The Oh Hellos

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Talking to the ‘Oh Hellos’ about Muppets and how to be helpful when being creatively critical of other artists.

“The best part [about being an independent artist]: no one to tell you what clothes you should wear. The worst part: no one to tell you what clothes you should wear.”
By Sam Tolman

It’s interesting when handed an interview with a band one has never heard of, because it’s like when a friend plays you a song so you can ‘…check out this band, they’re great and I love them’ – one runs the risk of not actually liking the band but then forcing out a smile and saying ‘Yeah. It’s cool.’. This is exactly how I felt when I was handed an interview with The Oh Hellos, but let’s just say I wasn’t forcing a smile at the end of my research, but had a genuine interest by the time I am writing this.

I got the chance to sit in my house, listen to them on Spotify while reading about them on-line, and they’ve got a pretty cool backstory, but what stood out to me was that they were independent artists, which means they are unsigned, which means they’ve quite possibly taken the hardest route in music and done extremely well for themselves. Aside from landing themselves videos on NPRs Tiny Desk Concerts and Audiotree, they’ve also toured and sold out shows around the world with a fine tuned deep and soulful folk sound. I got the chance to talk to them for a bit – check it out.

Who are you and what do you do?

By day, we’re a sibling singer/songwriter duo with a traveling-circus-sized touring band! By night, we are asleep.

What are the best and worst parts of being an independent group of artists?

The best part: no one to tell you what clothes you should wear. The worst part: no one to tell you what clothes you should wear.

What do you do when you’re in a creative writers block, so to speak?

We experience the least frustration with creative blocks when we take a few steps back and think about something else for a while. Another song, another project, a book or a movie, anything that takes our minds off whatever has us stuck. You find answers and inspiration where you least expect them.

You listed ‘The Muppets’ as an influence on your music. So, uh….please do explain.

The Muppets are a ragtag band of misfits who come together in spite of their differences in pursuit of a simple dream: to entertain and encourage. They’re warm, funny, smart, and never take themselves too seriously. It’s inspiring!

Have you guys ever been to Montana? If so, what do you like about it?

We haven’t! Our understanding is that Montana is one of the most beautiful places in the country, maybe even in the world? So we’re really excited to get the chance to experience it.

Your new album, Wormwood, is somewhat like a book on tape – by that I mean you take stories from literature and turn them into song. How did you guys decide to go in that direction?

Our tendency seems to be to want to tell stories, and Dear Wormwood is the most recent and most obvious example of that desire. Our first full-length album, Through the Deep Dark Valley, followed a (much looser) narrative, with the songs connected mostly by theme/concept, and when the songs we were writing for Dear Wormwood seemed to be continuing that story, we decided that if we were going to do it, we should really commit – hence, the new album being structured more as a story than just a collection of songs.

Has exposing your vulnerabilities through your music helped (or not helped) you as a person, or a group of people?

It’s therapeutic, if nothing else! Like journaling or writing in a diary, but significantly less private.

Any advice for maintaining a healthy friendship and a simultaneously work relationship?

Communicate, communicate, communicate. We’re still learning!

You guys are artists – if you could write a short ‘How To’ guide on constructive criticism, what would be the main points?

Remember that fact and opinion aren’t the same thing, and that art is subjective. What works (or doesn’t work) for you doesn’t necessarily apply to everyone, so leave a little room for the possibility that you might be the only one who feels the way you do. Keep in mind that, ideally, the goal is to find ways to improve the object of your criticism, not just to poke holes in it!

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