Sima Cunningham and Macie Stewart alternately swoon and spar on 'Parts'
On Parts, Ohmme's first album, the band melds art-rock compositions to surrealist lyrics that occasionally feel like vignettes lifted from a dream. “We were hot for a minute like two boiled eggs/And at times I want to crush the ceiling in between my legs,” Sima Cunningham and Macie Stewart harmonize amid the locomotive lull of the title track.
“A lot of the times, I think we're writing about things that are hard to explain with words. These are concepts or feelings or experiences that we've had that then tie through to five other things that we've experienced in our lives, sort of how your subconscious works,” said Cunningham, who joins Stewart in concert at Rumba Cafe on Wednesday, Jan. 23. “I started one song about a really difficult moment I was having with one of my oldest friends, but the swirl of ideas around that is kind of what ends up coming out in the lyrics. … The lyrics are an outing of the subconscious, so I don't think they need to be over-explicated. Often, I'll have a dream, and then as soon as I try and start telling the dream it literally runs out the back door of my brain. That's sometimes how I feel explaining lyrics for certain songs. It's like I'm erasing the magic with every word that I say.”
Much of Parts is shaped by the push and pull between the bandmates. At times, when their voices snake together, the guitars will race apart, stretching the seams of the song. And the tempos veer from serene and atmospheric to serrated and jarring as Cunningham and Stewart alternately swoon and spar, either steadied or upended by jazz-trained drummer Matt Carroll, who will not be accompanying the band on this duo tour.
“I think we have a really good balance of tension between us. … Both of us have a classical background, but our musical tastes are different and we've definitely introduced each other to new things and new ideas, and I think pulled each other in new directions,” said Cunningham, who has known Stewart since high school (both attended Whitney Young Magnet High School in Chicago, graduating several years apart). “I think if we were in agreement on everything, then it would sound a little bit too clean and polished, and that is definitely not what we want.”
This freeform approach is further reflected in the group's backstory. Cunningham and Stewart first started playing together during improvised performances at the Chicago venue Constellation, self-releasing an EP in 2015 and landing a slot at the Pitchfork Music Festival in 2016, which proved a massive turning point.
“When we got added to the Pitchfork lineup, that's when we were like, ‘OK, I think we're in a band,'” Cunningham said. “And ever since then we've been pretty deeply committed to it. We're trying to take it as far as the universe will allow us.”