows all the timelines, I’m pretty sure that came out 2014 in the springtime.
N: Yea, we were still in high school.
GSC: So you had two back to back in 2014 and 15 and then a little gap between that and your debut album.
D: yea that’s something I can shed a little bit of light on. My freshman year I was at Virginia Tech and we were basically on hiatus. We knew that was going to happen going into the Joseph EP. We had written much of the material beforehand and went to the same studio we recorded Last Picture Day EP so it flowed well. What year was Joseph?
GSC: It says 2015 on Spotify.
D: That makes sense because we were like “Let’s release these great songs we have,” and then took a break. Then I came back to Jersey and we got going again.
GSC: So you grew up in New Jersey, how did that impact you musically? Did Bruce hang heavy?
N: I am a pretty big Bruce fan, his take on songwriting and storytelling has certainly had an influence on me, you kinda can’t avoid his music when you live around here. He’s a favorite of mine but also when we were in high school The Front Bottoms were coming up and we caught them at some really tiny shows before they took off, I’d say they were a pretty big influence from New Jersey.
D: Yea, definitely finding the DIY scene, specifically The Front Bottoms being my intro to the DIY scene playing at Vintage Vinyl to like ten people, literally just Brian Sella. Big New Jersey inspiration. Also you mentioned Titus Andronicus, they’re awesome.
N: Yea we were into them. We even used to jam to some of their songs, not even in Have a Good Season like before that we used to play A More Perfect Union.
D: That’s what it was! I was gonna say that song was on the tip of my tongue.
GSC: That rules, with the arrangement you have now?
D: This was when we were Understanding Fractions, right Nic?
N: Yea this was then.
D: So we were actually a four piece, this was my first stint at drumming. I was drumming on a three fourths size Toys R Us drum kit and it was Nic’s first introduction to being a front man. We had a bassist friend who wasn’t Stat at first and then we had another guitarist who played lead, so we were a typical four-piece rock band.
GSC: Who are your favorite NJ contemporaries?
D: I keep forgetting who is from Jersey, I don’t know Nic who are some big names? Teenage Halloween of course.
N: Oh yea they’ve been good friends with them for a long time. We love them, we like grew up with them. I don’t know if you’re familiar with America Pt 2 they’re some close friends of ours. I don’t know who else. Late Waves are really cool and good people.
D: You’ve probably heard of Well Wisher, love them too.
GSC: Sorry to get political on you with this next question, but Taylor Ham or Pork Roll?
D: Okay, so do you care about central Jersey as a thing or…?
GSC: I was always just north and south Jersey I never knew of Central Jersey.
D: Totally fine… technically we’d be from Central Jersey.
N: Here’s what I’ll say. I went to school in South Jersey and I just do not relate to a lot of the people in South Jersey. That’s no shade, I made a lot of friends there, but it doesn’t remind me of home. When you get to North Jersey you’re closer to the city and I feel like there is a different energy there as well. I think maybe… maybe central Jersey doesn’t exist technically but The Shore, the atmosphere we grew up in, is separate from North or South Jersey.
GSC: The Shore is definitely its own thing. But that still doesn’t answer the central question Taylor Ham or Pork Roll?
N: I always say Pork Roll, I’ve never said Taylor Ham. Pork Roll Egg & Cheese.
GSC: You need to come up with like a shore word for it. So let’s talk favorite places in NJ, starting with Pizza.
N: I used to work at a pizzeria called Guido’s pizzeria.
D: I like Guido’s.
N: I got fired but I still got mad love for them. I’m gonna say Guido’s. My friend manages it now so I’m still good there.
GSC: What about diners?
D: Diners man, do you know, I don’t know this answer Nic, but you’ve been to Americana Diner right? That’s one of my favorites to be honest.
N: Yep love Americana. There’s this really cool diner by us called Roadside Diner and that’s literally what it is. It’s like a tiny little roadside diner and for some reason there’s this giant green dinosaur outside the diner. I think I took Christmas photos there a few years back.
D: Jersey Diners are something else.
GSC: Yea, absolutely. So you guys in your interview with The Alternative you spoke a lot about your Japanese heritage and about some of the Japanese bands that influenced you, but I’d love to hear more about that.
N: I’d say first and foremost one of our biggest influences was toe. Of course them being Japanese was part of the attraction but just the music and the song writing and the performance how they’d play live.
