As a high schooler, Macie Stewart had a big decision to make: either pursue a music degree post-graduation or continue touring with her band at the time. She went with the latter and hasn’t looked back since.
“I ended up not going to music school because I was in a band called Kids These Days that was touring pretty extensively during my senior year of high school,” Stewart recalls. “We were like, ‘We have to do this because it almost seems like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be able to tour and not have responsibilities as an 18-year-old.’ So I didn’t end up going to school. I’ve just ended up playing music anyway and pursuing it as a career rather than academically.”
Stewart now plays alongside Sima Cunningham in the two-piece experimental rock group Ohmme. With Chicago roots that run deep, the pair of longtime musicians has collaborated with everyone from Chance the Rapper to Jeff Tweedy of Wilco over the years. With such heavy involvement in their city, sites like Noisey have now even referred to Ohmme as “the heart of Chicago’s music community.”
After releasing a self-titled EP in 2017, Ohmme joined the roster of Indy-based label Joyful Noise Recordings in 2018 for the release of their debut full-length Parts. A collection of nine tracks that combines elements of experimental musings and raw rock ‘n’ roll goodness, Parts is much like many other Joyful Noise releases in that it’s not easy to categorize. On Thursday, Sept. 27, listeners can hear for themselves when Ohmme visits State Street Pub as part of the duo’s North American tour. Prior to the show, we caught up with Stewart for an interview, looking deeper into her Chicago music ties.
NUVO: When did music become a part of your life?
MACIE STEWART: I started playing piano when I was three years old. My mom is a musician and really wanted me to play music as well because it was something that was important to our family. She wanted to keep it going, not necessarily intending for me to go into music, but just so that I had the skills. So yeah. I started piano when I was 3, and I started violin when I was 5. I’ve just kind of been playing ever since.
NUVO: How has coming up in Chicago been good for you as a musician?
STEWART: It’s full of a lot of people who really just want to create and are really hardworking. I think this scene is also special because everyone wants to lift each other up and support each other. That’s why there are always these weird guest appearances on everybody’s records. Everyone’s playing at each other’s shows. That’s just because everyone really, really likes music and everything that it encompasses.
NUVO: While we’re on the topic of Chicago, I know that you’ve worked with Chance the Rapper.
STEWART: Yeah! We both went to Chicago public high schools. He went to Jones, and I went to Whitney Young. If you’re in the same city and the same age around the same time, you kind of end up bumping into people.
We actually did a tour together with my old band Kids These Days [which also featured members such as Vic Mensa and Nico Segal] back in 2012, and we’ve been friends since then. Sima and I have both sang backing vocals for Chance at Lollapalooza and Pitchfork. Again, the Chicago scene is one where everyone just wants everyone else to succeed and is really big on collaborating, so that really factors into it. Everyone kind of knows each other and likes each other’s music.
NUVO: I know you do a lot of experimental work in Chicago outside of Ohmme. What is the experimental music community like there?
STEWART: It’s one of those things that still feels kind of new to me. I really got heavy into it in the last three or four years. I was brought into it via this venue called Constellation, which is owned by Mike Reed. There were really amazing series happening there when the bar first opened that really encouraged people to try it out and get into that kind of music.
On a random night, my friend Steve was just like, “Are you able to do this gig? Do you want to come improvise some vocals with me and this other guy Charlie, who plays upright bass?” I was like, “Yeah, can I bring my violin?” He was like, “Yeah, sure.” So that was where it all started. I just did this random trio of improvised music at Constellation, and now that’s become a touring project called The Few.
The experimental and improvisational scene in Chicago is really great. It’s pretty legendary. The AACM [Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians] is from here. Particularly now in this moment, Chicago is a really important hub for experimental music in the United States. There are constantly people touring through here with really incredible music happening. Ken Vandermark plays in a group in Chicago, and I play in a group called Marker with him. There are just a lot of people who are trying to open the scene up and get it out into the world a little more.
NUVO: Ohmme recently released the album Parts on Indianapolis-based label Joyful Noise Recordings. How did that album come together?
STEWART: Parts came together because we wanted to capture our live sound as much as we could with less overdubs. We wanted to limit ourselves on overdubs because we were recording at Sima’s home studio, which is called Fox Hall. It’s a beautiful studio. But if you have your own studio, you can waste time, and you can also really go way past what you need to be doing for a record. You can over-produce it.
We really wanted to create parameters so that we’d work within these boundaries that we set for ourselves, and that would inspire us to make something more creative than just throwing all our ideas into one bucket. We did a lot of the record in two or three takes. We did some vocal overdubs and a few guitar overdubs. But yeah, a lot of it was capturing what we’re doing on this tour.
NUVO: How did Ohmme get connected with Joyful Noise?
STEWART: One of the first shows we ever played was actually at a house show with C.J. Boyd. We were sending our record around, and we sent C.J. our record. He was like, “You know what? I’m going to send this to Joyful Noise.” He sent it to them, they listened to it, and then it worked out from there. We hung out with them in Indianapolis when we played there for the first time, and it seemed like the perfect fit in that moment. We’re happy to be on that label and have such amazing label mates.