OSHWA is the musical brain child of Alicia Walter, starting as a solo piece, growing into the wondrously chaotic four-piece it is today. OSHWA’s sound is a sonic landscape, bursting at the seams with Walter’s exuberant and romantic vocals and dynamic instrumentals, all set to an array of erratic and complex time tempos. I talked with Walter about learning to appreciate the more rigid parts of music and OSHWA’s journey to a truer, more stripped down sound.
ASHLEIGH DYE: Do you want to start by telling me how OSHWA got started?
ALICIA WALTER: It started in 2010 as a solo project of mine. I was living in a co-op in Rogers Park and going to Loyola at the time, I had just transferred from Illinois Wesleyan. I was studying piano and decided that I wasn’t really into that. So, I transferred to Loyola and moved into this co-op with 16 other people. It was really fun, we all encouraged each others creative process. I started throwing shows there around the same time I started the project. Jordan was the first person to join the band, it was sort of a duo for a while. We were a full band with four members about ten months after that.
AD: You grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, how did that affect your view on the music scene once you got here?
AW: There was actually a really awesome music scene just in the suburbs, too. In high school I was going to a lot of shows in the suburbs. I remember coming to the city for one show at a DIY space, that I can’t even remember the name of, at the time it was really crazy to me. That wasn’t something I did all the time. Its funny, because where I grew up had a really good band scene and I thought that was just how it was for everyone. Some of those people are still active in Chicago now. I think the DIY nature of things really shaped what I thought was possible when coming to Chicago.
AD: Outside of what you are physically able to play, where do you see your classically trained background in OSHWA?
AW: Three of the four of us have a decent background in classical music, I think that informs lot of our decisions in ways we can’t even really see in the moment. I think our ears tend to lean toward certain sounds that they otherwise wouldn’t without our classical backgrounds. I definitely, now, really value that education. At the time when I was in college and turning away piano I was all “fuck the system, I’m sick of the rules.” But, now I feel like the rules are there for a reason and I’m so glad I know how to do some of the stuff that I was originally very against.
AD: You had this great thing you said in another interview you did that went something along the lines of “Why am I playing this piece of music for hours that so many other people have played and will play better than I will.” Which was pretty thought provoking for me.
AW: That was one of my major frustrations with studying piano. When you’re studying performance you aren’t studying the way people write music, or how to write music, you’re studying how to be a performer. And in terms of piano, classical piano performance has a very limited market for jobs and actual success. Anyone is better than you, if you can do it someone can do it better than you.
AD: Would you say that’s what you appreciate about having that background and having OSHWA as an outlet? You get to create your own music and standards.
AW: I think studying music so professionally for so long gave me a strong sense of discipline that makes your standards really high, because you’re used to having to prove yourself daily to your professors. I think we all come from that standpoint, we really have high personal standards and high standards as a group for what we put out. And it definitely feels good to be creating and writing what you’re spending so much time playing.
AD: What’s the songwriting process like for you guys? There is so much layering happening is there a certain line that comes first?
AW: Chamomile Crush is coming from a billion different places and I think we’ll look back on it as the album where we figured out how to do anything. We were recording and writing at the same time and recording ourselves, then we were recording with other people, then we re-recorded everything and recorded again, it was a crazy messed up totally un-guided process. The instrumental parts on Chamomile Crush were written totally by me, which felt nice because I was able to use my degree and the things I’ve learned. Now the process is a little bit different. We used to write chunks then piece them together, now I’ve been presenting a whole song to the band and we either strip it down, or add to it with other people. I think it’s becoming more streamlined, now that we are getting the rhythm of it.
AD: You’re working on a lot of new stuff right now, right?
AW: Yeah, we haven’t recorded any of it yet, right now most of our live set is new music. It’s exciting to see the new direction we are going in. With this sophomore album I think all the math-rock connotations will be dropped. It’s still rhythmically interesting, but we aren’t doing like crazy time signature changes. Now its way more like, “Here’s a pop song.” I don’t think we’re simplifying in a bad way, we’re just figuring out how to do it our way. A lot of our old stuff was very chaotic and I think it was just us trying to figure out how to do something that sounds different. Now we’ve come back around and just want to jam out and take it easy. Everything is so much easier that way, too. Practice is a lot harder when your time tempos are so crazy. Having been exposed to a lot of music I think you get this mentality that “We can do this so differently and crazier”, but then you realize “Oh, I actually can enjoy just cruising around and listening to something like Beach House.”
AD: I think people can get into a mind space where they feel like if their stuff is outwardly different or unique that there isn’t as much value to it. You did a block 2 block segment on living in Pilsen and talked about how much art and graffiti is around, which is all so incredible and vibrant. When you talked about that all I could think about was how your music seems to be the sonic interpretation of Pilsen’s vibrant art scene. Do you think that informs or inspires your sound at all?
AW: It does on various levels. You don’t see the street art you do here anywhere else in the city, it’s something you can’t ignore, it just seeps into you. Pilsen is still somewhat off the beaten path, we aren’t Wicker Park or Lakeview, it’s still a lot of families. I really value being surrouned by people who aren’t all like me. Also, Pilsen is not centrally located at all. You’re a little bit more closed off and when you’re trying to work on something that can be a really good thing. When we were really heavily writing for Chamomile Crush that was something that really helped.
AD: You guys went on your first big tour last summer, did you have any major first tour band lessons that you learned?
AW: Oh my god, Jesus Christ yes. We were really ambitious, I booked the tour, and we didn’t stay in a single city for more than a day. We played 20 shows in 18 days. We were constantly moving, there was never any chill time. The nature of doing it DIY and sleeping on people’s couches, getting back at three in the morning then having to leave again at eight caused us all to hit a wall. Like, I can’t physically do this again!
words & photos by Ashleigh Dye.
Listen to OSHWA here.
Don’t miss OSHWA tonight with BUKE & GASE and PALM.