D: I love Lite, I’ve seen Lite a few times. Stat and I actually went to a show with some pals of ours at Webster Hall. Do you know Tricot?
GSC: I’ve heard of them, they’re a little bit more mathy right?
D: Yep. I’ve definitely taken influence from more mathy type stuff. I am a big metal head so I listen to a lot of prog metal, ya know, thrashy stuff.
GSC: Keeping it moving, you’ve been recording music together since 2012. What do you think has changed? You’ve changed instruments, but what else has changed and what has stayed the same, and who has helped you grow?
N: How have we changed? The type of music we listen to and take inspiration from. When we started we had these core bands we loved, we’d cover their songs and we had a goal to make music that sounded like Modest Mouse or Dinosaur Jr. As we get older, like Sakomoto said he’s more into metal. He started discovering those bands and I started listening to hardcore music, and I’d say our influences changed. Which is why the music we make now sounds different than the first few songs we wrote together.
D: Musically our progression is not too far outside of what a normal band would say. We practiced a whole lot. But outside of that I really wanna shout out the Beehive Collective. Max Falvey who helps run it is an old friend. He’s from our town, he’s my grade, he’s one of our best friends, and he started the Beehive Collective as a passion project with Dana Gorab who is a friend whose been super significant to all this. They definitely opened our eyes not just musically but like what do we want to do, what are our goals. I have been taking a more managerial type role in the band. Nic is spearheading all the artwork, we did it all in house, so we all contribute a part to make the band better. That I would say is the biggest change since we were sixteen.
GSC: You’re taking it seriously, realizing there’s a community that wants HAGS to succeed and realizing if you put your whole heart into it that you can create something that resonates.
D: Yea exactly, and it’s been proving itself true recently. Beehive has been instrumental in the vinyl process which we didn’t think was gonna happen and then they made it happen, and with the recording too.
GSC: How do you feel when you listen to this and how do you want it to make people feel?
N: How do I feel. I mean, honestly, I feel extremely proud. Definitely. Also just driven to make more music. We have more songs that we want to put out already.
D: We’ve never sat on an album before this one. It was all done then we devised a roll out plan so like we’ve been relistening to it honestly. I haven’t listened to it in a month or two and like I relistened and it made me reminisce about being in the studio creating these songs and how fun it all was. As far as how people feel, there are certain songs that I’d like people to have personal attachments to, some of the songs can evoke a lot of emotion. But also just as important I just want people to jam to it, like go “that line was fire” you know silly shit, just fuck with the beat or whatever.
N: Also, I hope the people who were with us there from the beginning can see a progression and a maturity that wasn’t there in our earlier music and that our friends and family who were there from the start, I hope they’re happy for the direction we’re headed.
D: That is an honest thought I’ve had because like we did have an unprecedented amount of people who loved our first two EP’s and like there are a lot of people who still play O Carl and I hope people are receptive to the non-pop punky type stuff. So far so good, no negative reviews, nobody ripping it.
N: I hope people can find meaning in the lyrics. Like Sakumoto said I hope they resonate with people emotionally.
GSC: This is a good time to move onto one of the most emotionally resonant songs on the album Chew for You, the one that got in two Spotify Punk Playlists. The imagery on the song, there is nothing more intimate you could be willing to do for someone than chew their food. Talk about that track, where it came from, what it means to you.
N: It’s a bit of a love letter for sure. I love a good love song and I love a good broken-hearted love song. Lyrically, thematically there was a point in time when I was at school in college when I had to take a month or so off for medical reasons and I was pretty bummed. Just sitting in bed all day not doing much, missing school, missing my friends and seeing everyone. So that’s when I wrote that song, desperate to be back to normal. Lyrically I’ve always had an interest in anatomical themes, you know teeth and skin. I feel anatomy is a great inspiration to write lyrics about. So it was about that feeling.
GSC: So it wasn’t you literally chewing somebody’s food, I guess.
N: No, not really. It wasn’t literal.
D: Lotta double meaning there. I had nothing to do lyrically, Nic came with that song first and we loved it. I think I just had a hand in arrangement structure. I wrote the bridge and solo section, but I really like that song a lot. The groove Stat killed. Also honestly, I wasn’t thinking this inherently, but those accents are in standard and if you were to tune that and drop it to A flat that’s a pretty decent metal song.
