- October 2013 -
HAVE A BEER WITH OSHWA
Last week, we had some beers with Chicago-based experimental pop group Oshwa to discuss their August release Chamomile Crush, their upcoming gig at Phantom Note Productions' Phantom Phest, plans for another record and why their creative process will be different for their second album.
The Members: Alicia Walter (vocals/guitar/piano); Michael Mac (vocals/guitar); Matt Noonan (bass); Jordan Tate (percussion)
The Show: Phantom Phest: Quenchers Saloon, October 26, 2013
Drink of Choice: Whiskey and Ginger, IPAs (Lagunitas), Sours
Kristen from A Beer with the Band: How did Oshwa form?
Alicia from Oshwa: It started as a solo project in 2010… I went to Illinois Wesleyan my freshman year of college as a piano performance major. I kind of freaked out, hated everything, then transferred to Loyola, where I wasn’t studying music but was taking music classes. I realized that I still wanted to do music but not in an academic or piano-based sense—something more creative and a little less restrictive. It started as just me for five or six months, until Jordan and I started playing together. After about four months, Mike joined, and there was a weird time where we had no idea what we were and there was no formal body. By February 2012, Matt started playing with us consistently and that was when it started being a band. So, officially we’ve been together a little over a year-and-a-half.
Kristen: You live in Pilsen. Do you have a local watering hole or a favorite bar?
Alicia: More and more bars are popping up. There's Simone's, which is a big hot spot for Pilsen, and then there's Skylark, which bridges Bridgeport and Pilsen. Those are the two main bars aside from Honky Tonk, which we go to a lot. And the owner of Longman & Eagle [Logan Square] recently opened Thalia Hall and Dusek's. We went to the Punch House in the basement. It's so cool. It's really awesome. That place will probably be our new watering hole. They bought out like eight storefronts with the venue so a bunch of new stuff is supposed to be opening up there. It's totally going to be a big game changer for Pilsen.
Kristen: Let's talk a little about the music. Describe your sound to someone who hasn’t heard Oshwa before.
Jordan from Oshwa: There's a lot of guitar... [everyone laughs]
Alicia: There's some drums, some bass...
Jordan: The guitar parts are very melodic, and since there are two usually going on at one point, it's very intertwined. There’s a bass part that's also very melodic, so there's a lot going on at any point in time, but none of the instruments interfere with each other, even though they are so close together.
Mike from Oshwa: And then Jordan lays down these beats.... [everyone laughs]. Jordan makes it interesting rhythmically; he has a really unique take on the drums. Me and Alicia sing—mostly it’s Alicia, but I sing on a couple of songs.
Matt from Oshwa: There are no "only Mike" songs, but there are a lot of "only Alicia" songs.
Mike: I would also classify us as “experimental pop.”
Alicia: I say weird pop. I don't know if that means anything.
Matt: We've also been blended into the math rock genre and the indie rock genre.
Alicia: It's supposed to be accessible, but it doesn't sound like everything else.
Matt: It's definitely a pop music format...
Alicia: We've gotten "jazz" before, too.
Kristen: Do any of you have a jazz background?
Alicia: No. I don't know what it is, but almost all of us developed a sense of not basing our chords purely on triads. I think as soon as you start doing that, people always say, "Oh, it sounds jazzy." We're really not, but some people make a jazz association with those chords.
Kristen: I don't think it's a bad thing to have all of those genres linked with your name. You came out with an album in August called Chamomile Crush. Tell me a little bit about that album's creative process.
Mike: It's usually me and Alicia writing a foundation for a song with either guitar or vocal parts, then bringing them to Matt and Jordan. The recording process was probably not the most ideal thing that a band could ever do.
Kristen: Why is that?
Mike: I guess we just re-recorded things a lot. Initially, we wanted to do the whole thing ourselves. I'm studying audio at Columbia College and we realized that we had no equipment at all to do anything. I think it took us a long time to realize that before we submitted to working with an actual engineer who had equipment. By the time we realized that, we needed to finish the record so we could put it out before going on tour. We didn’t have much time.
Alicia: It wasn't like the album itself was written in a short amount of time. Some of those songs were written six months to a year before we started recording. But that's what's cool about this record, it's kind of an amalgamation of all different Oshwa approaches. As we were trying to figure out what we were as a band, we had a myriad of different approaches to the songwriting, which gives the songs themselves—as a whole—a pretty eclectic feel. And not in a bad way, but in a way that really fits with what we were trying to do when we were figuring out how to write an album. I think some of the later songs that we wrote, which would have been "Chamomile Crush" and "Baraboo," ended up being more of the full-band sound that Oshwa has. Before that, it was a lot more like putting pieces together. It was a process that we needed to have happen.
Kristen: Do you have plans now for a second record?
Jordan: We didn't have a plan before this first record, but we definitely do now. I think it will make the next record even better.
Kristen: How do you think your approach is going to change?
Alicia: I hope this time we demo it out beforehand and know what we're going to add in the recording process as opposed to just having the live version.
