WCB Music Writer
I recently spoke to Chicago-based band Oshwa to discuss its sound and the new EP and what's next. The members are all current Columbia College Chicago students: Alicia Walter(vocalist), Jordan Tate(drummer), Michael Macdonald (guitarist) and most recent member Michael Byrnes (bassist). Oshwa released a three song playlist on Bandcamp.com on Aug. 18 titled "transmissions from the midwest: a real-america tribute."
Walter and Macdonald took time to answer a few questions for WCB.
WCB: How did everyone in the band meet?
Alicia: Well, despite being less than two years old we’ve had quite a few people involved in oshwa already - the core being myself, Michael Macdonald, Jordan Tate, Matt Noonan, and Michael Byrnes. I met Michael Mac at a co-op we both lived in on the north side of Chicago, in summer 2010; I met Jordan in Keyboard Ensemble when I transferred into Columbia College in September 2010; Matt Noonan and I have been best friends of some sort since we were sophomores in high school; and the four of us all met Michael Byrnes when we recorded our most recent EP at Space Jam Studios. And our current bassist, Seth Engel - I’ve known him since I asked him to play at the co-op Mike and I lived at, late 2010.
Michael Mac: Uh huh, yeah, so once we moved out of Ubuntu (aforementioned ‘co-op’) I moved to Pilsen in the 25th Ward, she moved to Logan Square. By the summer of 2011 she had moved to Pilsen as well, and we became neighbors. I started playing guitar on her songs, and we started playing shows together. We came to realize that we are both creatively compatible, and have certain musical intuitions that the other can put faith in.
WCB: How did you come up with your band name?
Alicia: This is quoted from Matt Noonan, via Facebook chat: “The name oshwa comes from a nickname given to Alicia by her high school sweetheart on a bus ride after a marching band competition in Indianapolis. He called her (with childish glee) "oshwa thee indian!" He still calls her osh, despite how incredibly twee that all is.”
WCB: What bands influence your sound and how would you describe Oshwa’s sound?
Alicia: Our influences are actually pretty vast - Jordan and I are both finishing our degrees in Music Composition, and we’ve both studied a wide range of piano repertoire through the 20th century. We’ve both found composers that really strike us, between the two of us, namely Bartok and Scriabin.
Michael Mac: Oshwa is ever-so-evolving! It is undergoing constant change, and to say what that is yet would be to speak to soon. However, we can say that the method of creating this record is different than recording the last EP, and that will have an impact on the material because of the level of control we have over it. The last EP was this sort of, “Hey guys, we’re a band,” …thing, and the purpose of it was primarily to document what we were doing as a live band at that time. We are recording the new record ourselves. It has given us a certain freedom to do things that take time, like writing in wind and brass instruments and adding different sonic elements… things that we will translate into a live setting to take with us on tour this summer.
WCB: Talk about your EP- what were the challenges?
Alicia: Personally, the challenge was actually having other people record us - even though the guys at Space Jam are our friends. Michael Mac and I recorded our previous EP entirely ourselves, and, generally speaking, I have a hard time not having control. But I really learned a helluva lot from Adam Salsberg and Seth Engel, from recording to mixing, and the whole experience was super positive.
WCB: How has the band changed since Michael entered?
Alicia: Michael Byrnes took over on bass after Matt Noonan moved to Peru - and Michael himself has trans-atlanticized to Germany for the time being. But when Michael Byrnes started playing with us, it was a big deal for me, because he was the first member who wasn’t a close friend of mine already. It made me more confident that he liked playing in oshwa, since he wasn’t personally connected to us as friends, initially - he just genuinely liked the music.
WCB: What is something that would be interesting to know about Oshwa?
Alicia: We all sleep under the same rock!!!
Michael Mac: [chuckles] Well, we are hoping to get this Artist-in-Residency outside of Traverse City, Mi, in January. It would basically entail Alicia and I holing up in a fully stocked cabin for the month, recording the meat of our album. If that doesn’t work out, we’re going to drive to this really old cabin my extended family owns in Gaylord, Mi to finish it. Bon Iver style, sort of.
WCB: How often do you play live shows, where is your favorite place to perform?
Alicia: On average, we play about 2-3 shows a month. Personally, I really dig a solid house show. People really care about your music at those shows. But playing in a venue with really nice sound is like eating cake and ice cream.
Michael Mac: Ice cream is a big influence here at Oshwa.
Alicia: (after seeing Michael Mac’s response): I was totally going to talk about ice cream!
Where do you see yourselves in the next five years musically speaking?
Alicia: Step one, finish an album by May 2012! And then we’re going to tour next summer. After that... who knows? We’ll still be doin’ this, somehow, someway.
Michael Mac: An older Oshwa.