What’s in a name, right?
I know a lot of my articles seem to begin with something similar, but with a name like Ohyoholos (pronounced oy-yo-ho-los), you know that had to be the first question I posed to this Columbus folk trio.
“It… really doesn’t mean anything. Or at least it didn’t when we chose it,” admits guitarist Josh Stevens. “At the time, we were listening to (Texas folk duo) The Oh Hellos… and it just came from that.
“We actually did some research after the fact and found that the word ‘holos’ means wholeness in ancient Greek.”
The band came together in 2016. Stevens says he came up with the name before he started playing with vocalist and banjoist Ben Stepp.
“Well, I needed a band for my great name!” he laughed.
“Lindsey (Stevens, vocals) and I were a part of a different band at the time, but I wasn’t really into it,” he continues. “I wanted to be in a band that I actually enjoyed. Really, I just wanted some banjo.”
“I actually started playing banjo for the worship band at my church,” he says. “One day our worship leader, David Carey, came up to me and said ‘hey dude, do you play banjo?’ I was like, um… I can?
“I was a drummer before that, but now I get to write songs on guitar and banjo. You can’t write love songs on the drums,” he chuckled.
Lindsey says the band needed someone to sing and write songs, so Josh (her husband) asked her to join.
Considering the trio have similar influences, like The Avett Brothers, Of Monsters and Men, and The Lumineers, things came along quite well when they first got together.
“We actually wrote a song that first day we were together!” Lindsey mused.
That song, Wanderer, ended up being the title track to their debut LP, released last year. The group says that they have been hard at work through the pandemic putting together a follow up.
“It’s been a little more difficult to get together and get the full understanding of the songs we’ve been writing. We’ve only had two practices in the last four months,” mourns Josh.
“But, I’ve written three or four new songs since everything had come down,” Lindsey admits.
“I mean, we have a lot of songs prepped for the new record. It’s just a matter of getting together to actually record them. We’re kind of on pause right now.
“A lot of the songs are things we’ve been playing for a long time. Some of them are pretty old… in fact, by the time we released Wanderer, we were already planning on this record,” she continues. “As we played them live, we kind of asked ourselves if we wanted to keep these songs for a future record.
“The interesting thing about our writing dynamic is that a lot of our songs come together after a few practices, and sometimes we have to play them for years for them to feel right!” she confesses.
“I hate group texts… I guess I’m the problem there!” laughs Stepp.
The group says that the pandemic has also helped them choose the direction that the album is taking.
“On Wanderer, a lot of the songs were about going out and getting out there,” Stepp acknowledges. “But for this one, a lot of them are about coming home and being together. We kind of need it right now.”
The group also admitted that it’s a lot easier writing with people that are on a similar wavelength.
“I feel like it’s really good that we all write together as a team, because we can improve on each other’s work,” Lindsey reveals.
“It’s really nice when I have an inkling of a song, and I can just put it into the Lindsey machine and she turns it into art,” opined Stepp to laughs all around the table.
While the band currently cannot play any live shows or get together to record, they felt it was necessary to release their most recent single, Shifting. Lindsey says that with the way the world was going, it was entirely important to put something encouraging out.
“It was really relevant to what all of us were feeling. I wrote it pretty quickly, but I really wanted to listen to it!” she said. “It’s a hard time to keep up hope. You have to fight for it! That’s what Shifting is all about.”
“We wrote it with the pandemic in mind, but after George Floyd and everything that has happened since then, it’s even more pertinent,” says Stepp.
After having everything written, the biggest trick for the band was getting it recorded.
“It was kind of difficult, because I’d be calling Lindsey and asking her if I was singing the song right,” Stepp smiled. “Fortunately, our bestie David (Carey) was there for us and helped record and mix everything for us, from a distance.”
Shifting opens with a small flute and a handful of notes on Josh’s guitar before Stepp’s soulful voice joins in.
“I just put some chords together and they sounded really good…” started Josh
“…I took that guitar part and thought about the vibe of it, and to be it turned into a personal processing of how I was feeling during the pandemic,” Lindsey continued. “It was my response to everything.
“Ben came up with some lyrics as well, and I had him sing the vocals. When I wrote it, I pictured how it would sound with his voice. It really sounded better in my head.”
“I thought it sounded just fine with you singing!” laughed Stepp. “But honestly, Lindsay is very good stretching me vocally. We like how it turned out.”
The chorus of the song brings hope to a turbulent world…
I know you’re scared
everything is lifting
It’s all up in the air
Gravity is shifting
But I’ll keep you company
“There aren’t many songs that I write where I know Ben has to sing it, but this was one of them,” admits Lindsey.
Stepp’s voice could be compared to the likes of Iron & Wine or Josh Kelley in how it alone provides an air of calmness, but the lyrics speak a special meaning into the world. The final verse states, “We’ll come out of this together – I believe that this will make us better.” In a time where we’re hearing a lot more of protest songs and things about what people are doing to overcome the worldwide shutdowns, it’s songs like Shifting that can help us all find a way to heal, together, and move on to the other side.
After all, everyone has a voice. While we may feel isolated behind our keyboards and masks, we all have the opportunity to change things for the better. Why not use our words, our music, (and personally) our interviews, to help lift others up?
“When I wrote it… I wanted it to feel like a hug from a friend. It’s an opportunity for everyone to come together. That’s our goal as a band,” says Lindsey.
The group doesn’t know when they’ll be able to record the rest of what they have written, or even when they’ll be able to play again. But they have a firm baseline and if Shifting is any indication, I think they’ll have a wonderful record once everything is said and done. For now, they wanted to leave me with one last piece of advice.
“Remember, you’re not alone. We’re here with you. If you’re struggling through things, so are we, and we want to help you through them,” finished Stepp.
Ohyoholos – Shifting