Matt: With Chamomile Crush, I feel like we figured out how to play them live, but we had no idea how we were going to record them. We didn't think too hard about different layers, different harmonies we could use, and I think we'll be way better about that in the future. But I think we're also figuring out a way to play our future songs really well live....
Alicia: But then also have a good recording, too.
Matt: Right now, our live versions of our songs on Chamomile Crush are better than the album.
Alicia: ...I don't think we did anything wrong in trying to put out the album quickly. We wanted to be on tour and we wanted to have an album, and it made sense to push the envelope in terms of time, but with the second album, we want to prove ourselves. We're here to play the game.
Mike: Yeah, we want to spend time making an actual record and not just documenting it.
Kristen: Where did you go on your tour? Did you stay local?
Alicia: We went through Michigan to Canada and through New York, Boston, Philly, D.C.—all the east coast cities—through the Carolinas, then to Nashville, Cincinnati and back. It was twenty shows in eighteen days. It was totally crazy. Every show was different.
Mike: We played a few festivals here and there, and we even played a Republican Party in Connecticut. It was really weird. But it was on one of the bigger stages we've played on. It was outside, during the day, and there were children walking around.
Kristen: There’s a first for everything. What are you guys listening to now?
Matt: These guys have all been into Grizzly Bear for way too long, and I have hardly listened to them at all. But I'm really into Grizzly Bear right now.
Kristen: Jumpin' on the bandwagon.
Matt: I was apprehensive, but now it feels right. The weather is perfect for it.
Alicia: There's this band Ovlov that's really good. Also, we played with some great bands on tour...Happy Maladies is insanely talented. Junior Bob is a band out of Toronto, and same with Elos Arma. I also got really into Angel Olsen out of Chicago. She’s on tour with a band out of Chicago called Pillars and Tongues that's really good. I don't know why they're not more well-known; they should be.
Jordan: And I’m into Birthmark, who is Nate Kinsella, now based in Brooklyn.
Kristen: You're playing Phantom Phest at the end of October. Tell me a little bit about how you got involved.
Alicia: We played our release show at Quenchers...It was a really great night with a really good response and they wanted to have us back. I actually started doing booking for Phantom Note Productions and the founder Sam [Edgin] asked me if Oshwa wanted to play Phantom Phest, and we said, "That would be cool."
Kristen: When do you guys play?
Alicia: We play October 26th at 10:00 at Quenchers.This is kind of off-topic, but there's this band Wayne Szalinksi that was at Quenchers the night that our label co-founder, Matt Frank, was celebrating his birthday, and one of the members of the band was under 21. Quenchers is a really big stickler for anyone who's playing being underage, so they had one of the band members play outside of the venue. They mic'd him up outside of the door and he was basically playing guitar to no one, even though his amp was inside the venue. There's a video for that show that went viral on Huffington Post. It's tripled their "Likes" on Facebook. It really got them a lot of notoriety.
Kristen: That's pretty crazy. I'll have to check it out. What's the least rock-'n'-roll thing you've done in the past year?
Matt: Oh my god. My entire life. Naked internet chess playing [everyone laughs].
Alicia: I can't top that. I think as a whole we're not rock-'n'-roll. We played in Connecticut and stayed with a guy studying arts management who had a bunch of other bands staying at the place. He really honed into each band and what they wanted to do. Did they want to hang out and party? Did they want to sleep? Well, he gave us his sister's bedroom to go crash in even though there were like thirty people staying in the house He knew that we wouldn't want to hang out with people
Jordan: This was like two-thirds into our tour and we were just exhausted.
Alicia: But it kind of speaks to us. We're just generally not rock-'n'-roll. We don't go out after the shows. We’re like moderate, adult rock when it comes to partying.
Matt: As a collective, we did the most un-rock-'n'-roll thing on tour. We sat in the car and listened to This American Life the whole time. And all enjoyed it.
Alicia: While not being hungover. We're just really wholesome.
Kristen: What's the best advice you've ever received?
Alicia: I was in color guard in high school, which will sound lame to a lot of people, but the program was really awesome. It was like modern dance. We always talked about the fact that if you're going to do something, you might as well own it entirely. If you're really nervous, you can't show it. I’m not like this in the writing process because it's more private, but when it comes to performing, recording and playing in front of people, it's balls to the wall. I come back to that a lot. There’s this point where you're on the cusp of being really awesome or just attempting to be awesome and you have to be like, "Fuck it. None of this matters.” You have to remind yourself that none of this is actually matters in the grand scheme of things.
Jordan: Nothing matters. That's what I would say is the best advice I've ever received.
Kristen: What's next for you guys?
Alicia: We're going to Canada in November and we'll be playing two shows there—two big festivals. It will be with a lot of the same bands that we played with on tour, so that'll be cool. We're playing Phantom Phest at the end of October, Canada in November and then after that, we'll be writing a ton. It's exciting because it's going to get really introspective. In some ways...it's going to get more personal, but also somehow more relatable. I don't fully know yet.
Matt: More human.
Alicia: This is from a totally biased perspective as a member of this band, but if I were a listener and a non-member, I would say, "This next record is totally going to take Oshwa into their own sound." Whatever happens after this will be something really great. We're going to come into ourselves and define our sound.