Ohmme, the guitar and vocal duo of Sima Cunningham and Macie Stewart, came out the improvisational/experimental music scene in Chicago where they collaborated with a diverse cross-section of renowned artists like Tortoise, Chance the Rapper, Vic Mensa, Ken Vandermark, and Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy.
Stewart and Cunningham went to the same high school and ran in the same music circles. Being both classically trained pianists, they decided that they wanted to try their hand at guitar and started a band. Ohmme’s approach to guitar is electrifying, full of tightly wound, nervous energy that juxtaposes their sweet vocal harmonies.
"The exciting thing about the guitar was both of us felt like it was an instrument that we didn’t necessarily have any practiced ways of wielding," explained Cunningham. "We didn’t have any set techniques on how to use it—especially with electric guitar because the electric guitar can be this vessel for so many different sounds, so that was really exciting to us. Having watched all of these improvisers and the way they altered the way they approached their instruments, whether it’s Jim Baker...being a piano, but he plays prepared piano, so his approach to piano is very different than the approach that we learned growing up. I think that inspired us to take our musicality and translate it into more experimentation."
Following their debut EP, Ohmme went into their own Fox Hall studio with newly recruited percussionist Matt Carroll to record the self-produced album "Parts." The album was recorded by Dorian Gehring and features guest appearances by Tortoise’s Doug McCombs, jazz cellist Tomeka Reid, and MacArthur Fellowship-winning free jazz reed player Ken Vandermark.
"We developed those songs over time," said Cunningham. "We were still touring a lot, so the process is usually we write separately and then bring them together and arrange and find places for each of us to sit. We kind of have a saying that if both of us don’t have a role in the song then it’s not an Ohmme song."
"We tried to record it live as much as possible to try to capture some of that energy," Cunningham continued. "A lot of times people feel like our live set has this energy, so we tried to get that onto the record."
Ohmme are currently on tour as a duo, but Cunningham and Stewart are able to take a minimalist approach to maximal effect with complex guitar patterns, improvised, avant-garde tangents, and barely contained chaotic energy.
"We really like that feeling of having a center rope that we’re leaning away from and bending away from," said Cunningham. "Sometimes one of us is holding on more steadily and the other one can float away. We like that movement in music."
"We can make super tight arrangements, we can rehearse and make things sound really crisp, but we get a lot of joy from distorting and disrupting the patterns. Sometimes we’ll record a song and think it sounds really clean, but we can always tear it apart in a way that will make it more exciting for us."
Another striking quality of Ohmme’s performances is their dynamic vocal harmonies and interplay. They have drawn many comparisons to Amber Coffman and Angel Deradoorian-era Dirty Projectors, particularly with their use of a ping-ponging effect called "hocketing."
"One of the reasons we started this band is that we already knew we were comfortable singing with each other and singing together was pretty easy," said Cunningham. "Frankly anyone can do it if you try and practice it long enough...I would encourage anyone to grab a friend and try hocketing. We even tried it with an audience one time."
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