Smile Politely

Ohtis and Sunset Stallion reveal all

It’s Thursday night, and Canopy Club is showcasing some up-and-coming talent from the great region of Central Illinois. Ohtis, based out of Bloomington-Normal, dove into the Champaign-Urbana music scene earlier this winter at a well-attended Urbana house show. On Monday, the folk-rockers performed a WEFT session, and now they are making their Canopy Club debut. Smile Politely caught up with Adam Pressley, guitarist and co-pants-wearer of Ohtis, through the use of electronic mail. Pressley’s thoughtful answers were all typed up, as he noted, while on the clock working at Cosi Restaurant.

Smile Politely: When was Ohtis born?

Adam Pressley: Ohtis is a stray cat that Sam, our singer, found early in his high school years, and kept in his closet so his parents wouldn’t find it. It was a really mean cat towards the end, and now it’s dead. That cat was probably born late 2002, early 2003, I’d say. 

Ohtis the band was born around the same time, when Sam and I hung out in homeroom class at Normal Community West High School, and talked about starting a band called the Twigs, but that name was taken. We also considered the name Sadam, our two first names combined.  Thankfully, we went with Ohtis, though some people still think we could’ve done better.

SP: Who is Ohtis?

AP: Sam Swinson and I write, produce, record, and mix the recorded output of Ohtis. We’ve had over 20 members come and go in the live incarnation since we started playing live in late 2003. Most of the members have been drummers … we’re always gaining (and losing) drummers.

SP: Does someone wear the “pants” in the band relationship, or does everyone have pants-wearing capabilities in the songwriting/arranging process?

AP: Sam and I share the same pair of pants. I incorporate them into my sense of fashion differently, though. Sometimes we don’t agree on who fits into them best, but in the end, we are happy with how the pants have been worn.

SP: I stumbled upon a Stereogum article when googling “Ohtis.” It was about a pretty amazing prank to the tune of pretending to be Ryan Schreiber on AIM. Have you found other ingenious ways to get publicity?

AP: No. That was the best and only publicity stunt I’ve ever come up with. Most people don’t know, however, that I was the one who tipped them off about the prank. I signed into a friend’s e-mail address and e-mailed Stereogum, telling them about this “cool band’s hilarious prank on would-be Pitchfork writers.”

SP: How’s the music scene in Bloomington-Normal? Venues, house shows, or all of the above? Any other bands you care to plug? Any bands you want to warn us about?

AP: There aren’t any official venues in Bloomington-Normal that I know of. That’s the big difference between Champaign-Urbana and Bloomington-Normal. So instead, people do the DIY thing, and there have been four or five house venues that did really well. We do house shows and they’re a blast. I recommend Chambana-ites to make the drive out to one of our B-N house shows. March 26 we have the best one yet with tUnE-YaRdS, Sister Suvi, and Takka Takka.  E-mail me at for more info on that, readers.  😉

Billy Zygote is my favorite band in Bloomington-Normal. They’re so good, but they don’t tour, just play local shows for the most part, unfortunately. Our keyboard player, Seaby, makes good music, too. I’m sure I’m forgetting some great Blo-No music …

SP: When was your latest album, If This Country Had a Heart, That’s Where I’d be From, released? How has it been received?

AP: August 2008. It’s been steadily gaining more and more momentum. Most people who hear it seem to like it a lot, and I feel very honored to have such a devoted following. I’m thankful for that, because we worked really hard on it for four years. 

SP: You guys seem to be constantly playing shows. Are there any recent memorable touring moments?

AP: In Peoria we played at the best bar we’ve ever been to: Eamon Patrick’s. They fed us amazing food for free, let us have free beer, and there was a gigantic crowd. Everyone was in great spirits, and then, just as we were pulling out to head back home, we got harassed by the other band’s bassist, his girlfriend, and some other random dude. After screaming at us for about ten minutes, and telling us we were the “queerest shit ever,” and that they hoped we’d crash and die on our way home, one guy spat in our 6′ 5″ bassist’s face. Then, they walked away. It was startling.

SP: You’re playing some South by South West shows. How did that come about? Is this your first time going down to Austin, Texas?

AP: Undertow Music, the company that manages us, is having a showcase there, so we get to play that. Our friends, Brother George, will be going on the tour because they got a couple shows too, so they included us. We might do another showcase with our new label mates Sister Suvi, for Common Cloud Records, the company that’s putting out our new vinyl. Yes, this is our first time going to Austin.

SP: What can Champaign-Urbana expect from a live Ohtis experience?

