Interview with Oh Hellos: Music as a Conversation in Modern Times of Uncertainty

Article and photography by  Kurt Heyde

Article and photography by Kurt Heyde

The Oh Hellos are a Texas-based indie-folk/rock band fronted by siblings Tyler and Maggie Heath who recently released their second EP, Eurus. The record follows in the steps of the first EP, Notos, in a mythological theme and continues on the lyrical path of contemplation and introspection. We caught up with Tyler and Maggie in Washington, D.C. on the opening night of their tour to chat about the meaning of their new music, and the evolution of their sound. Be sure to check out their new EP, and nation-wide tour dates.

With your sophomore album, Dear Wormwood, you guys took a page out of literature and mythology. Now with Notos and Eurus, you're taking another mythological path. What's the inspiration for that?

Maggie: We're finding out that we're just big book nerds. I feel like there are so many small reasons why we're doing this the way we're doing it.

Tyler: We had enough ideas that we wanted to write both musically and lyrically we knew wouldn't all fit on a single full-length album, and we didn't want to do a double LP and drop 24 songs. As an audience member, I don't know if I'd want to be confronted with that many songs all at once. Basically, it was just the thought that we could split it into EPs.

Maggie: And it was starting off too as an instrumental thing...

Tyler: Yeah, I was recording voice memos on my phone, riffs, and hooks on my guitar, and then when it came time for us to start thinking about writing again it was like, "I don't know that people want to hear this again on the road.” I kind of just ransacked what I had done and took the parts we really liked, which were loosely based on the four seasons. The Greek pantheon as mythology is prevalent in our culture and are a very familiar set of iconography and stories. It was easy when we found there were four major wind deities that brought seasons in, and that was a cool way to get at four seasons without just doing what everyone has already done.

Maggie: We opened it up so that it would still feel like the seasons that we were trying to invoke imagery from the music, but lyrically it could be more about the “seasons of life”. It’s a very loaded phrase and kind of overused, but just that idea of as you become familiar with the new information, you have to shift your worldview. 

So, you are for sure doing 4 EPs?

Tyler: Yeah, we've released two and we're in progress on three and four. Basically, the thread that connects all four is being confronted with new thoughts and having to reexamine everything in your own life.

Maggie: We’ve referenced [the wheel of fortune] a couple times being this thing that's constantly turning. Those on top are prospering and those on the bottom are oppressed. As time progresses the wheel spins so that those on top become the ones trampled on and those on the bottom wind up on top. We are the ones spinning the wheel, we're the ones causing pain and suffering to others.

Tyler: Sometimes not even knowing we're doing it.

In putting these all together, is there a song that stands out and you want to evoke some memory or feeling for the crowd during your live performance?

Maggie: I think it definitely shifts throughout the set. When we were playing the first song, Eurus, during sound check, I started getting a little bit teared up. That's the first one we're starting the set with because I feel musically we were trying to capture as much joy as you can while still talking about how oppression exists.

Tyler: Heavy stuff, but wrapped up in as much joy and positivity. Possibility is the tone we're trying to strike.

Not all doom and gloom. You want the uplifting feeling to pull people higher.

Maggie: We have to find out the solution, but we might have to accept the fact that we’ll be wrong several times before we get to it. There are definite times in the set where we're just trying to focus on the heaviness of accepting the fact that, "I've been a part of this." Accepting responsibility on your part is a difficult thing to hold on to.

Tyler: I feel like the overall arc of our music is always trying to strive towards optimism, hope, and encouragement.

Maggie: But productive optimism.

Trying to match your music to these really heavy topics, has that stretched your process at all, or have you felt it's been a natural evolution?

Maggie: I feel like we started trying to work on this project together and just wanted to write music that's going to be fun. That wound up not at all being what we needed to write.

Tyler: As we started writing these EPs, a lot started happening on a global scale. We had opinions and didn't know if we could not make music that said something we cared about. I don't even know if physically we could have just written some fun music because for us the music part is how we process our own thoughts and feelings and opinions.

Maggie: It definitely took time to figure out how to place thoughts and opinions that we held in a way that would not immediately make people feel defensive.

You were trying to have a conversation.

Maggie: Exactly, we were trying to have a conversation. I feel like it was the most logical next step in our music writing journey, but that also was a struggle.

Tyler: It took us 5 months to write and record our first album, 7 months to write and record Dear Wormwood, and then it took us 11 months to write and record these first two EPs with some planning for the third and fourth. It was a puzzle that we had to carefully piece together.

Along those lines, these songs are meant to be that [conversation] with whoever is listening. Is that something you're excited to take on the road? 

Maggie: I feel very excited to be performing this music and I have no idea what to do outside of performing the music to keep the conversation going. I don't feel particularly qualified to lead any political charges even though I have some tiny bit of a platform to use.

Tyler: Our goal in these shows is less to tell people what we think, but to create a space where for just 90 minutes you can feel okay hearing something different and not feel threatened. The term "safe space" gets thrown around a lot but that's really what we want.