WontoWatch: The O’My’s

I asked Maceo Haymes if he thought the music industry was in a good place, and like the rest of us, he’s not too sure, “It’s always a hard question to answer. Like anything there’s good and bad going on.”

Maceo Haymes is the frontman of Chicago funk-soul band, The O’My’s. Maceo and the O’My’s hail from Chicago, a city that is currently playing home to arguably the most budding music scene in North America, especially in hip-hop. Independent rappers are finding it easier to get their music out there through blogs and the internet, which is great, but that process isn’t as simple for other musicians.

A band like The O’My’s are unique to say the least. Maceo Haymes’ voice will leave you speechless. A sound we may have never heard before, if so not in this half-century, and not to mention coming from a couple guys in their early 20′s. The band made their first big splash with their Chicago Style mixtape. The project was entirely produced by The Blended Babies and had a big feature from Chance The Rapper which garnered attention from big name hip-hop blogs. The O’My’s newest offering is called A Humble Masterpiece, and Maceo explained how this is the project that best shows who The O’My’s are. They’re not rappers, they’re not R&B artists, they’re not a rock band, they have a distinct sound, blending the best of all worlds to create timeless music that NEEDS to be heard by the masses. In our interview with Maceo Haymes he gave us his feelings on the state of the music industry, why it’s been tough for The O’My’s to break through on a larger scale, and more. Maceo Haymes and The O’My’s are undoubtedly Won to Watch. Read the full interview below and more importantly listen to the music.

AllWon: Who are the O’My’s?

Maceo: The O’My’s at its core consists of myself and Nick Hennessey, he plays keys in the band. For the past 6 years me and him have been wrting, arranging, and band leading together. Within that then we have a whole host of different musicians that have come in and out. Right now we have a pretty stable and great band which includes a horn section and rhythm section. But the creative decision making and song writing, myself and Nick handle all of that.

AllWon: How old are all of you?

Maceo: I’m 24 and Nick’s 23.

AllWon: When and how did you come together?

Maceo: Nick and I had been sort of in the same group of friends and partiers in high school, went to separate high schools but we knew of each other to a certain extent. It wasn’t until the summer after I graduated high school I got some studio time paid for and a mutual friend told both of us to work together and that was just a perfect opportunity. So we wrote about 12 songs and put together like a 8-piece band for the recordings and since then me and him have just been writing and performing.

AllWon: How would you describe your style of music?

Maceo: Throughout our time it’s been difficult to put an exact finger on what sort of stuff we do. There’s lots of different influences. Sort of a contemporary R&B, soul, funk, some futuristic jazz, all of those sort of things molded into one, with a little bit of rock. Being that we’re from Chicago, blues and soul music is definitely at the center of where me and Nick both grew up musically in our households, and so that’s always just transferred into the music we’ve made.

AllWon: Your voice is very unique, it’s soulful, mature… it’s hard to describe. Did you learn to create that sound or is that just your natural singing voice?

Maceo: I started singing pretty late in life. [I] started singing when I was a sophomore in high school, an upperclassman pressured me into singing with him for an assembly and so that was really the first time I ever really sang, and it was infront of the whole high school and stuff. Afterwards I got compliments from a couple people and also just felt comfortable, and really from there just focused on singing by myself and to myself for a good 2-3 years, writing my own material, lots of it was pretty shitty at the time [laughs]. Writing my own material and studying certain artists, especially Sam Cooke, Bob Marley, Curtis Mayfield, all those folks definitely were my teachers, I mean that’s who I grew up listening to, those are all things that were playing in my household growing up. Then once I started to sing it’s like these are the people I most naturally connect with. From there it’s just been year after year learning. You always learn something new about your voice and where you can take it and so it’s definitely matured over the years. Yeah… I couldn’t imagine singing any other way.

AllWon: You started singing pretty late, but when did you decide you wanted to pursue music as a career?

Maceo: I mean, well, I’ve played music for most of my life, starting off with Latin percussion, then took on guitar… and it really wasn’t until the singing came along, and it happened pretty quickly, once I decided that I want to write my own music and it was something that I loved to do, it was pretty clear from that moment on that this could be something I’d be doing my whole life. As it is right now, it’s the only thing I wanna do with my life.

AllWon: With a voice like yours, why start a band and not take the solo route?

Maceo: Well for lots of reasons. Um, in terms of song writing and the sort of sound that we’ve developed to accompany around my voice is something that I definitely couldn’t have done without Nick. Musically, my music wouldn’t be the same without him and visa-versa. We came in this together as brothers and collaborators and that’s what we want to continue doing, at least in this point in time I don’t see myself really working with someone else so closely and directly. And someone that I can trust. That’s another thing… both personally and artistically trusting your music and how it’s gonna be presented with another person is always a difficult task.

AllWon: Let’s get into the music. You just dropped A Humble Masterpiece… after first listen the title makes sense because the project is really something special. But why did you decide to call it that?

