Indie Rockers the Oh Hellos Embrace a Collaborative Spirit

click to enlarge Indie Rockers the Oh Hellos Embrace a Collaborative Spirit
Laurie Heath
There was a time when Tyler and Maggie Heath, the siblings behind the South Texas-based band the Oh Hellos, wanted their most recent EPs to be "just for fun."

But the pair began writing their follow-up to Dear Wormwood and Through the Deep, Dark Valley in autumn of 2016. And a lot of things didn't go the way folks planned that fall; social, environmental and political turmoil abounded.

"There was some stuff going in in the news and the world," says Tyler in a phone interview.

The Heaths, who recorded their first album in their bedroom in 2011, turned to their writing to process and reflect on the state of the world.

"I don't know if I could have written music that isn't at least sort of addressing…everything that's going on politically and socially," adds Maggie. "This was a relatively turbulent time. We're not a huge band but since we do have a very devoted following we have some stakes to be responsible with what piece of plywood of platform that we have."

Enter Notos and Eurus, two of a four-part EP series, from the band that is "intentionally independent" led by Tyler and Maggie who write, record, produce, mix and master everything themselves. The Oh Hellos kicked off their North American tour last week, and the Heaths and their player-picker ensemble play the Beachland Ballroom on Friday, March 2.

The EPs follow an intentional process and naming convention after Greek mythological deities that bring about the seasons. On the discs, the pair ponders where ideas come from, where we come from and what it means to belong. For the Heaths, the lyrical and musical elements are a natural progression from their previous works.

Comparatively, Notos and Eurus have taken the longest to write, Maggie says.

"Logistically, it's a nightmare," says Tyler. "But conceptually and creatively, it's been exciting, which I think is the word I would use. That's a cop-out word…but for us it feels like a logical and exciting new progression or change for what's been in our heads."

The four EP release is also intentional, in part to allow listeners to digest the ideas being brought forward rather than binge it all at once as we're accustomed to doing in "the era of Netflix and watching the entirety of a show in two days, " says Maggie.

"I miss having something to look forward to," Maggie says. "The release time in between [albums] helps you really care and really invest in sitting down to experience them."

Fans familiar with the group's eclectic folk rock style won't be disappointed with their latest offerings that are ripe with the familiar picking and riff style from Tyler and Maggie's vocals. And it's all atop the familiar ever-building crescendo of instruments and sing-a-long jamboree vibe from their bandmates. It all serves as the underpinning of the lyrical questions they are posing to themselves and their listeners.

"We've been describing this entire project as us sorting through the question of where do our ideas come from? Where did our opinions originate? Were they complete ours or influenced by people who taught us this is what they should be," Maggie says. "Toward the end of Eurus, it's just the feeling of being more whole of a person for trying to the answer question but also feeling more isolated from maybe who your original community was."

"Yeah like when I get angry and defensive where I hear new ideas, why is that?" reflects Tyler. "It's a priority to me that everyone feels like they have a seat at the table. I want to write music that everyone is like, 'Yeah cool, this in part is for me.'"

That collaborative spirit is further amplified in their shows. The Oh Hellos are known for their backing ensemble that Tyler says "at times is very loud and rowdy." Their Tiny Desk concerts on NPR have been, amusingly, anything but — an accordion player, fiddler, bassist, guitarists and other musicians can't be captured in the camera frame. (NPR described the experience as like a clown car — "band members just kept coming, including brother and sister Tyler and Maggie Heath and their mom." The band describes it as having "touring musicians the size of a circus, tumblers and all.")

That sense of belonging is paramount to their music and the message their trying to send with their new works.

"The show is very energetic," Maggie says. "Our top priority is that everyone in the audience feels like they are a part of it. Essentially we write so many vocal parts so everyone knows its ok to engage and be part of creating this song in a live setting together."

The Oh Hellos, Lowland Hum, 8 p.m., Friday, March 2. Beachland Ballroom, 15711 Waterloo Road, 216-380-1124. Tickets $18 - $20,

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