A funny birthday song recalling a family vacation started an unlikely musical partnership with an unusual name.|
Siblings Tyler and Maggie Heath lead the San Marcos, Texas-based folk-rock band The Oh Hellos, which will play Davenport's Redstone Room next week, on a summer tour of major cities nationwide to finish with their Newport Folk Festival debut on July 26.
The duo never has given a concert in the Quad-Cities, but made the required indie-band pilgrimage to Daytrotter in Rock Island last summer to record. They sold out every headlining show of their last tour in advance.
"We have recorded almost everything just the two of us, layering," Tyler Heath, 26, said in a recent interview. "When it came to translate that to a stage show, a large show, we didn't know how to recreate the really cool sound we had. One way to do it was to get a ton of people. It's working really well; we have a blast at our shows. It's really a powerful sound."
In their shows, they have put as many as 13 musicians on stage.
"Basically, the record is one thing, but that's just amplified on stage," he explained. "It doesn't come across quite the same way. I don't know it goes away completely. The musicians we play with do a really good job of knowing when to hold back."
Their home-grown, self-produced recordings have sold tens of thousands of copies all through independent channels, and their song "Hello My Old Heart" became a hit, with national radio play and a featured sync as the soundtrack to Dateline NBC's emotional chronicling of the 15-year anniversary of Columbine.
The Oh Hellos' first full-length record, "Through The Deep, Dark Valley" (fall 2012) received wide acclaim.
A November 2012 review at indievisionmusic.com said: "This is one of the most joyful albums I've heard. Every song is filled with the vibrancy of life. Beautiful harmonies layered over simple folk accompaniment, with poetic conceptual lyrics underneath. There are few who could match The Oh Hellos for passionately creating music which instantly connects and draws the listener in."
An August 2013 review at sputnikmusic.com called it "a thoughtful, insightful, and masterfully arranged/performed album that is both entrancing and humble in spirit."
Tyler and Maggie had never imagined they'd form a band when they were kids, though they have musically-inclined parents (their mother plays the flute), and Tyler took up guitar in high school.
"It was a a hobby; I thought that it would make me look cooler." he said. "Our town was small enough, only cool kids played in bands."
"Our parents were really good about being encouraging about us doing music -- piano lessons, choir in middle and high school," Tyler said. He went on to study music composition at the University of Texas in Austin.
Maggie, 22, majored in art and design at Texas State University, but dropped out to make music her life. "When I was younger, I really wanted to write a novel," she said. "In college, I did a lot of those things. I like to be creative."
That creativity bloomed for their mother's birthday, in 2011, since they didn't have any money to actually get her a present, they collaborated on writing a short song. It was filled with inside jokes, referring to a vacation to Ireland their family took in 2010.
"We recorded that, it was really fun," Tyler said. "We were not really expecting to get anywhere, to sell to anyone other than a family member."
They found the name of their outfit from that song and trip to Ireland. "While there, we were walking down the street to get dinner, and as we were walking, in a fairly small town, all bars are on the same street, a guy stumbled out of one, super drunk, at 7 o'clock in the evening, he sees mom, his face kind of lights up, and his first words were, 'Oh hello, would you have a drink with me?' " Tyler said.
"Writing music was always something I wanted to do," he said. "I realized I could write music not just for orchestra, I started writing songs, I originally thought I wanted to be like a film composer. I went to UT pursuing that, and songwriting resonated with me more."
Another "Hello" song -- "Hello My Old Heart" from their self-titled December 2011 EP -- first put the siblings on the wider musical radar and garnered a significant following.
"It resonated with people. We didn't really intend for that one to be so widely received," Tyler said. "We shared that, people seemed to like it."
Getting radio airplay nationwide was "like some sort of magic," he said. "One of the stations around Denver, one of their listeners stumbled across it online, and requested it."
Their songwriting style and sound influences range from Los Campesinos! and The Lumineers to Sufjan Stevens and The Middle East, blending styles and genres into a unique mixture of eclectic folk rock. Their stage shows include guitarists, banjos, and string players.
"We didn't expect for this to turn into what it has," Tyler said. "We thought it would be a once-and-done thing."
Being siblings makes the partnership easier, Maggie said, noting their disagreements are resolved without rancor.
"We always had a pretty close and friendly relationship -- part of it with the age gap, it was easier to get along," Tyler said. "Both of us are not very confrontational, especially when it comes to the writing. That makes it a lot easier, knowing each other so well."
They are working on a new record, and will perform new songs while on the road. They're also excited about the Newport Folk Festival.
"It's such an honor to be invited," Tyler said.
If you go
What: The Oh Hellos, with opening act Judah & the Lion.
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 10.
Where: The Redstone Room, 129 Main St., Davenport.
Tickets: $10. For more information, visit theohhellos.com.
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