With their new EP, Dangerous Questions dropping on February 24th, Chicago-based AyOH has a lot to be excited about. We had the chance to chat with vocalist Avi Dell about the welcoming Chicago music scene and the creative process behind the new EP, as well as what keeps the band moving forward. You can check out a promo video for Dangerous Questions after the interview and be sure to pick it up when it drops on 2/24!
For someone who hasn’t had the chance to listen to you before, can you tell us a little bit about AyOH and yourselves?
AyOH is a Chicago formed band arriving from all over the globe. AyOH first came to life when singer Avi Dell met with drummer, John Arrotti, to work on some original tunes. Avi gave John some recordings that he had been working on including demos and simple lyrical themes and the two quickly formed a strong collaboration. Within a few months they had over a dozen original tunes and today constitute the bulk of writing, but Lin (bass) and Austin (guitar) contribute creatively as well.
AyOH delivers a powerful stage performance rooted in Rock’n'Roll and soaked in the age of Dance Pop. A Chicago blogger appropriately coined the description of us as, "Sweaty Blue-Eyed Soul".
Our shows are an experience, a party, and a sing-along. We dance our asses off and so do our fans.
What is the music scene in Chicago like? How has it been starting out and growing there?
The scene in Chicago is pretty awesome. Tons of music venues with shows 7 days a week and a seemingly endless number of bands popping up all the time. We've worked hard to build a bit of a community with other bands. We always try to help each other out. We're always amazed at how many other local bands come out to see us. I think that's been the most flattering thing. When a local band I love is into us enough to show up and sing along. That's a unique feeling and it's kind of the most validating thing we can point to.
I guess if other artists making music dig what we're doing, we must be doing something right, you know?
I remember when we released our first EP "Take it to the People" we were booking gigs like crazy because other Chicago artists somehow found us on Facebook and extended their own connections to help us. I remember getting so many messages from other bands saying stuff like "where did you guys come from?"
It was indicative of the supportive community. Chicago in general is just an awesome place to be new because so many people are "new". It's a melting pot of the mid-west. You can't beat mid-western hospitality.
When you started working on your new EP, Dangerous Questions, did you have any specific goals or plans in mind? Was there anything you wanted to be able to accomplish with this EP?
As far as goals for the new EP, we wanted to challenge ourselves a little bit more. We also had the full line-up this time around and were armed with so much more creative power and we actually had a fan base that wanted new material. It's a very strange thing that happens when you go from a band no one knows to a band people expect something from. Those pressures are definitely things we considered while writing the new songs.
This EP was also going to be our response to everyone in the industry that heard our first EP and said "This is great, you guys are clearly going somewhere, but I'm waiting to see what you do next" That seems to be a pretty common industry response these days. There is so much risk involved in breaking a new band we really needed to prove ourselves as a force to be acknowledged and a team that had staying power.
When you’re working on new music, do you ever feel pressure to perform better than your last release?
I don't really think in terms of "better". I want to make music that I want to listen to, and most importantly music that I can imagine myself playing for years to come. We've barely broken out of Chicago and we've played the old EP at least a thousand times...every time I discover something new about the material. I think that's a big part of why our shows are so much fun. I come from a musical theater background and I've learned that every performance should involve a process of discovery. Every time I sing a song in front of people there is something new to discover about that moment and it's my job to convey that discovery and that creates a certain kind of vulnerability that I think people connect with.
How do you keep pushing yourselves forward musically?
That seems to be easy for us...There are many challenges this band faces, but musical creativity is not one of them. I'm surrounded by the best fucking musicians in Chicago, maybe even the country. Everyone from our producer Steven Gillis to the four of us in the band, we all live and breathe music. Music is a journey and we're constantly influenced by what other people are doing. I personally get competitive. When I hear an awesome song it pushes me to go out and create something. I know the other guys feel the same way.
On top of that, how do you stay motivated?
To be completely honest, I don't really understand this question. I'm motivated by everything around me. Just like I explained, every performance is a process of discovery so too is every time I walk down the street or eat a meal. I love to travel because it inspires me to look at the world a little bit differently. From style, to language, to the arts, I'm constantly motivated by other people's creations and other people's perspectives. We certainly have creative slumps, but with this band we're all so completely committed that when one of us slips the other 3 pick up the slack.
What would you like people to be able to take away from Dangerous Questions?
I'd like people to take away a sense of possibility. Everything is possible, if you can only put your mind to it. We started just like anyone else. Practicing our instruments and wanting to create something beautiful. I think, if nothing else, we've achieved that.
I'm so proud of the music on Dangerous Questions. It's a landscape of sound and harmony. It's the "listener's" music. We made it for people that want to be nourished by their ears.
Do you have a favorite song on the EP?
I don't think I have a favorite, but I'm really proud of "Lion to the Lamb". When I was writing, lyrically it started out pretty heavy and I was worried we wouldn't find the musical weight for balance. But Gillis (producer) recognized our ambition for the song and fearlessly guided us through that process. John Arrotti (drums) came through with the amazing piano arrangements that supported the entire piece.
It might not be the most poppy song and it might not ever find radio acceptance, but if people listen, really listen to the track, there is no way to not connect with some aspect of it's message. The solemn knowledge that we were able to create something that fulfilled my creative vision is incredibly satisfying.
When you’re performing on stage, what is your favorite thing to see when you look out into the crowd?
Smiles... When we get on stage people just seem to be happy.
With Dangerous Questions dropping soon, do you guys have any big plans coming up? Anything you can share?
We'll be traveling quite a bit but those details are still in the works. In the nearest future, we're going down to Austin, TX in March for SXSW and will be releasing the EP to a home town crowd Feb 24th in Chicago.
Thanks for taking the time to chat with us! Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Thank you so much for the time and recognition. We hope you've enjoyed the songs and really appreciate you helping us to get the word out.