In a past life, Uh Oh existed primarily as a live band — they would only record an album when they had enough songs written, many of which would be tailored to match the energy of an audience. For a band that lived for catharsis, they were left with few options and a lot to think about when the world was rearranged in early 2020.
Without live shows, Uh Oh’s focus for the next year became working on their next LP. As frontman Joe Champion puts it, he writes songs to solve a puzzle in his head, and his new reality was taking more contemplation to understand by the day.
The resulting collection of songs, Good Morning, is Uh Oh’s first proper attempt at making a concise, front-to-back artistic statement. It marks the completion of Uh Oh’s evolution from basement-dwelling DIY rockers to dabblers in art-rock, who write with the detail of Broken Social Scene for an audience that’s into Jeff Rosenstock.
Good Morning, released Dec. 3, is a realization of the music the band always knew it could make — pairing the DIY approach of their early releases with a refined songwriting style tracing back to the early-2000s Omaha indie scene.
The band, consisting of Champion, bassist Erik Trent, vocalist/lead guitarist Mari Crisler, and drummer Jay Jacobson, will celebrate the album’s release with a show on Dec. 10 at The Sydney, 5918 Maple St., featuring Omaha rapper Marcey Yates and indie rock band Bach Mai.
The Reader: This album was mostly written during the thick of the pandemic. How did it all come together?
Joe Champion: A year and a half ago, when we were suddenly not able to practice or play shows or get together in any way, and when all the different parts of our lives had to take a backseat, we were like, how do we keep our band going even if we can’t be together in person? There has to be a way that we can keep each other in our lives and keep our momentum going, because we weren’t ready for that to go away. So we ended up just writing a bunch of songs separately. I would write a demo and send it around just as an audio track to the rest of the band, and they would add their parts. And we would send the demos back and forth a bunch of times until we decided that it was a real song. And we did that 11 times and ended up with a full album. We kind of changed our whole process, because usually we write songs all together at practice. This time, we had to do it separately, and it ended up turning into kind of a more detailed, well-thought out album than we even hoped. So we’re really proud of how it turned out.
TR: It’s kind of ironic that your last album was titled “Stay Close” because a bunch of your friends were moving, and when Uh Oh wrote Good Morning during the pandemic, you didn’t have any other choice but to keep your bandmates close.
JC: That’s always sort of been a theme in our lyrics, grinding gears against growing up and trying to figure out ways to hold on to the things that you feel are important and the relationships that you want to hang on to. So it was very ironic that suddenly those things that were always sort of preoccupying me ended up being impossible to do. And I think that factored into the lyrics on this album, too, because it kind of stopped becoming a question in my mind: “How do I keep all these people close to me? How do I hang on to all these things that I want to?” But no one was able to, and everyone was going through the exact same thing at the exact same time. So, on this album, it became more of a question of like, “Okay, life is weird. It is what it is. Now, what are you going to do about it?”
TR: It sounds to me like accepting that reality, which in its own way is like a step of growth.
JC: I think that’s just a product of the growth on this album. You learn what you can and can’t control, and you just decide to put your energy towards stuff that you can change, and the things that are the most important to you. I think previous songs had a lot of, you know, desperation and trying to try to hold on to things that were changing no matter what I did. And now, I think our lyrics are sort of changing to being more about narrowing everything down into what’s important to you.
TR: What songs do you think that manifests itself the most on?
JC: “Grass Bracelet,” definitely. The chorus just says, “It’s here, and it goes and it’s here and it goes, it never stays.” And that is just about how good and bad things are not permanent. For the bad things, you have to figure out how to let them slide off you and grow. And for the good things, you have to appreciate them while you have them. Because neither one of them is gonna stay.
TR: You said the album is a lot more detailed. Was there a sound that you were trying to emulate? What were you being inspired by musically that led you to this sound?
JC: As the four of us have just gotten more and more comfortable with each other and playing with each other, I think we can kind of hear what the other person is going to do with an idea. A lot of it is just stuff that we’ve always wanted to try to pull off. But now we know that we can do it, if that makes sense. A lot of the sound is more geared toward some early 2000s, indie type of stuff. Saddle Creek, Bright Eyes, Cursive, Rilo Kiley. That type of stuff that I’ve always loved and always have wanted to incorporate more in our music. But now Mari and I sort of know each other’s songwriting styles like the back of our hands. So I know, if I come up with an idea that I wouldn’t be able to pull off on my own, I still stick with it, because I know that she’s going to add something that is perfect.
Same with Erik, if I come up with a chord progression, and it’s not something that we normally would have done in the past, I can hear how his style of bass will turn it into something unique and creative. And then with Jay, he has influences all over the map. But his mind is just like a steel trap. Anything that we throw at him, he’s gonna have his own unique take and be able to play it like it’s the 100th time he’s playing it right off the bat. He’s just a machine.
So, I guess we just have gotten more confident in our influences and what we like to listen to and what we try to create. So it comes out sounding like Uh Oh but still bringing in different influences as much as we can.
TR: How does it feel now that the album is finally out?
JC: Oh, man, we’re so stoked about it. We really believe in the music that we made, and hopefully people will connect with it as much as we have. And at the same time, it’s also really crazy because we’ve never released music that we haven’t played in front of anybody yet. So, all of these songs are brand new; we’re going to be playing them for the first time at our album release show. It’s a nerve-racking thing to wonder if people will like the music, but at the same time, we know that we put our whole hearts and souls into it.
TR: Are you nervous at all to be playing for the first time in a long time.
JC: Right now it’s mostly just excitement. But I think I will be nervous, probably. I’ve been playing live music since I was like 15 years old, and I’ve never come close to having 21 months of not playing. So that’s half my life I’ve been playing, whether it’s with Uh Oh or my old band or my horrible solo acoustic days. I’ve never taken this much time off. So I’m a little bit nervous to make sure that, you know, the rust can be knocked off in time to actually play and hoping that people will like these songs that they’ve never heard before. But I mean, 99.9% is just excitement. I just want to get back out there.
TR: Do you ever think about how your younger self would see you now as you’re releasing this album?
JC: I think that that version of me would be very happy to see that I’m still doing it and still as passionate about it as I’ve ever been. And would think that it was pretty cool that I have been able to surround myself with three of my best friends to keep making music together. I mean, that’s what so much of it has always been about for me. It wouldn’t be nearly as meaningful to me if I was playing with random people or people who I didn’t like. So the fact that, after all this time, I’m still just making music with some of my best friends and having a great time is all that really matters. And we’re still putting our hearts and souls into everything we do. You know, we’re not half-assing anything. I think I’m still on the track that I always hoped I would be on (the music) side of things. I’m still putting all of myself that I can into it.
Editor’s note: The author’s sister, Mari Crisler, is a member of Uh Oh.