Most bands don’t expect to be recognized in a bowling alley on a Monday afternoon, but the O’My’s are so ingrained Chicago’s creative scene that it comes as no surprise. “I love your band,” a fellow bowler says raising his glass as he returns from the bar. “The O’My’s are the shit.”
Over their decade-long musical partnership, singer-guitarist Maceo Haymes and keyboardist Nick Hennessey have continued expanding on their experimental soul sound. Collaboration is in the band’s DNA, and they’ve partnered with Chicago peers like Chance the Rapper, Nico Segal, Kaina, and Saba to infuse their slow-burning melodies with hip-hop swagger and jazz grooves. After a lengthy recording process on their 2018 album Tomorrow, the O’My’s have found their musical footing and are ready to hit the ground running with a new EP and summer tour.
As they prepared to release their latest EP, "Above Ground", and kick off a North American tour, we caught up with Maceo and Nick over Goose Island Green Lines at the Diversey River Bowl to talk about their musical evolution, the first time they worked with Chance, and getting beer tattoos.
What kind of beer do you usually reach for?
Maceo: Mexican. Or Green Line, something like that. I like light beers. It’s very rare that I have a craft beer that I really like, because lots of them just throw on the hops. That’s cool, but I generally like my beer to be something to enjoy and just chill out.
Nick: I drink more beer than Maceo does, but it’s pretty similar. I usually like something in a crisp-type realm like Mexican beer or a German pilsner or kolsch. Negro Modelo is one of my favorites. I like Metropolitan’s Krankshaft kolsch. As a craft brewer they make good non-hoppy beer. I also like sour beers. Especially if they have some of that funky, smoky wood and they’re aged.
Do you guys remember your first beer?
Nick: It was within the block of Fireside Bowl. I had tasted beer before this, but it was the first time I drank my own 40 of Mickey’s. I remember that beer experience of getting my friend who was older to go buy me a Mickeys’ for a basement ska show that was in a Communist bookstore right there.
Maceo: I went to a couple of socialist talks there.
So, you were upstairs in the bookstore, and you were downstairs at the ska show?
Nick: Yeah, trombones playing while he’s listening to intellectual conversations.
Maceo: My first time drinking a beer was probably at [my friend] Max’s. That was the first time I enjoyed a beer. Before I drank, I didn’t really steal beer from my parents because they didn’t really drink. So it was there on the roof, and I drank a High Life. That was the only beer I drank for a really long time.
Nick: Until you realized you didn’t have to drink High Life.
That’s my go-to though for a cheap beer. I love High Life.
Maceo: I got it tattooed. I’m totally on the team. There was this bar we used to hang out at a lot and there was a tattoo shop next door. The owner was a regular.
Nick: It was a dangerous combo.
Maceo: Yeah, it was a dangerous combo. We were drinking a lot of High Lifes that day and I was like, ‘You know what bro? This fucking logo is real fucking dope.’ Me and my homie both got it.
What have you guys been doing since the new album came out?
Maceo: A bunch. We put out the project and then played some release shows in Chicago and New York, and then hopped on tour with Dermot Kennedy. Then we came back and had some down time.
The last project we worked on took entirely too long—like a couple of years. During the same time, I was definitely starting ideas and Nick was too. We weren’t finishing them because we didn’t want to finish the new ideas and not know what they were for instead of finishing the album. So we’ve had a bunch of super-rough ideas stockpiled and we’ve been turning them into songs. We’re dropping a new EP this summer. So now, we’re finishing an album that’s moving faster and more organically than the last project.
So, you just released a full length, you’re dropping an EP, and you have another album coming out?
Maceo: Yeah we don’t know when the album is going to come out, but we were like, ‘Well it’s wintertime.’ We had just got my home studio set up. The majority of the last project started in studios like Rax Trax, but it had a different feel than when we build most of the production of a song at home. We had done that for years. So this winter, we had the time to dig in. Even though we brought songs to different studios to record drums or things like that, we wanted them to have a genuine feeling like they were in the living room with us and then a band stops in. We’ve just been writing and recording to make sure all the music was ready before we go on tour this summer.
Nick: We’re sitting on a lot of different ideas, so we’re letting out these songs that are fully fleshed out. We’re confident in the next ideas getting rounded out already.
Maceo: The last album was the most time we’ve spent in professional studios. Every project we’ve done has had the guidance of a producer, so coming out of that we’ve learned so much technically. We know now what we actually need in the studio versus what feels more comfortable doing at home. Musically, I feel like our strongest point is we’re doing our best work when it feels really intimate and genuine, and that’s sometimes hard to do when you’re in the studio. Starting with the songs first and then figuring out how to make it pretty.
I want to go back to that bookstore, because it seems like you guys were in the same circles for a long time. How did you guys get together and what did you recognize in each other as artists to decide to collaborate?
Nick: We met each other through a group of high school friends at that house where Maceo had his first beer. Everyone would get together there after school on Fridays. A friend who had gone to his school got kicked out and started going to my school. We were pretty suspect of each other; we were both the person who pulled the aux cord out at a party and stops playing your song to play the song you were gonna play next. Stealing each other’s DJ shine. We had mutual friends bringing us together but we went to different schools and didn’t know each other. Our close friend who came up with the name The O’My’s, kept telling us to make music together.
We ran into each other at Lollapalooza 2007. Maceo had just convinced a wealthy kid at a private school he went to who was trying to be a music mogul to pay for studio time. He said he had a band and an album he needed to record. So I ran into Maceo, and he only had two and a half songs and half a band and he invited me to join the project. We lucked out finding someone we could make music with who, with few exceptions, is on the same page of where a song should go. Even when we’re making the wrong decision, we’re on the same page.
You guys have a lot of guests on Tomorrow. How do you approach when you’re doing a collab on a song?
Maceo: The most important thing is knowing when the song needs another voice and who that voice is. You might get someone who gives you a cool rap that has nothing to do with what you're talking about in the song.
Being from Chicago, we’re blessed with artists who are all incredible story writers and songwriters. Like the rappers for example, Saba and Chance. You have to put a lot of trust in someone when you ask them to add their voice and lyrics to something you already started that means something to you. On the last project it was pretty effortless to choose the collaborations. A lot of the people on the record were people that were in our band when we were starting and are constant collaborators. I feel like Chicago is a big city, but it’s really small, and if you play music you probably know each other.
Nick: Everybody was really young too. We all went to school in Chicago.
Maceo: The first time I worked with Chance was on a song called ‘Wonder Years,’ which I wrote right after my grandfather passed, who was a big person in my life. The producers were like, ‘What about this kid Chance who’s about to put out 10 Day?’ I was like, ‘I know him. He’s the rapper and hype man for Kids These Days.’ We were like 20 at this time and they were like 15 or 16. The song was about my grandfather, so I wasn’t sure about having a rapper on it. Chance came in and listened to what the song was about and understood it. That’s not always the case.
Of all teenage rappers who could have submitted a verse…
Maceo: We’re lucky that there are a lot of really talented people that we grew up with that are part of the Chicago scene.
The Chicago scene is so rich and so collaborative. What is it like to grow up here and know all these creative people?
Nick: It’s super motivating. There is creativity overflowing and seeing everybody shine is motivating. Seeing the level of pure talent and skill at a show always inspires me to go home and step my shit up.
Maceo: Or days when you don’t feel inspired, and then your best friend is showing up to your house with a really great new verse or a great idea for these chords, or they just dropped a song. We all know what the magic is in it, because we all came from the same place. It’s really inspiring. I just need to roll things back in my brain for a second and get myself in tune with the things that we’re all a part of.