| The Oh Hellos |
| Four Corner’s Folk Festival – August 31 |
By Brian F. Johnson
It’s one thing to maintain your independence and stay true to your art when nobody is knocking on your door. It’s another thing entirely to stay true to those convictions when every major label and every large management firm and agency in the country is making huge offers based simply on a debut, homemade single that went viral organically.
The Oh Hellos could be on a beach sipping boat drinks right now. They could have already cashed in and been done, but in many ways the band is just getting started — albeit with 3 million plays on Spotify, nearly 60,000 copies of their single “Hello My Old Heart” sold and upwards of 50,000 combined LP and EP sales — all independently and without any official team behind them.
In 2011, The Oh Hellos, made up of brother and sister Tyler and Maggie Heath, innocently posted their self-recorded debut song “Hello My Old Heart” to the unlikely social network site reddit. The song began to spread, and eventually found its way to Nerf, the program director at KTCL (Channel 93.3. in Denver). “I heard it first in a game of ‘my song is better than your song’ I was playing over the phone with a friend of mine, Dave Herrera,” Nerf told The Marquee. “At the time he was music editor of Westword. He said ‘Check out this song. I can’t believe it’s not on the radio.’ After a listen I said, ‘It is now!’ Not too long after we started playing it, KBCO started too. After that, my year became pretty interesting. I had calls from A&Rs and label CEOs from just about every label asking about the band and how they can get in touch with them.”
Nerf, who had struck up a friendship with the Heaths, kept in contact and let them know that people wanted to meet with them, but he said that the band didn’t have any interest in hearing what the industry had to offer or say.
“The thing was, they had no desire for wealth and fame,” Nerf said. “They wanted nothing to do with people who would promote them and help them grow bigger as a band. They had an ideal in their heads and they weren’t willing to compromise. Not only did they not want a record deal, they talked about wanting to play free shows. They’re great people and unbelievable artists, with the most admirable convictions I’ve ever witnessed. When people were shoving piles of money at them, they kept it about their art.”
The Oh Hellos was KTCL’s most played album of 2013, and KBCO’s too. The group also toured for the first time in 2013 and sold out every date of the 14-gig whirlwind in advance.
“It defies all reason that the song blew up the way it did. I was just thunderstruck,” said Tyler Heath, during a recent interview with The Marquee. “It was incredible and gratifying and humbling and strange, and a little scary, I guess because people were paying attention to us. But I think on the whole it’s the greatest thing to ever happen to us. It pushed us along to write a few more songs and then an album [2013’s Through The Deep Dark Valley] and now we’re working on a new one. We started out as two kids recording a song in a bedroom and we kind of try and keep that same — I don’t want to use the word ‘authenticity,’ because that somehow makes it sound like we’re really important — but we still try to approach it that way. There are more people listening now, but we are trying to make it feel the same as when we started, I guess.”
Part of the reason that the business side of the music business doesn’t appeal to the Heaths is because they started making music together as a gift to their mother. The very first time that Tyler and Maggie sat down to write a song, they penned a “silly” song about a trip to Ireland that their family had taken and how their mother had been hit on by a drunk man walking home from a folk concert. “We wrote her a song that basically was just making fun of her and all of the silly things she said or had happen to her in Ireland. And from there we had a good enough time recording that song that we moved on to write ‘Hello My Old Heart,’ and it snowballed from there,” Heath said.
Though it is just Maggie and Tyler in the studio, The Oh Hellos have an almost symphonic sound that is rich in layers and textures. Heath had previously explored over-dubbing as a solo artist, but while he left his alt-rock explorations behind when he started The Oh Hellos, he carried on that technique of layering his music to make it sound larger, and also kept his signature positivity in his themes. “One other thing that carries over is the tone,” he said. “We try to make it as uplifting as we can, which has always been true for the songs I write. The songs I write are like pep talks to myself. I’m almost always telling myself, ‘Keep your chin up, buddy. It’s going to be o.k.’”
The Oh Hellos were so successful in their home studio recordings at making a large sound that when it came time to perform live, the Heaths needed extra hands to make it happen. Twenty-two extra hands, in fact. What the duet plays on their own on the album, takes 11 people, plus the Heaths to pull off on stage. “We kept writing songs that felt big, and that felt very high energy and we didn’t think there would be a really good way for us to translate that traveling around as an acoustic duo. Basically the only way we felt we could do the recordings any justice was to get pretty much everyone we knew who could hold an instrument to come up on stage with us. We started off with like eight people, including us and we were like ‘Meh. It’s not quite right.’ And then we added a few more people and we added a second drummer and then everything clicked and we were like ‘Now, we’re there,’” Heath said.
The Oh Hellos have a few scattered summer dates lined up, before they start a late-summer tour with NEEDTOBREATHE that will take them into fall. Heath said that when they finish that tour, the top priority is for he and Maggie to write the follow up to Through The Deep Dark Valley. And while the two could record in any studio they want to — with their pick of a label — Heath said that he doesn’t see The Oh Hellos changing things in the near future. “I’m thinking we’ll do the whole rent a cabin in the woods and write and record, kind of thing,” Heath said. “That’s where I’m most comfortable at this point.”
The Oh Hellos
| Boulder Theater – August 30 |
| Four Corner’s Folk Festival – August 31 |
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