The Hottman Sisters credit much of their music ability to their roots. It's one of the reasons why Heather, 26, and Jessica, 24, decided to launch their indie-alternative project out of Omaha two years ago.
“We talked about moving to Nashville or New York to start,” Heather explained, “but there’s no better place than our home where people know us and we have resources.”
Now the four-piece band — including drummer John Evan and bassist Jon Ochsner — is primed to embark on their second national tour of the year. This month, they have shows in Denver, Madison and New York City.
Although the band formed in recent years, the sisters have been singing since they were kids. They were never formally trained, but their mother, Bridget Hottman, inspired their vocal chords. Alongside their sister, Tiffany Hottman, the young women grew up splitting four-part harmonies at home.
They also took on instruments during their childhood and adolescence. For instance, the West Omaha natives took piano lessons growing up. Jessica started learning the acoustic guitar at Elkhorn High School, but only picked up the electric two years ago to broaden the band’s sound.
Their creative energy didn’t stop in the classroom. At church, the sisters played lead roles in Christmas musicals, participated in choir and even lead worship music for Sunday services. Occasionally, they performed at weddings and in downtown Omaha, too. Altogether, these routine performances helped create a foundation for the sisters' music today.
Despite her passion for singing, Heather said she grew up fairly shy; performing in front of a crowd was terrifying for her. Fortunately, she said her bubbly mom — who still plays the drums in church today — influenced her to perform on stage. Over time, this exposure undoubtedly replaced fright with confidence.
“I performed one solo a year in our sanctuary, which was scary when I started out, but am so glad I did it,” Heather said. “Those solos helped me maintain the stage presence and comfort I have now where I’m excited to be at the front.”
Heather’s enthusiasm likely contributed to her big move to Nashville shortly after graduating from the University of Nebraska-Omaha with a degree in business management.
“The Nashville scene is saturated with music, which can be difficult for people starting out,” Heather added. “I was blown away by the ridiculous talent. It doesn't matter what night, the shows and their genres are endless.”
While her sister was in Tennessee, Jessica was finishing up her bachelor’s degree in education at UNO, but of course wouldn’t dare let music slip away. After all, she had been writing songs since she was 10 years old.
“In college, I documented all the songs I wrote and dreamed up what I hoped for in a future project,” Jessica said. “By graduation, I had a clear idea of what Heather and I should do.”
Fortunately, this revelation hit the sisters at the same time, especially since Heather was already reconsidering her move. In a single phone conversation, she said, they decided to team up once again and start their current project.
“We try to build a foundation in this area and play music to a lot of different types of people,” Jessica said.
Now they frequently perform in venues such as O’Leaver’s, Pageturner’s, Slowdown, The Sydney and The Barley Street Tavern.
The sisters' sound has quickly matured since forming. The band embraces its uniqueness, admitting that it doesn't easily fit into traditional indie rock, alternative, pop, country and folk genres.
“We started off with mainly vocals,” Jessica elaborated. “We started adding full-throttled guitar hooks and a spacey synth for a rock feel, but the tight sister harmonies are still at the center.”
Last summer, the band released its freshman EP This Two to celebrate its official emergence into the local scene.
The album starts off with “My War,” an ode to both hope and perseverance. At the climax of the song, less than two minutes in, we’re introduced to how the sisters’ harmonies are able to weave in and out of defining instrumental breakdowns, dividing verses from choruses.
“Who I Was,” which the sisters performed for NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert contest last year, reminisces on their journey as musicians. The chorus repeats, “I am far away from home / Back turned from everyone I've known,” indicative of Heather’s experience in Nashville. The song exemplifies how Jessica strums guitar hooks while Heather plays an inspiring Novation synthesizer, accompanied by Evan's subtle yet striking drum work in the background.
“Our Home” begins boldly with a harmony that lasts the entire song. Lyrically, the track reflects the album’s nostalgia, especially since the album’s artwork features a childhood photo of the sisters.
The record was well received, leading to a nomination for the Best Indie/Alternative Band by the Omaha Entertainment and Arts Awards last year.
The band is currently recording its first full-length album. The record is expected to drop in late 2017 or early 2018.
“We’ve gotten stage experience from a variety of crowds ever since we can remember,” Heather said. “It’s great to keep the musical parts of our childhood alive in our music now.”