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Ohtis in Leeds

Brudenell Social Club, Leeds
Tuesday 3rd September 2019, £8.00

Ohtis' 'Curve of Earth' is a reunion record, but a reunion for themselves rather than anyone else.

The album tells the tale of songwriter Sam Swinson's autobiographical journey through indoctrination and addiction. Each song an endlessly inviting confession from his past battles with substance abuse and the religious demons lingering from his upbringing in a fundamentalist evangelical cult.

Ohtis formed when Swinson and co-founder Adam Pressley were sophomores at high school in Normal, Illinois. Sam would ride his bike over to Adam's house where they made experimental folk music with primitive home-recording gear. They self-released their first material on small run CD-Rs while still teenagers, primarily to a local audience. Their partnership has defined Ohtis, accompanied by a revolving cast of local musicians joining the live act over the years including rejoining mainstay member and multi-instrumentalist Nate Hahn.

By around 2009, Swinson's addiction had become life-threatening. Weighing the odds of maintaining a creative partnership in those conditions, Pressley and Hahn decided to distance themselves. Pressley moved to Detroit to work on new projects; Hahn reversed course entirely and took a job at a drug treatment center, where, at one point, Swinson was briefly admitted. The band dissolved. What remained were thoughts of the music they had left behind and the desire to go back. Perhaps, if only to check for a pulse.

They kept in touch whilst living in different parts of the country, swapping ideas and songs online, never planning to release them, in equal parts because of their traumatic falling-out, and Sam's ongoing addiction to heroin. As Adam recalls, I'd occasionally get an e-mail from Sam of some sad, beautiful song that I'd fall in love with, and out of habit I would write an arrangement for it, for no intended listeners.

Redemption eventually came in the form of sobriety for Swinson. After making 9th step amends to both of his rejoining bandmates, they brought Ohtis back to life, unfazed by the 2000 miles that now separate them geographically, with Pressley and Hahn in Detroit and Chicago and Swinson in Los Angeles.

Swinson quitting drugs also coincided with the end of him drinking the kool-aid of the religious dogma from his upbringing. I think I always managed to somehow have a good sense of humor about religion, Swinson says of his former faith, even when I still believed hell might actually be a real place God sent people for an eternity of torture.

The record's lyricism is where Ohtis shine brightest, with stories of family, love, loss, personal abuse, self-loathing, betrayal, recovery, Swinson's religious hangover, and journeying across America with his late-dog Bobo. The first verse of Runnin' was written for Adam by Sam while he was in rehab in 2011. It foreshadows a reunion of the band, and it signals a reincarnation of Sam. Sam's beautiful encapsulation of recovery principles among the descriptions of his own struggle and redemption with sobriety in the song Runnin' was a major factor drawing me back to the band when they reformed, Nate explains. Swinson went to a self-made hell, and when he came out the other side he found a support group waiting for him, which had always been there, as Ohtis.

-- Description provided by We Got Tickets --