Labor of Love - OHMME
Multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriter duo OHMME is made up of Sima Cunningham and Macie Stewart. Their aggressive, yet meditative and trance-inducing sound stems from a rich background of musical influences. Accompanying local acts such as Tweedy, Chance the Rapper and Twin Peaks, OHMME has been hailed by Noisey as the "Heart of Chicago's Music Community."
How did the making of music become your life? How did you get your start?
Sima - Music was always a big part of my childhood. My dad is a musician and our whole family plays a lot of music together at parties since I was young. I always knew tons of songs and was a big ham, always wanted to perform for people. Once I started doing more music programs in school and after school it kind of never stopped. I always knew I wanted to play in a band.
Macie - My mother is a professional musician and my father has always been into record collecting and going to concerts. They both wanted me to get a formal music education and started me in piano and violin lessons when I was really young. Music making was something that always drew me in- I was composing pieces and making up songs to get out of practicing my scales almost every day (although my mom was never fooled) and it blossomed into something that will forever be intertwined in my life.
Who were your major influences? What guides your playing style?
Sima - I’ve always been deeply drawn to melody and the beautiful ugliness of music. The earliest music I listened to was Tchaikovsky, The Beatles, and jazz. I think No Doubt’s Tragic Kingdom was one of the first times I became infatuated with being a rock musician. My influences are really broad... I’ve been lucky to be surrounded by such diverse musicians and be inside so many different kinds of music so it all feels really familiar to me in a beautiful way.
Macie - I grew up playing so many different kinds of music so my playing style is informed by a variety of music practices. I played Irish music frequently as a 10-14 year old, and that group changed A LOT of my views towards improvising and helped me to see how tradition can evolve throughout time. I think that by playing strictly classical music 5 hours a day, but loving the grit and freedom that rock+other music allowed, it helped my style evolve into something idiosyncratic. My influences are people like Jim O’Rourke, Danny Elfman, Laurie Anderson- people who aren’t limited in the kinds of art they create.
What's your favorite guitar? First guitar? Current? Any gear you can't live without?
Sima - My favorite guitar is the one I take on our right now, this cheap white strat. My brother swapped out the original pickups with these hot rails that were on what we call “the bastard strat” and that’s what gives it that chunkier, heavier sound. I played this really cool Soviet guitar called a Jolana Iris for the first couple years of Ohmme, I loved it but it kept falling apart on the road so it’s taking a sabbatical in the studio right now.
Macie - Fave guitar- Fender Strat. I know it might seem boring but it's the most classic and reliable guitar. It's like a blank canvas that can be filled with whatever you throw at it.
First guitar- probably an Ovation Hollowbody acoustic. I think it was on sale at Guitar Center and I was 12. My parents gave it to me for Christmas, it was really sweet.
Gear I can’t live without- My Electro-Harmonix Octave Multiplier pedal. Sima’s brother Liam gave it to me because it was so glitchy it wasn’t working for him. However, that is exactly why I love it. It has unpredictable tracking in the best way and it helps me take over the roll of bass player when we need to fill in some low end in Ohmme.
What do you look for when selecting pedals for your live setup? Does it change very often?
Sima - My pedals do not change very often. I have 3 pedals that I use often on my board and I feel very “in-tune” with those. I know how to make creative sounds with those so I’m not eager to swap them out. I really am enjoying feeling like I understand all my pedals on a deeper level now. I feel like now I’m more interested in playing with the amp, volume, and new ways to draw sound out of the guitar.
Macie - I like pedals that do one thing, and one thing very well. I don’t like having to worry about 27484920 different knobs- I want to trust that I can get certain tones and textures with “just” enough unpredictability to keep me on my toes. I don’t like to change my pedalboard very often because I enjoy working within set parameters until I run out of ideas, or find that I am missing something important for a new song.
Is there a difference between the gear you play at home and what you use to play live? Is there any gear you've been experimenting with that isn't included in your live rig?
Sima - Lovetone makes a pretty great pedal called a Big Cheese. It’s a pretty nice pedal so we keep it at the studio. That’s responsible for the big sound on our new single “At Night”. We also have this Custom Les Paul we used a fair amount on “Parts”. It’s incredibly heavy but the tone is beyond. It belonged to a Chicago blues musician and lived in a closet for years so always great to bring that out and hear that classic tone.
Macie - I usually play with the same gear at home (although I’m barely home anymore) but I recently came into a Bass VI and I am SO EXCITED TO USE IT. Just got it set up at Chicago Fret Works and I think it will add some interesting textures to future records/live performances. I also just got a beautiful Framus Archtop Acoustic guitar from a thrift store in Ohio. It sounds really weird/unique- I’m looking forward to playing some improvised sets on it.
What do you or the band have coming up? Albums? Tours? Other info you would like included
Sima - Lots of tour, more support tours which were very excited for. Working on new music. Excited to be home in Chicago for the summer so we can hang out and bike around, read, garden, and just get ready to keep going!
Macie - Ohmme will be touring Europe with Wilco in the Fall! We will also be filling in some extra tour dates around that as well in the US so keep your eyes open for that. We’re also in the nascent stages of a new record- As for me, when I’m in Chicago you can find me playing improvised music around the city and eating ice cream.
- Macie Stewart