Maceo: Yeah, I dunno, it popped up to me sometime in the spring… the name just popped up to me and it was like ‘oh ya well this is definitely the name’. Going back and thinking about the different reasons of why it may have popped into my head and why it suits the project, well first of all for the most part it was recorded in our home and if not it was recorded in Blended Babies home studio, and so in that respect it was really a personal and sort of humble experience. I’ve been in big studios, really nice studios, but there’s something really simple and beautiful making the sort of music we make coming out of a place you live [in], and right now we’re living pretty humbly. I guess the ‘Masterpiece’ part comes in as well… you know, they’re beautiful songs, there’s a bit of irony in the name… As you dig deeper it looks to me as a sort of metaphor for all the different aspects of just living life and going throughout your day and looking at the world in that sort of lens, then everything has some sort of beauty in it. And finally, also a homage to one of our favourite artists, Cody ChesnuTT, who’s debut album was titled The Headphone Masterpiece. Since the beginning he’s been a very inspiring figure in our song writing.

AllWon: What was the goal with A Humble Masterpiece?

Maceo: You know, it was the first time that we had taken on trying to do a project that we would decide to call an album. But trying to figure out a coherent sound for ourselves, and this was a process that took over a year and there were lots of different phases in it, some of which held us back and others that pushed us forward. Through that whole process, by the end of it we had sort of developed what our sound is. It’s always just been a journey in terms of solidifying what we want our sound to sound like and where we feel comfortable, cause we feel comfortable in so many different spaces, and it’s pretty evident in the album [A Humble Masterpiece]. We spent the last 6 months recording, recording shit tons. When we looked at all the possible songs for the album we had like 37 or something. So we’re sitting on a whole bunch of material, and at least for us that process of just recording as much as possible and coming back and seeing what sort of tracks fit with one another has definitely been the right process for us.

AllWon: You guys are right in the midst of the budding Chicago music scene. You’ve worked with Chance The Rapper, Kids These Days etc.. Why did A Humble Masterpiece not have any of these big features?

Maceo: There’s a number of things. Some of the folks in those bands like Kids These Days for example, Nico Segal [of Kids These Days] was definitely a big help on this album, me and him grew up together. Aside from that we made a pretty conscious choice to, at least for this project, not have rappers featured on it. The only feature we had on it was Noname Gypsy. Our last project [Chicago Style], especially with us working with Blended Babies, it definitely got us a lot of attention in the hip-hop world, and that was really great, it opened up a huge fanbase and one that we feel really comfortable in because me and Nick both grew up in the hip-hop community, Nick doing grafitti and me doing breakdancing, and djing, and producing, so it felt natural. Collaborating with them is always fun, but it felt necessary to solidfy that our sound is outside of that, because when it comes down to it we aren’t actually hip-hop artists, we collaborate with hip-hop artists. [A Humble Masterpiece] made it clear that we’re in the business of writing songs that aren’t rap songs. Like we have probably about 12 songs that we’re sitting on, they’re pretty much all rap songs that didn’t really fit into the project. For example, yesterday we released a song featuring GLC, Dally Auston, and Iceface…

AllWon: Yeah, I listened to that yesterday, it’s definitely dope, but it’s exactly what you’re saying… it’s a great song, but it doesn’t fit [A Humble Masterpiece].

Maceo: Exactly. And you know, we’ll definitely be doing a lot of side-projects and remixes and collaborations with artists. As far as where we are right now, we really want to focus on our music and then also collaborate with those folks, but it’s always a constant sort of process and battle in terms of defining your sound, and then also pushing it forward… so that’s what we’re in the middle of battling with.

AllWon: Maybe your biggest collaboration, and it’s definitely what put myself and I think a lot of people onto The O’My’s music, is “Wonder Years” featuring Chance The Rapper. How did that record come together?

Maceo: We were working on Chicago Style mixtape, we were in the studio with Blended Babies, I had known Chance for some time before that just because he was always around the SaveMoney clique and in all the greenrooms, and for a while I was performing with Vic Mensa and Kids These Days, but I never really heard much of [Chance’s] raps. It was pre 10 Day, and Blended [Babies] suggested this song [“Wonder Years”] would be perfect for him, and he came in and immediately he got the concept, it fit like a glove, it was a lot of fun. The song is about father figures or male figures in your life, and this song was particularly for my grandfather who past just before then, and when Chance got in the studio he picked right up on it and related it to his father and the lessons he taught him. In the music video that’s his father and nephew or cousin…

AllWon: I was gonna ask if that was actually his dad in the video, I remember hearing that…

Maceo: [Laughs] Yeah…

AllWon: What’s next for The O’My’s?

Maceo: For us, really the focus for the next couple months is gonna be touring. We’re heading out to the East Coast for a little bit in December, and then doing a lot of Mid-West touring and then once the dead of winter hits we’re gonna start heading out West for a little bit, catch some of that warmth. And then just keep recording, like I said before our studio is in our home and so everyday is generally at least one or two sessions. And aside from our own music collaborating and producing and helping other artists that we respect and work with in the city. Our house, especially over the summer, was a really cool place to be at. Some of the more talented artists in the city coming in and leaving their imprints and working on different things… definitely expect a lot of new material to be released just because we’re sitting on so much. It’s emotionally easier to move onto writing other projects and doing other stuff when stuff is just out there out of your computer room and head.

