The staying power of NJ’s Have a Good Season

HAGS. The phrase brings me back to an early June day in a sweltering classroom in middle school—scribbling it for the umpteenth time on a glossy blank yearbook page, it was both a perfunctory summer send-off to kind-of friends and acquaintances, and a communal recognition of the upcoming season of fun and freedom. Summer camps, pool parties, trips down the shore, drinking lots of Capri-Sun… not having a care in the world until Labor Day weekend when school is around the corner.

Now, I’m about a decade removed from putting HAGS in my classmates’ yearbooks, but I recently was reminded of this lexical phenomena talking with Nic Palermo, vocalist and guitarist in Have a Good Season, or HAGS. And that callback isn’t only because of the name; chatting with Palermo felt a bit like talking to an old high school friend you haven’t seen in years… or a few good seasons, as it were.

HAGS (Palermo; Daniel Stattner on bass and Dan Sakumoto on drums) is from Eatontown, by way of Monmouth Regional High School, where they all went to school a few grades apart.

“We were all playing in different bands growing up and nothing really stuck, and we decided that the three of us were gonna be a band,” says Palermo.

While the band’s name did come out of Monmouth Regional High School (where many a “HAGS” were surely written in school yearbooks), one shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Or maybe one should. Explains Palermo: “Have A Good Season comes from a book I saw in my sophomore year of high school. I didn’t pick up the book, but it had a cool cover. I just like bands with long names like Sunny Day Real Estate.”

Regardless, it works. And it’s been working long after the band members left school. One of the most impressive things about HAGS is that they’ve stuck together for over a decade. Bands, and especially DIY bands, have a turnover rate that would make Jeff Bezos feel good about his fulfillment centers (if Bezos had normal human emotions).

Their secret? Honesty. “We’re open and honest with each other about band-related things,” Palermo says. “We each recognize our own roles within the band. I consider these guys (Stattner and Sakumoto) my close friends, and we may have disagreements, but we try to discuss them as friends and adults.”

The band, which lists Modest Mouse, Snowing, Dinosaur Jr., and Oasis as influences, released their latest album Shapes I’ve Never Seen in May of 2020. HAGS recorded the album at Timber Studios in Bayonne. 

Shapes I’ve Never Seen is an album about experiences: “College can be fun, but it can be tough,” says Palermo. “A lot of us were going through some shit that affected the songwriting, and ultimately I’m glad I had those experiences. Whether they were good or bad, whether they bummed me out or made me happy, they all inspired me to write these songs.”

Palermo attended Rowan in Gloucester County, Sakomuto was in college in North Jersey, and Stattner was still in Monmouth County. Being in different parts of the state was a challenge for the band, but one that they made work. 

“We went into the studio with all the songs finished,” Palermo says of the recording process. “I know some bands like to work songs out in the studio—there were certainly new ideas coming to us—but the songs themselves were finished front to back. It was a very smooth process.”

Even though the band has stayed together for over a decade, there have been changes in terms of music. After all, seasons do change. 

“Our music tastes have evolved and matured,” says Palermo. “When we started this band, we had all these bands in mind that we shared a love for and we wanted to base our sound around, but our styles have changed.”

One listen to Shapes I’ve Never Seen and you can see the changing of the seasons. 

“Some of the songs are a little poppier than they used to be,” Palermo says. “We used to like a lot of emo bands and tried to incorporate them into our music, and to an extent we still do, but I love hooks. A lot of the songs that we have been demo-ing lately have been a little bit more hookier maybe.”

When listening to Shapes I’ve Never Seen, Palermo’s point is proved sonically. You can still hear the emo influences and the influence that bands like Dinosaur Jr. had on the band. But you can also hear the poppier sounds of HAGS. It sounds like Turnover meets Modest Mouse. The evolution is a good thing, it turns out. Much like how HAGS is a summer term, this latest album by HAGS is made great for long summer drives. 

Summer drives were also important to the band, and they loved how close they were to the shore growing up in Eatontown. They were also grateful for how close they were to several areas with great music scenes.

“I feel really lucky that we had so many music scenes around us,” Palermo says. “New Brunswick, Asbury, I went to school in South Jersey and there were a lot of cool bands at Rowan. I feel lucky that we were accepted in the DIY Community, and I take pride that we came from DIY.”

HAGS will be playing at House of Independents at Asbury Park on July 30. Then they have two shows with Sweet Pill (recently featured on NJ INDY): on Aug. 19 at the Dolphin in South Philadelphia, and on Aug. 20 at the Massapequa VFW Hall on Long Island.