“It’s the same band as last year,” Nick begins, “but we have definitely solidified a lot of things.”
“As a band,” Maceo says, “we’ve grown a lot tighter. Mostly from touring a lot. Musically and personally as well. This project makes sense to have the full band in the studio for how the whole project is rolled out. Usually it’s me and Nick and now this is a little more. We’re now more of a band. We’re focused. We’re cookin’ as a band, as they say.”
While they talk to me, a vinyl of a David Byrne compilation of ’70s Brazilian music plays in the background.
“That tour was our first time out of the Midwest,” Nick says. “We recently went to the symphony together. We had champagne and oysters as a band. We’re a family.”
“Things are bleak in lots of the world,” Maceo says. “It’s pretty scary. Having some sort of faith in each other is so important or else there’s just shit. Love and solidarity.”
“Everyone almost dying together had an impact on what this project sounds like,” Maceo says. “Among a lot of other things. We’re doing great. Musically, we’re vibing and we’re sounding tight as fuck.”
About the ZZ Ward tour, Nick tells me “it was amazing. Musically, it’s not our fan base, but every night, ZZ’s fans were willing to listen. ‘What songs are universal?’ We asked. ‘What relates to the most people?’ It maybe wasn’t even our more well-known songs, but it made us so much more connected. For Maceo, as the lead man, it was about getting comfortable. A string breaks and knowing how to handle that. Staying on our toes. Town to town, we had no time to meet up with friends. We were only in each town for a day. It was eight of us in a van. We’re so much more connected because of that.”
About the crash, Maceo tells me, “I’m telling myself, ‘I’m okay right now, but I need to call a human.’ We were surrounded by mountains on a bluff. It was a sunny day and we had to find out insurance and rental cars.” Maceo pauses for a second, reflects, and continues.
“Right outside of Boise, Idaho is a crazy place to almost die.”
“Our next show was in Seattle,” Nick continues, “and it was probably our best show up until that point. People said, ‘You guys had some “I didn’t die” energy.’” [Laughs] “It’s a beautiful day and we decided let’s not release anything we don’t wanna release.”
I ask about the title for their upcoming LP, Keeping the Faith.
“It’s a really old title,” Maceo says. “Our first project, Potty Mouth EP, was supposed to be a full album called Keeping the Faith.”
Nick continues, “We were going to use four or five songs on Potty Mouth and put them onto a 10 song release called Keeping the Faith, but then we met Blended Babies and started singing on rapper’s songs. The title has been around for a while. We even have a Keeping the Faith notebook with lyrics from Potty Mouth.”
“The concept has nothing to do with religion,” Maceo adds. “As a band and as people, we have reached a point where we love and trust everyone. We have support and we’re making music as a community, especially in light of almost dying. It’s us having faith in our full band. We are all on the same vibe and mind. We used to have to spell it out, now it’s a vibe. We talked about this project and decided for it to be something with the whole band. Let’s stop waiting to do exactly what we want to do with a whole band.”
They tell me about the Family Cookout EP, a free release in early September on their Soundcloud, featuring four songs sounding like an outdoor barbecue. It was a fitting, final close of the summer — something to hold over the fans until the winter brings Keeping the Faith.
“It happened because Nico [Segal aka Donnie Trumpet] was in town,” Maceo says.
“He was here the week before Family Cookout was released,” Nick adds, smiling. “We have tons of music with collaborators. From a shit ton of people. We just haven’t found ways to release [it all].”
“We had a bunch of stuff that Nico had collaborated with us on,” Maceo continues. “He came up with the chords, completely collaborative, about a year ago. We grabbed the four songs closest to being done that we liked the most.”
They tell me about a loose single, “Harmonize,” which is a cover of a track the world will never hear. Production duo Blended Babies made a handful of tracks with Blakroc (Black Keys and Dame Dash) for their follow-up to the 2009 effort. For whatever reason, the project, which was rumored to feature Jay Electronica and Curren$y, was scrapped and will never see the light of day. Maceo and Nick heard “Harmonize” and decided to release it as a single earlier this fall.
“Years ago,” Maceo says, “when we first worked with Blended Babies, they played it for us. Oh my god, that shit’s dope. It’s a lot different than our version. We were recording Chicago Style and cut a version at the end of our session.”
“We’ve had it forever,” Maceo continues, “and we can’t sell it.”
“Magically,” Nick says, “Dan Auerbach himself would clear it and say, ‘You’re amazing, The O’My’s.’ It’s what it is, not to get on his bad side. It woulda been cool if it was just an O’My’s song written by Dan Auerbach.”
I mention hearing unreleased Black Keys songs, being on Ab-Soul’s album and touring with ZZ Ward.
“Do you feel like you’ve made it?” I ask.
“My band account hasn’t made it,” Maceo laughs.
“Definitely not,” Nick adds, “but I remember where there was no motion forward. As long as shit like this can happen, tours, working with awesome rappers, hopefully we will make it. The anxiety has not gone away. We want to do a big tour of our own shows.”
I ask them if that anxiety is what continues to push them forward.
“The times I’m anxious isn’t when I play the piano,” Nick says. “We were writing music through anxiety instead of realizing what we wanted. Instead of focusing on the bigger picture. Music videos, promos, maybe the idea of actually dropping a single first. I get inspired by listening to music. I was inspired by Saba’s mixtape. It’s been on heavy rotation. It’s something that makes me wanna make good music.”
“Anxiety gets us out there,” Maceo adds. “Scheduling showings, artwork. The business aspect. We just got a shit ton of new records, so that has inspired me. I’ve been digging. Also, just being part of a community. I’m constantly inspiring even when I’m not inspired and the other way around. It’s beautiful in that collaborative way.”
Maceo continues, “We’re coming together with what we started doing. It’s the live sound with the things we’ve learned from the past two projects. It’s a tool. There’s a complete sound this time around. Completely cohesive. Playing together as a full band really helped.”
“Now,” Maceo adds, “we’re looking at what’s going on in our community. Listening and paying attention about what’s going on. Not too political, but we’re saying some things are not okay. I’m still finding that voice.”
“We’ve tried out new songs live,” Nick says, “at our last shows. Just to see how they feel. The last couple trips out of town, we’ve tried our unreleased songs. Something that we never got to do before. With A Humble Masterpiece and Chicago Style, it was one week of crazy practice for an album we didn’t remember. This is a studio version of what we’ve been working on.”
“This is what they did back in the day,” Maceo adds, “as opposed to being knee-deep in the studio. It’s more about taste.” They transition into talking about touring.
“Ideally,” Nick says, “we’d like to get on the road even before the release. In November, we’re planning a two-week tour. Shows in a lot of places. We have a free show tomorrow [in Chicago].”