AllWon: We look forward to that. The talent you and The O’My’s possess is undeniable. With that said though, it’s been tough for you guys to really get your name out there on a larger scale. Why do you think that’s been the case?

Maceo: I think theres a couple different things. For us, up until the past maybe two years, maybe a little bit longer, we were very much in the process of developing our sound and our skills as artists. Nowadays it’s very tricky figuring out how to get your sound out there. There really aren’t the same platforms that there used to be for certain kinds of live music. Just like we were talking about earlier, some of the reasoning behind the album not having all of those rap features, we get a lot of attention in the rap blogs and all of that stuff, but in the end folks go to rap blogs to listen to rap music. So for us that’s not really a primary business or marketing plan in terms of getting our music out there. We don’t really fall into the indie rock form, we don’t really fall into the vintage soul throwback form, or the new R&B forms. So figuring out our place has been difficult for us, but for me and Nick we’re really just focused on making our music. The past year and a half, two years, has definitely been eye-opening in terms of making the music is all good and well, but figuring out how and where to get your music to people has been sort of difficult and a learning experience, one that we still haven’t figured out. In the meantime, we generally just try and let things happen organically. I think really the key for us now is just hitting the road a whole bunch and building organically like that. I don’t believe at this stage in the game that the blog and internet spheres will be where we pick up our fan base, I think a lot of it is coming to our live shows because that’s really a huge aspect of where we’ve developed our sound for recording.

AllWon: Do you think the music industry is in a good place?

Maceo: It’s always a hard question to answer. Like anything there’s good and bad going on. I think as far as for independent artists it’s really an amazing time, especially for rap or hip-hop, Chance [The Rapper] being a perfect example. You can get your name out and your music across the nation without signing a major label deal. And that puts a lot more power in the hands of the artist and that’s something I do think is tremendously amazing. But for lot’s of other genres, it has been a lot more difficult to get your music around. Right now everybody in the major labels are very much afraid, you know they’re not making money like they used to and their role in the industry is really volatile. People are afraid to take chances, people are afraid to invest in anything that doesn’t sound like what has been formulaically tested. [Overall] I think the music industry is in a good place in certain avenues.

AllWon: So there aren’t too many of your live performances online but there is enough for me to have noticed you guys always seem to perform in suits. What’s the meaning behind that?

omys suits

Maceo: [Laughs] You know all those videos are probably from like 3 years ago, or 2 years ago… we haven’t worn suits in some time. But that’s what we used to do back in the day when we first starting playing, for a number of reasons. A good portion of the band aren’t the best dressed so it was easiest to be like put on a suite and look clean. But then also paying homage at that point to a lot of artists we did look up to from the old soul and blues traditions. Lots of the musicians in the band, the brass section and drummers, were either from the church or the jazz tradition and that’s what you performed in. So for us we didn’t even really think about it too much, it was like you wear a suite, get on stage, done. We don’t do that anymore, but um, also it was an easy way for us to sort of brand or identify ourselves. But at least for right now where we are, it doesn’t really fit where we’re at musically.

AllWon: When you’re not making music what are you doing?

Maceo: When I’m not making music… when I’m not making music I’m either cooking, drinking… um, cooking, drinking, dancing, smoking, maybe gambling [laughs]

AllWon: All the good stuff in life…

Maceo: All those things and sex, that’s pretty much all I try and do. I’m a reader as well, that’s about it.

AllWon: What do you read?

Maceo: I don’t read too much non-fiction. My parents are both professors so a lot of heavy theory and philosophy was pushed on me at a young age, disliked it a lot for a long time but it’s growing on me again over the past couple years.

AllWon: Who are some of your favourite artists right now?

Maceo: It’s difficult for me cause I kinda live in a f*cking time capsule. So like the only artists that I really know are the people I collaborate with. I guess some of the folks I’d say, definitely big up Cody ChesnuTT, Chance of course, Noname Gypsy whenever she decides to put out an album cause she has the material. Scheme the Chicago rapper with the ‘ch’, the Mexican brother. I dunno, aside from all the big people popping around the Grammy’s and stuff I’m really mostly very focused on the community of artists that’s been working here in Chicago. So besides the folks we collaborate with… old funk and soul, rock, and then just gangsta rap from the 90’s-2000’s era and that’s about it. I dunno, I need to do my research a little bit more.

AllWon: If someone’s never heard of The O’My’s and you had to give them only one song to listen to of yours, which would it be?

Maceo: Oh shit… [Laughs]. That’s a tough one. For me a quintessential song would be… [long pause]… shit, it’d be “Smoke Killa”.

AllWon: That’s all from me, anything else you want to leave the readers with?

Maceo: Just keep on listenin’.

//words and interview by david leigh. follow on twitter @bigleighchew.
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