AP: We don’t really move around much, and we aren’t exceptionally great at talking to the audience … but I like to think we can play our songs well.

SP: What are your future plans as a band?

AP: We plan to keep an eye on quality and keep trying to write great songs, and to keep building a fan base locally, followed by regionally, followed by nationally, and then internationally.

Sunset Stallion

Headlining the evening is Sunset Stallion, a quintet made up of University of Illinois students dedicated to crafting thought-provoking tunes with pop sensibility. Sunset Stallion is made up of Hannah Newman (vocals, cowbell), Chad Warner (vocals, piano, guitar), Marty O’ Donnell (drums), Chris DeBoo (bass), and Bryan Kveton (guitar). Smile Politely sat down with the band at a dining room table covered in Taco Bell wrappers Wednesday night. In between discussing Take Five candy bars and Coolio’s recent arrest, we managed to talk about more relevant issues.

Smile Politely: The last time Smile Politely talked to you guys you had less and different members.

Bryan Kveton: We have more and new people

Chad Warner: Who did we get rid of?

Marty O’Donnell: Otto.

CW: Ha ha, yeah we kicked him out.

MO: Otto left for this band Sman-ta?

Hannah Newman: (hardy laugh, laced with sarcasm)

CW: Some holiday figure.

MO: I believe it was the Easter bunny. Um, we now have Chris “Chips” DeBoo on bass.

Chris DeBoo: Chips?

MO:  You need a nickname … And, Bryan Kveton on guitar from Butterfly Assassins.

CW:  We’re really into stealing from other bands

SP: Who’s next?

CW: Um, Ryan Groff, probably, on lead vocals. From Elsinore.

MO: He’s not going to have a choice.

SP: So you guys are playing tomorrow night. Is this the first time you’re headlining at the Canopy?

HN: We have on a Wednesday, but not on a legitimate day.

CW: Like Thursday.

HN: It’s a little bit better. No, it’s a lot better.

SP: What can we expect from you guys at this show?

MO: We’re going to try and not be drunk.

CW: By “we,” we mean Marty.

CD: We have a little new material.

MO: With the whole new guitarist and new bass player we’ve been focusing on that, and we haven’t had as much time for songwriting.

CD: This is actually the first song that has been written since I and Bryan showed up.

MO: “No More Drugs.”

CW: That’s the name of the new song.

SP: So is songwriting collaborative, or does someone bring a polished product to the table?

CD: That actually just changed. The new one we’re playing tomorrow was actually collaborated on. Chad had an idea for it a long time ago, and all of the sudden we decided to sit down and figure it out. Before, at least when I joined the band, everything was written, and I was just playing Otto’s old parts.

BK: When I came in I had to write all my own parts. Actually, I haven’t even heard the new song they’re referring to.

HM: Don’t put that in there.

BK: I don’t think it’ll matter. They’ll just be so impressed.

MO: Bryan does tend to jump in with a part, five minutes after hearing a song, that wows us all. He’s a golden god.

SP: That’s kind of uncomfortable. Anyways, what else is coming up for you guys?

MO: We just signed on to do Local Music 5? LM5? (This year’s Local Music Awards hosted by WPGU.)

SP: It sounds like a cell phone.

HN: They’re all write-ins.

MO: We will not win “Best Stage Banter,” I will tell you that.

SP: What can people who have never seen you expect from your stage banter?

Everyone: It’s awkward.

CD: Listen to Marty at any point during this interview.

MO: (defensively) Well Chad is always switching over from piano to guitar, Hannah doesn’t banter, and I generally have a mic … I make an ass out of myself.

SP: You’re like the Paul Shaffer of Sunset Stallion?

MO: Definitely not Max Weinberg.

CD: The most entertaining part of our stage show is when people yell cat calls at Hannah and she has to coyly recoil them.

HN: There was that one time a guy was like “what’s your name?” I said, “the band’s name?” “No, your name.”


HN: And then I got that stone.

CD: Ha!

HN: A guy came up to me and gave me a black stone, and then walked away.

CD: It was one of those grab bag stones

HN: Yeah, it was polished.

SP: Is it in your shadow box now?

HN: I keep it over my bed.

Be sure to catch Ohtis and Sunset Stallion tonight at Canopy Club. The show starts at 10:30 p.m. with local acts Green Ghost Red Ghost and Yossarian starting off the night. You can also check out Sunset Stallion at Cowboy Monkey on April 10 with Gentleman Auction House and at the IMC Fest on April 17.



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