GSC: Wow, that completely blew my mind, never thought of it as a metal song. Moving forward, my favorite track on the album is Shoulder Blades honestly.
GSC: I love that track I think it’s a slap and like I think everyone’s mom would think it’s a slap.
GSC: And the additional vocalist, she did a great job. Kinda like you said some of the best pop songs are sad love songs. Here you’re lamenting why does it take you so long to express your love even though you’re willing to physically carry them if need be, I loved it.
D: This is one of my tracks. I don’t know if you know The Vaughn’s, I’d say they’re Asbury locals, we’ve played shows with them back in the day. Anna from The Vaughn’s is the additional singer on that song, she killed it. She came into the studio when we were tracking it and left an hour later, extremely impressive. Super easy and we were super grateful. I wrote this track and its one of those songs where I came with a full fleshed song. I wrote all the guitar parts, all the lead parts, I even wrote all the bass parts. Stat has a song he did it all for too which we could talk about as well. But Nic, I think it was you who suggested it be a duet.
N: Yea, so Sakumoto said he wrote all the guitar parts and stuff. When he first showed it to us right off the bat we all felt this had to be a love song. The chords are so pretty so I knew it had to have sentimental lovey kinda lyrics. I think the inspiration for having the second voice, I’m a big fan of the Lemonheads and on some of their better songs they have a second vocalist and I just really like the juxtaposition. Within the context of the lyrics we’re singing to each other in a way. It adds to the love.
GSC: Playing live is a massive part of Have a Good Season. Where’s your favorite place to play in Jersey and where is your favorite place out of Jersey?
N: Right now my favorite place to play in Jersey is the Asbury Park Brewery, they just always have really good line ups, the people who work there are great, and it’s always a great time to have a beer and see your friends.
D: I would include House of Independents, where we’ve played twice. Those are bigger shows though and those opportunities don’t come as often.
GSC: What about the Meat Locker?
N: Yea shout out to The Meat Locker. Our first show that wasn’t like in my parent’s basement was at the Meat Locker. I remember none of us could drive so we just got dropped off. We were little babies. And the Meat Locker of all places for your first DIY show I was like “this is sick, this is punk as fuck.”
D: Yea that was crazy. Outside of Jersey, obviously Jersey is home, but the summer tour was my favorite.
GSC: Did you just get a van for that?
D: We had an interesting situation. I have a car shared between me and my dad, a Hyundai Sonata, which is not a touring vehicle. It’s really good drive wise, storage wise no. We kept it light packing especially the drums. We try our best to secure backline before we head on the road, shout out to Dana because she took care of all that stuff. Anyways we toured out of that vehicle, the three of us and our friend/photographer Alex. Not the best but we made the best of it and split the driving.
GSC: So where is your favorite place?
N: I like Philly, I think the house scene in Philly is a lot of fun and I’d put them high on my list of cities to be in. Also we have some friends in Milwaukie and I had never been there and I thought Milwaukie was a really nice city all the people were nice and I had a lot of fun being there.
D: I would definitely say the same. The Milwaukie show was at this venue the Cactus Club and the venue was really cool. Kinda dark dive bar-y and then it had a switch-hit venue in the back. Apparently bands like Death Cab for Cutie played there when they were nothing. Another place that was awesome was Georgia. Atlanta was awesome, by Georgia Tech. It was definitely more of a house block party type vibe, it was all outdoors, the bands were sick. Then on top of that they shouted us out a bunch because we were the touring band and they tipped us like crazy immediately after our set, and they’d keep coming by our table during other sets and tipping us. It was wild.
GSC: Southern hospitality man. Last question rounding up. Any book movie, tv, podcast, album whatever recommendations to get people through qtine?
D: Off the gate I’ve been writing and producing music.
GSC: Has it been easy to work or hard to get yourself working?
D: Motivation has been tough for sure, but I have been able to get a lot done. Aside from music I sleep a lot, I eat a lot, and also like trying to go outside.
GSC: Going for long walks has been really good.
N: I’m really into comic books. I recently read Rusty Brown by Chris Ware. It’s kinda bleak and sad but I would recommend it. Imagine putting a microscopic view on a random human. Like imagine people you just see someone and you’re like that’s an interesting looking person and I wonder what their life story is like and this whole book is just looking at people at looking at their lives and showing you four or five people and connecting their upbringing and backstories, it’s very human it was a really good comic book. And it has really good artwork so that’s my recommendation.