Local Maine indie rock band Otis. recently released their “Kill The Car” album to begin the new year as a tribute to pre-pandemic nostalgia, drawing up conversations of friends, beachy themes and vignettes of home. Otis. performed mid-March at the New England School of Communications featuring their new song “Miss My Friends” and others from their first album “Running Shoes”.
Otis. is composed of three members: Ian Goode, the lead singer and guitar player; Colby Koelsch as the drummer; and Matt Donovan as the bassist and supporting singer. Each member currently is or has played for multiple bands including Midnight Breakfast and Sullen Eyes.
Goode and Donovan are University of Maine alumni, all three members are currently living across the state of Maine. Through local UMaine connections, Otis. originated in November of 2018 through Goode’s search for a band to back his solo pieces, playing at “barn jams” where Koelsch and Donovan came together.
Thus far, Otis. has produced two albums, “not always right” featuring a seven-track windows-down summer angst in 2019 and in 2021, “Kill The Car” as a beachy, nostalgic collection of lighter, gritty pieces spanning 11 tracks.
Throughout both albums, external influences vary between members, each bringing in different backgrounds and filters to craft collaborative pieces in-studio. Influences include indie rock, classic rock, funk, jazz and generally early 2000s analogue aspects.
“Each of us have very different influences, but we all enjoy each other’s [interests]. We each have a crucial part. Otis. could never exist without all three of us,” Goode said.
Functioning in the same way, the group’s lyrical process involves all three members, incorporating significant lines filtered through layers of interpretation, culminating in an inclusive, cohesive narrative.
Recently, Goode and Koelsch worked on a piece and are waiting for an opportunity to have Donovan preview and apply his artistic sense.
“We haven’t gotten the chance to run it through Donovan’s filter, so right now it sounds wrong. Each song has to get that, lyrically as well,” Goode said.
However, if a band member has a lyric that is particularly meaningful for them, the other two will opt to keep it and respect the significance it has for that person, regardless of how it may fit into the song. A lot of the time, significant lyrics shape their song development as a cornerstone piece, such as in the song, “Kill The Car.”
“[‘Kill The Car’] is a narrative story about how we all wrecked our cars within a month. Each verse of that song is one of our stories about one of our cars at that time, starting with mine and going to Koelsch’s,” Donovan said.
On their previous album, “Running Shoes” also stands out for the band. Written in the UMaine residence halls by Goode and Donovan, brought into their “jam barn” and knocked into place by Koelsch, the song functions as a culmination of each member’s creative process.
Additionally, “Worried,” one of the final tracks on the “Kill The Car” album, stands out for Goode, personally.
“I wrote that song when I was 15, recorded at 17 and then again with Otis. at 21. It was on a solo album that I put out, [then] we reworked it and rewrote it for us [as a band] for the end of the album. It showcases 1) us making a song I never thought we could [in terms of sound], and 2) I love what [the band] did with it so much more than what I did on my own,” Goode said.
During their instrumental compositional process, the group draws from techniques of jazz exploration by hosting “long-jams” where members expand and contract sounds based on standout licks that appear throughout the session.
“[Every so often] you’d get one of those awesome moments when we would be playing on the same song for ten minutes, but then there’s one moment where everything clicks for a second and we all say ‘What was that?’ and ‘That was cool,’” Goode said.
Oppositely, the group tightens the loose ends of a long-form process by adding pressure, finding that a lot of their favorite songs began under the constraints of a deadline.
“A lot of those songs have stuck around and have been the core of a lot of what we have now. The creativity that was brought on by necessity forced us into such creativity that for the next two years, we [were able to develop] what happened in that first week,” Goode and Donovan said.
Specifically before their Woodman’s Bar and Grill gig in early 2019, they all sat down at Koelsch’s mom’s house and plunked out a number of songs before a four-hour performance where they knew they would not be able to fill the time with only covers by other artists.
Balancing each other out, Koelsch and Goode habitually “ride up” on deadlines and perform well under pressure, while Donovan tends to work more in advance. One of the things the group recognized was how to work at a more steady pace by the end of 2020.
“Working on the album, there were a lot of us learning more and more how to work together and reach deadlines in a good way that wasn’t the total chaos of our first couple gigs,” Goode said.
Concerning the recording process of “Kill The Car”, the group scheduled time at Bangor’s Main Street Music Studios, where they met frequently before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Their recording progress was totally derailed for the next couple of months due to the pandemic and throughout the summer as their group moved out of their apartment and became physically separated in June.
“During those couple months when we were all separated and didn’t have any studio dates on the books or knew when we’d be able to go back… we didn’t really know where we stood as a band,” Koelsch said.
As schedules and life challenges normalized, the band began to regroup, however with challenges being long-distance, weeks passed without much visible progress. Little by little, Otis. began to return to the studio, working harder each session knowing meeting times were a precious commodity. To pick up their signature pressurized creative steam, the group needed to make a deadline for progress to continue on their 2021 album.
“We’ve done a lot to improve our process, just to accommodate for COVID-19. We’ve been finding ways to bounce tracks off each other remotely, and when we can use it, Donovan’s got a sweet studio that we can all practice in,” Koelsch said.
During the recording process, Otis. rediscovered pieces and excerpts from shows and albums past such as “Kill The Car” and “Want To Be”
Most of the songs on “Kill The Car” started as completely different pieces or short, undiscovered excerpts which found their form during the last two months of studio time. The re-recorded songs “Want To Be” and “Miss My Friends” began as just a single riff.
“[Originally,] ‘Miss My Friends’ was just a [long-form] time waster when we didn’t have enough time in the set to make it work, or if we had a long show. We’d pull out the riff and play. ‘Kill The Car’ had been around since the very beginning but didn’t [become] fully fledged until the last few months,” Donovan said.
Producing this album in the midst of COVID-19, the band got a chance to reflect upon previous shows and circumstances on which the songs were based through a bittersweet lens. “Kill The Car” approaches themes of nostalgia inclusive of friends and the comfort of a hometown reminiscing on fond memories.
“I grew up in a fishing town, so I wanted the sound of seagulls [in the opening track, ‘See You On The’], because I had so many good memories standing on the beach and thinking about stuff — hearing the gulls overhead,” Goode said.
Thematically, the group put special effort into the content and order of “Kill The Car” as opposed to their previous summer fun album. The two final tracks of the album exemplify a careful placement of a question and answer form, “Worried” and “Kill The Car (Reprise),” playing with carefree themes.
“Comparing the two albums, the date [they were released] correlates with the content of each album. With the first, [“not always right” album spins] a very young, summer heartbreak, coming of age thematic [palette, whereas] “Kill The Car” has an uplifting winter warmth,” Koelsch said.
Reception of “Kill The Car” has been a great experience for Otis., noting devout fans they’ve had the privilege of playing in the basement of college houses and those who keep coming back, telling the band that they love their work.
For Otis., it’s hard to fathom when certain songs hold a special meaning to listeners, but it’s certainly a high point after a release.
“I’ve had a lot of people come out and message me who I haven’t heard in years say that a certain song meant a lot to them personally. That was a really wild feeling because those were people I hadn’t seen since high school,” Donovan said.
Otis. recently performed in the New England School of Communication’s Overdrive show virtual show, noting their success in quick changes and expressing gratitude for an opportunity to perform at a time when gigs seem stagnant. The group performed favorites “Miss My Friends” and “Running Shoes” among other tracks.
As for upcoming performances and publicity once the band regroups in the near future, the group would like to look more into streaming performances as well as signing to record labels or advancing their media presence overall. To keep up to date with Otis., check out their linktree featuring their Facebook, Instagram and Spotify pages @otisbandme.