I first wrote about Sik Oheso exactly 366 days ago, shortly after life had started to morph into a strange new reality due to the COVID-19 pandemic. So, I was excited when the band reached out to me earlier this month about their brand new single, "Gum." Anyone who's enjoyed the group's past efforts should be simply thrilled by this less-than-three-minute outing of punky emo/indie vibes guaranteed to get, well, stuck (unavoidable pun intended) in your head for at least the next few hours.
Chew on the proof below, alongside an informative new interview with guitarist/bassist Jon Yi and vocalist Shawn Mehrens:
It's been almost exactly one year since we last spoke, and I'm strangely now realizing that that was the last interview I conducted before the pandemic officially blew up and we all entered into this new and almost-always-at-home form of reality. When you reached out to me the other day, you mentioned that Sik Oheso had dealt with some lineup changes, so let's start there. What's transpired lineup-wise?
Jon: Wow! That's so fucked up that it's already been one year. I feel like we just spoke! Thank you for having us back. The past year has been a nightmarish time warp that also felt endless. I'm sure others out there can relate. I think we have all coped and changed in different ways. I was so optimistic when we last spoke. Sik Oheso was doing well, despite having an impossible-to-spell-or-pronounce-or-Google band name. We were slowly growing a fanbase and playing bigger and better shows until the lockdown began. But as the COVID situation eventually ravaged New York, all the film and television projects I had in the pipeline were rescheduled before ultimately being canceled. Since I work in the film industry, which is highly collaborative and in-person, there was no way for me to work, so I ended up writing a bunch of songs over the past year, since songwriting was the only thing I had going. I was honestly hyped on a lot of the music I wrote during the past year, and I tried to motivate some longtime collaborators to perform on the tracks. We were still communicating through WhatsApp and working on songs remotely, just as we had always done, but since we were suddenly dealing with urgent real life problems, finishing songs was not a high priority for some of my collaborators. A close friend even pointed out that I was stage-momming a collaborator after I had requested my 12th revision on a guitar solo that still didn't quite cut it. So, I felt bad about that and didn't want to bother them with my stuff anymore. That is, except for Shawn. I will always bother his ass no matter what he says. This whole project began just because I wanted to hear him sing again, so as long as Shawn is singing on the tracks, that is the Sik Oheso sound.
Shawn: I don't know that we've done anything so far without lineup changes? This band has pretty much always been a collaborative effort amongst our cool-ass friends. Different people playing on different tracks. The only constant has been that Jon comes up with the music and I add the lyrics and vocals.
Prior to finalizing the new single, "Gum"—which we'll get to in a minute—you apparently scrapped quite a few songs. Was there something in particular that was resulting in so much material getting tossed? Was it that the vibe wasn't quite there, or were you being over-critical of your writing for a stretch of time, etc.?
Jon: I wrote a lot of music as a way to cope with pandemic depression, but we didn't release anything because I felt defeated about my creative efforts. They seemed pointless. My entire existence seemed pointless. Everything I was interested in was now considered "non-essential." I didn't know if we'd ever even get the opportunity to play these songs in front of an audience. I didn't know what songs would be appropriate to put out there while the world was on fire. I didn't think anyone would care. It was already hard enough trying to drag friends out to shows before the pandemic. I was going to shows, often alone, until the moment the shutdown began. It was a shock to my lifestyle, because I used to go see a local live show at least once a week. In fact, the ability to see a show on any day of the week was the reason I moved to New York in the first place. Still, I didn't really realize how much losing that would affect me mentally and emotionally until it was gone overnight.
You've also shared that "Gum" carried its own "creative struggles." It's an interesting song given that context, as well as the wider context of the pandemic age. It's musically catchy, though not quite "upbeat"; while the lyrics provide sort of a light twist on what's essentially a metaphor for perseverance. What's the basic gist of "Gum"'s genesis?
Jon: "Gum" was based around a simple chord progression that was filmed on my phone. The video lived on my camera roll, so for a while we were calling the song "Camera." When I looked back at the timestamp of that video, I realized that I wrote it on the same day I reconciled with my father after his cancer came back. Shawn encouraged me to reach out to my dad that day and I did. It was a big catharsis to play guitar afterward and this simple chord change came out of that. I later added a chorus and a bridge and sent the rough demo off to Shawn as a WhatsApp voice memo to see what he thought.
Shawn: When Jon sends me songs, I put on headphones and hum to the guitar on repeat until my brain sort of adds default words that fit the cadence of the melody I'm humming. If my subconscious is feeling lit, something cool makes its way in there, but if I fuck up and force the flow, then it's trash. With this song I fucked up a few times. Eventually I found the flow, and the word "gum" just kept sticking around in a baritone repetition (an homage to E-40's "Tell Me When to Go") and eventually I realized the song was about being a resilient fuckup and persevering to the chagrin of the people who also want you to persevere. From there it wrote itself.
Jon: I eventually added fake drums to the track and changed it up a bunch, but Shawn preferred the original drumless version and sang over that first. We both weren't fully satisfied with what came out of that first pass, so Shawn asked Seve Sheldon (Wild Ones) to lay down some new drums for us.
Shawn: It didn't click for me until we had Seve's drums added. When it was just guitars, my energy matched it and the vocals were so subdued that they sounded out of place in the full version. I needed the energy that drums bring before I could find a vocal part that matched the right vibe.
Jon: Seve changed the song immensely. He's so good.
Shawn: Getting the right take from Seve was stupid easy, he's such a pro. As a singer, I have no fucking clue how to talk about drums, so when Seve asked what I wanted him to do I was pretty useless. He reframed his question as, "Give me a band." So, I asked, "What do you think this song would sound like if Weezer played it?" He said, "Say no more, fam," and probably nailed it in one take while rolling a joint with his other hand.
You're also cooking up some additional content around this new tune—video projects, etc. I'm not sure how much you want to share about those bits and pieces just yet, but... share what you will!
Jon: Sure! Since the drums are such a big part of what makes "Gum" musically interesting, we decided to make a drum tutorial video for this track, which we'll release in a few weeks. Because he can't tour right now, Seve pivoted to teaching drums online, so he was already set up to record a drum playthrough when we approached him with this track. The video we're releasing is footage from the actual take that's in the song. I don't know if other people care about that sorta thing, but it matters to me! It's the actual take! The actual sounds being recorded and made at that moment! Besides that drum video, though, we also have a simple lyric video coming, as well as a weird behind-the-scenes thing that shows our collaborative process all told through WhatsApp. It shows you what it's like to be in this band. You can see how much the song changes once each band member touches it.
Do you think Sik Oheso will return to its pre-LP days of issuing sporadic singles and EPs as things take shape? Maybe set to work on album #2? Too soon to know for sure?
Shawn: I like focusing our attention on "the song" rather than "the album." It makes for better songs, and it gives us time to create these bonus featurettes.
Jon: I agree. We only want to add songs to our catalog that are worth the listeners' time, and hopefully those songs will be fun to play live when we can all hang out again.
Shawn: I think Jon and I both appreciate the live show more than any other aspect of playing music. We'd like to add one great song at a time to our setlist, and play great shows. And since post-pandemic NYC rents are approaching affordability, maybe I'll make the move east from Arkansas and we can play more often.
Stream or purchase "Gum" via Bandcamp, where you can also grab the just-released second pressing of Sik Oheso's debut LP, this time with different color combinations for the silkscreened covers. You can also stream "Gum" on Spotify. Follow Sik Oheso on Facebook or Instagram to be aware of what comes next.