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- Nice Try
Long before her days as the frontwoman of Bloomington pop duo Nice Try, Madeline Robinson went on a solo tour of the U.S., knowing very little about what she was getting herself into.
"I went on my first tour my senior year of high school, and it is kind of miraculous that it worked and that it was really great and that my parents let me do it," she remembers. "I had just been booking shows in my town for so long and really had the notion drilled into my head that anyone could do it."
It's this month-long tour out to the West Coast and back that the 24-year-old now pinpoints as a defining moment in her life.
"That was my first independent human being experience, and it's still happening."
It's also this tour that seemingly served as the jumping off point for her more serious musical endeavors.
Born in Knoxville, Tenn., Robinson started playing and writing solo music midway through high school under the stage name of Madeline Ava, before eventually going on the aforementioned life-changing tour. Although she didn't live in Indiana during her teenage years, she remembers falling in love with Bloomington artists like Busman's Holiday and Erin Tobey, who she now interacts with regularly as a part of the Bloomington music community.
"It's just amazing to walk down the street and say hi to all these people. If that had happened when I was still 18, I would be freaking out," she says.
After playing solo for several years, Robinson became fed up with the way she was sometimes treated as a young female singer-songwriter.
"I wasn't experiencing what I think of as overt sexism toward women in the music scene," she says. "But basically, every time I played a show, I was getting described as 'precious music,' or 'cute music by a cute girl,' or 'the cutest thing you'll ever see.' And, a lot of that felt more like a description of a person than a description of music, so I was like, 'I'm working really hard on this music, and that's a lot more important to me than the fact that I'm a little girl who's soft-spoken and nice.'"
So, she set out to start a band, which led to the start of Nice Try.
"Playing in a band, it's a lot harder for people to be like: 'That was so adorable,'" she says. "It was all coming from a good-hearted place, of course, so it did not hurt my feelings to be called cute most of the time. But, when you're just hearing one thing over and over, you wonder why. I think it's just a novelty to have a young woman playing quiet songs that are vulnerable."
With Nice Try, Robinson continued to channel much of what she was channeling through her solo work. In fact, she admits that some of the songs on the debut Nice Try EP, (convinced.) were solo songs that she converted into two-piece band arrangements. In listening to these early tracks, you can hear how excited she was to finally have someone else playing by her side.
"There are really fast, hard songs on there compared to what I do now," she says. "It was just kind of like, 'Oh my gosh. Look what I can do. This is a punk song, and I'm doing it.'"
After a few years without new recordings, Nice Try returned in 2016 with a self-titled tape, which premiered on Stereogum in February. Due to the amicable departure of drummer Justin Hatton (currently a member of the Bloomington bands Bugg and Laffing Gas), this Nice Try tape is the first to feature Kahler Willits on drums, who says he was a fan of Robinson's music before he ever joined the band. "I really like Madeline's songs," he says. "I really like the simplicity of them and her vocal melodies, and just how it all remains really catchy." Also worth pointing out is the fact that they recorded this self-titled tape at Bloomington's iconic Magnetic South Recordings studio.
"John [Dawson] did a great job because it sounds good, but it's not overly polished," Willits says. "For me, it's the perfect balance of lo-fi and hi-fi."
In addition to several upcoming shows, Nice Try plans to record a single with another Bloomington all-star Mike Adams in the near future. From here, the duo's hope is to self-release this single on flexi-disc later this year, giving fans yet another song to have stuck in their heads.Nice Try and Erin Tobey play August's First Friday show at Joyful Noise on Friday.