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How the O’My’s Found Their Soulful Sound

Chicago duo (and friends of Chance) make a creative breakthrough with ‘Tomorrow’

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Ryan Chun

artist you need to know ayntkThe O’My’s have been a band for more than a decade, shuffling through many members and releasing a fair amount of music in the process. But the experimental Chicago soul duo would prefer you view Tomorrow, their spacey and sensual new album, as their true starting point. “I finally feel comfortable giving this to somebody and saying, ‘This is what we do,'” says singer-guitarist Maceo Haymes, 29, who founded the group in 2008 with keyboardist Nick Hennessey, 28. “If you can’t get it now, then you’re probably never going to.”

The O’My’s’ serene and sticky sound is built around Haymes’ falsetto vocals, which have drawn comparisons to everyone from Curtis Mayfield to TV On The Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe, and Hennessey’s tender keyboard/synth melodies. On Tomorrow, they go deeper than ever into jazz, hip-hop and soul, with help from fellow Windy City natives including Chance the Rapper, Saba and Nico Segal (a.k.a. Donnie Trumpet).

 

As those guest credits suggest, the O’My’s have strong roots in Chicago’s music scene. They’ve shared stages with many of the city’s most adventurous hip-hop-adjacent acts, including Chance, Segal, Vic Mensa and Carter Lang (the bassist and producer who worked on the majority of SZA’s Ctrl). But as several of their peers have skyrocketed to national recognition in recent years, Haymes and Hennessey were still working things out. They took side jobs at a bar to make ends meet when they weren’t playing small clubs; after their 2015 EP Keeping the Faith, which veered from urgent Otis Redding-style soul to wild psychedelia, they struggled to land on a defining sound to anchor their future.

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“I definitely feel a ton more sane now with the album out,” Haymes says. The soft-spoken, contemplative singer sits across from Hennessey — who wields a mean mustache, a grizzled voice and a dry sense of humor — in the modest Rogers Park apartment where they wrote most of their new album. A vinyl copy of Afro-Cuban jazz percussionist Mongo Santamaria’s 1972 LP Up From The Roots spins nearby as Haymes talks about the relief he felt upon the album’s completion. “The day it was sent out to get mastered, I was waiting for the train and my sister called me. I hadn’t told her anything. She’s like, ‘Wow, you sound really happy. What’s going on?'” He laughs. “I was like, ‘It’s done. It’s finally out of our hands!'”

Segal — a childhood friend of Haymes’ who took drum lessons at his house, and later played in an early version of the O’My’s — says they were a source of inspiration for his own work with Chance and the Social Experiment band. The O’My’s’ early, sweaty shows, the trumpet player recalls, showed him that “I can do this music thing with my friends and have all this fun while doing it.” But Haymes and Hennessey say that only recently did they feel comfortable thinking of the band as a viable career option.

That confidence came in part from seeing the success that several artists with a similar musical sensibility have achieved in recent years. “It was a huge affirmation and very reassuring,” Hennessey says, citing Frank Ocean, Solange and Daniel Caesar. “Before that, the closest thing I saw win a Grammy or get that respect that gave me hope was Alabama Shakes. That’s a completely different sound, sure, but it was real artistry and real songwriting and real vocals, winning Grammys and selling records. It made me feel like we were on the right path.”

Both of the O’My’s grew up in musical households — Hennessey was as much into punk-rock as MF Doom and KRS-One; Haymes was awakened every morning by his dad blasting James Brown or Tito Puente — but when they met at a party near the end of high school it was hardly an instant attraction. “We didn’t trust each other, probably because we’re the same dudes grabbing the AUX cords to play the same music,” Hennessey recalls with a laugh. By the time they ran into each other at Kanye West’s 2008 Lollapalooza set, both had begun writing half-baked songs and, more importantly, Haymes had convinced a local rich kid “who had a vision of being, like, the next P. Diddy” to pay for some studio time. Hennessey wrote his number on Haymes’ arm, and two weeks later they got together to jam. “Somewhere in there,” Haymes says, “is us being like, ‘Damn, bro. Not a bad jam yet!'”

By late 2015, when they began writing songs for Tomorrow, Haymes and Hennessey were eager to bring their studio recordings up to the standard of their rowdy live shows. “Part of the reason why this project took so long was peeling back all the different beautiful or cool sounds we’d started making and being like, ‘What’s at the heart of this?'” Haymes says.

Perhaps the easiest decision they made was working with Chance, with whom they share a manager. “We didn’t even bother thinking about other rappers,” Hennessey says later as he pulls his van into the parking lot of a local Cuban grocery store-restaurant where, as a child, Haymes dreamed of being a bag boy. “It was a Chance verse or nothing.” In the end, Chance contributed an intricate, poetic verse that recounts the Biblical tale of Jesus calming the storm for the tranquil album highlight “Idea.”

If there’s any tinge of jealousy at friends like Chance becoming stars as they themselves continued to find their footing, the O’My’s aren’t letting on. “There was a lot of clarity in terms of themselves as artists for a long time now,” Haymes says. “There wasn’t that clarity for us. But now, this is the closest connection to where the soul of our music is. And if you don’t fuck with it now, well, then it’s not your shit. Because it’s all very clear to us.”

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