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Interview: Ona

Humble beginnings don’t even touch what it’s like coming from a small town in West Virginia. Being from West Virginia doesn’t exactly expose you to large markets and big crowds. No, you have to work for that recognition. That means constant touring to neighboring cities like Cincinnati and Lexington, Kentucky and hoping word of mouth spreads about your show. 

Named after a small town in West Virginia, indie rock band Ona have spent the better part of three years trying to hone their sound in cities like Cincinnati. Now after years of touring and recording in the studio, Ona will be touring across the country in anticipation of their second studio album, Full Moon, Heavy Light out on May 10th

The album is the follow up to their 2016 debut American Fiction, which landed them on NPR’s Heavy Rotation and PBS’s Mountain Stage recorded out of Charleston, West Virginia. American Fiction also helped them land opening act spots for artists like their friend Tyler Childers who also came up in the Huntington, West Virginia music scene and Athens, Ohio’s Caamp. 

Since then, Brad Goodall (keys), Bradley Jenkins (vocals/guitar), Zach Johnston (bass), Max Nolte (drums), and Zack Owens (guitar) have been spending a majority of their time in Athens, Georgia where they recorded the latest album with producer Drew Vandenberg. Vandenberg has worked with artists like Deerhunter and Of Montreal which if you’ve only heard American Fiction, would seem like a strange fit. 

But over the years Ona has developed into a live act and a sound that really can’t be pigeonholed. Each show has a unique vibe and sound that can vary each night, that has been partly brought on by years on the road together and as Goodall says, “an open mind that Drew brought to the studio.”  

Vandenberg and his Georgia studio bring a heavy influence on the sound of not only the new album but Ona’s decision making. 

“Being down there really forced us to make big decisions about the album and what the album would sound like,” Jenkins said. 

“We see Drew as the sixth member of the band,” Goodall says as he describes a drum circle that Vandenberg put in at the end of one of the songs on the new album, a decision they would have never thought of otherwise. 

“In the production, I wanted people to recognize emotion,” Jenkins says. “There’s a lot of ear candy that we snuck in there, but it might be an album that you need to sit with. We want our audience to experience and feel the music. There are ups and downs, and sometimes people might ignore those feelings, but we want people to recognize every emotion.”

That candy already coming in the form of their first single, “Summer Candy.” The song has a groove that is undeniable, with Johnston’s infectious bass and Owens’ slide guitar playing it’s hard to not want to move. Frankly the song is fun as hell. 

“When I like a record, it’s because it makes me groove and it makes me smile, or it makes me contemplative,” says Johnston. “I just hope people will feel something when they hear it.”

The album although meant to make you feel, has an upbeat sensibility about it. “Summer Candy,” is an incredibly positive and has a optimistic sound compared to anything from American Fiction.

“It is abstractly about us,” adds Johnston. “Everybody was in a good headspace, compared to when we were younger and didn’t know what we were doing.”

Sunday, Ona will play Madison Live in Covington and for them it’s sort of a home coming. 

“We sort of see ourselves as a Cincinnati band in some respects… Cincy was always one of our favorite places to play,” Goodall said. 

Ona has certainly made their rounds of clubs and venues in Cincinnati, having played at clubs like Motr Pub and Southgate Revival to venues like the Taft Theatre and even playing Midpoint Music Festival a few years ago. Coming from West Virginia there is a certain idea of what a band should sound like, country, blue grass, Americana but Ona is simply themselves. 

“I grew up in the woods, but my dad only listened to glam rock, so sometimes it’s hard for me to identify with the quintessential West Virginia image,” says Nolte. “I spent a lot of time, as a youth, kayaking and exploring West Virginia’s rivers, so I agree with everyone that it’s a beautiful state. But we don’t really exemplify it as a band, as far as what we ‘should’ sound like to outsiders, which I think confuses some people. We’re not stereotypical West Virginians and I think it’s important to shine a light on another aspect of the state as well.”

Ona will once again be showing Cincinnati their side of West Virginia and their sound Sunday, and on May 10ththey’ll be allowing everyone to hear. Full Moon, Heavy Light, will be released in partnership with Tyler Childers’ Hickman Holler Records and they will be performing all summer alongside Childers’ and Caamp once again.  

CincyMusic will have the review of Sunday’s show.