OHMA’s Intersecting Worlds

Foxy Digitalis depends on our awesome readers to keep things rolling. Pledge your support today via our Patreon or subscribe to The Jewel Garden.

The spontaneity and joy woven into the foundation of OHMA’s debut album, Between All Things, is infectious. Serendipity may have played a part in Hailey Niswanger and Mia Garcia meeting, but their sonic chemistry is unique. Built on improvisational ideas and movements, OHMA’s music is colored by connections to nature and an ethereal, organic sheen. It’s music that inspires and soothes in the same breath.

Between All Things is out now on Colorfield Recordings, and OHMA leaves on tour today. Dates are below.

First, how have y’all been holding up these last few years, and what’s been helping you make it through?

Hailey: For me, it was a rather difficult time. I do have so much joy in just creating music, but being able to play for people is such a huge part of my life. Not being able to do that for so long was painful. It is a huge blessing to be able to share music and play for others. I certainly don’t take it for granted anymore. Regularly taking my horns into nature and playing for the trees helped me make it through.

Mia: Connecting back to nature has been a huge part of life during the past few years. Finding ways of grounding – reading, writing, composing, lying on a forest floor or at the ocean, and learning about new subjects (mycology, psychology, literature, art styles, etc.). All these experiences have been pertinent in holding meaning in the present. I always feel a special way of being held when playing music, like I’m completely floating; this is always my purpose. 

Alright, let’s go way back even further. What are some of your earliest memories or experiences related to music or sound? What are some of the real formative things from when you were young that have stuck with you?

Hailey: Growing up in Portland, OR, I was taken to nature constantly. Raft trips, camping, spending time with my aunt, who is an avid birder, the sounds of the natural world were my orchestra. My parents weren’t musical, but in the car, they would play the ‘oldies’ station. I loved the music of the ’60s and ’70s. I also remember my older sister would sing and dance for me often.

Mia: I’ve lived by the ocean most of my life; the sound of waves and birds has become part of my silence ~ this type of textural movement is extremely inspiring. I love incorporating these subtle sonics into music because it makes the composition feel even more connected to life itself. Being raised in a Cuban household, I grew up with tons of Cuban music; dancing in the house while cooking and integrating living inside of music will always remain close to my heart.

Photo by Spencer Middleton

Did you always want to be a musician and play music? And what impetus pushed you to start playing and making your own sounds?

Hailey: I gravitated to music at a very young age. When I was 5, I got the idea that I wanted to play piano and asked my mom for lessons. I loved to play and felt so moved by music from the beginning. At 8, I found the clarinet at a summer camp, and by 10, I started to play the saxophone. That instrument, in particular, grabbed hold of me, and I was completely obsessed with jazz and improvising. Creating music in the moment is my favorite thing.

Mia: I actually wanted to be a chef most of my life. However, music took hold of me around the age of 16, and I became overly infatuated. I found myself spending countless nights getting lost in Ableton and writing songs. I would love to explore cooking, painting, and writing more in my next venture. I see the chapters of my life encouraging an array of bountiful explorations.

How’d you all meet and start playing music together, anyway?

We first met in January 2019 at a house party in Los Angeles. We admired each other from an online perspective but didn’t start playing music together until the fall of 2020 when we worked together on a friend’s project. Half a year later, we got together in the Spring of 2021 to hang out and ended up writing a song together. The process was so fun and natural we knew in that moment that we should make an album together. Just a week later, a friend reached out to us and connected us with Pete Min of Colorfield Records, and now we have Between All Things!

So I’ve really been loving the OHMA record. It’s something that the more I listen to, the more it seems to reveal itself – there are just so many layers to it. Where did the concept and idea for this album first come to you all?

Pete encouraged us to take a very organic approach, to not come into the studio with a bunch of ideas but rather create something in the moment and develop it from there. We were inspired by the wide variety of vintage gear in Lucy’s Meat Market (the studio). We would create songs from different starting points, sometimes beginning with Rhodes or guitar, but also with bamboo flute, Arp, wood, and cardboard to create percussive sounds.

There’s discussion of the divine feminine and interconnectedness of things in the literature about the album, and it’s something that shines through in so many ways. First, from a sonic standpoint, two threads jump out at me. This sheen is airy and light, but those aspects shine because of how strong and grounded the record’s foundations are. I especially love the interplay between some of the spacious, almost breezy flutes and other woodwinds and these rock-solid, intricate guitar patterns. Can you talk briefly about how you all approached these ideas to translate them sonically?

The progression of creating this album began fundamentally at an emotional ground. We had the desire to create something not only refreshing but a body that felt much greater than ourselves, with the ability to shift tides and bring a weight to music that the modern world longed for. It happened in a way where, we feel, our two sounds braided together were able to communicate these feelings and ideas. We feel that the core of the creator can truly shine through and bring forth their essence. Our intentions to bring about these feelings are grounded in our beingness. 

The other thing, which goes back to how the album reveals itself the more I listen to it, is this complex emotional sense that ties everything together. It touches on many different feelings and emotions but ultimately becomes this inspiring cathartic listening experience. I wonder how music and your creative practices are helpful for you as ways to explore and process these kinds of thoughts and emotions and how infusing that into your music can also become a way of connecting with the world?

Music is therapy. It is a way to reflect, to feel deeper into emotions, to process, and to let it out. We both went through a wide range of experiences while working on this album. There is no doubt the creating of this music helped us both integrate the many life lessons and experiences we were going through. It was a healing process. Some days were filled with immense joy, some more melancholy, some more stressed and anxious, but each time we were able to be present with the process of creation, and it was a salve for the soul. The world knows the same joy and pain, the same curiosity and innocence, the feeling of ever-connectedness. Our intention was to honor these many truths existing at once and to be a source of understanding and compassion for all who hear our music.

And then, putting that all together, is this playfulness and sense of joy on Between All Things. It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot more generally, how, especially right now, joy and fun feel like such important emotions to bring to music. When music is “serious” but also fun – it’s so fantastic. What do you all think fun and joy and all that in between can bring to your music, and why is that important?

Our connection to each other has always been blissful and fun. When we are together, we feel as though our inner child is ignited, and we immerse ourselves in the moment. Open to adventure, exploration, and play, we experience deep belly laughs and a profound sense of aliveness. We see and experience the fun in life and feel it is important to bring this into the music to inspire and ignite joy in others. Our music is always rooted in love.

To finish up, what are some of your favorite sounds in the world?

Breath, laughter, play, water, wind in trees, birds.

And with the record out, what’s up next for you all?

Next up, we will be heading out on our first tour on October 6th, opening for FKJ (French Kiwi Juice) across North America! While we are out, we intend to start working on our next album.

Foxy Digitalis depends on our awesome readers to keep things rolling. Pledge your support today via our Patreon or subscribe to The Jewel Garden.