Macie Stewart and Sima Cunningham didn’t actually mean to start a band. In the summer of 2014, 22-year-old Stewart and 26-year-old Cunningham — who boast collective musical resumes that include Kids These Days, Marrow, touring with Chance the Rapper and doing background vocals for Donnie Trumpet & the Social Experiment — wanted to start merging their voices and playing around with different sounds and textures on electric guitar.
After recording their first song together, Cunningham showed the demo to her boss Mike Reed, founder of the jazz club Constellation, and he immediately booked Homme for a show at the space the following month — so they rushed to write more songs for that show.
“Our attitude was basically, ‘Fuck it, let’s do a show, and we won’t know what will happen, but we’re going to keep doing what we’re doing,'” said Stewart. “Whatever ends up happening, we’ll just have more new material to put together. Even if no one likes it, we’ll just keep going.”
Now, a year and a half later, not only is Homme still playing shows, but they released a self-titled EP in November and will be returning to Constellation on Thursday, January 14th, to kick off their first U.S. tour.
Third Coast Review spoke with Homme the Saturday before the start of their tour at Gaslight Coffee Roasters in Logan Square about being raised by working artist moms, how the free jazz scene inspired Homme’s vision, and #Hommegoals.
You’ve both been heavily involved in music for at least a decade. Was it always clear when you were young that you would pursue music as a career?
MS: I would give a lot of credit to my mom. My mom is also a professional musician. When I was growing up, she would wake up with me at 5am every day except weekends to practice, even after working until 2am at a piano bar. And at the time, it felt like, “Ahhh, this is hell!” But now I think, “You are fucking awesome. That was great.” I’m glad that she did that.
When I was in kindergarten, I wanted to be either a musician or a doctor when I grew up. And then I volunteered at a hospital my sophomore year of high school, and I realized, “No, no! This isn’t happening.” But music was always Plan A. I never played sports, or did literally anything except for music. I never felt like people looked down on me for saying I wanted to pursue music professionally because I was already gigging my freshman year, playing weddings.
SC: I grew up in a very musical family. My mom is an artist, and so I always had a working artist as a reference point, and my dad is a musician. My dad was always very encouraging of my brother and I studying music and becoming proficient, but when we wanted to start playing the kind of music we wanted to play, he was very encouraging of that too, telling us to write our own songs. I remember for my eighth grade independent study project, I learned a super rudimentary version of ProTools and I recorded my own super funny pop album. I don’t even know if I could find that album if I tried now.
MS: Old recordings are real scary, too.
SC: Yeah, oh my god. I really like the first real record I made, Squeeze, when I was 15–
MS: It’s good.
SC: But it’s hard for me to listen to because my voice is so weird and different. And I had mono for a lot of the time I was recording it, for five months during my sophomore year of high school.
Did your strong, artist moms also help you navigate the male-dominated music scene?
MS: It’s funny because Sima and I are both older children, which I think is partly why we’ve always been really headstrong about moving forward. This reminds me of when I used to do Taekwondo when I was little, and the little boys in the class would tell me, “You’re not good because you’re a girl.” And my best friend Zoe and I would say, “Really?” And then we would kick their asses.
I feel like it was kind of the same in music. If any dude would ever say something to me about not being able to play because I’m a girl, I’d just say, “Oh really?” and then show them.
SC: I mean, Macie was playing circles around people when she was fifteen. But sometimes music is a super male-dominated space in specific scenes, like the free jazz scene, where we spend a lot of time. I’m not a free jazz musician, but Macie is, and Homme was definitely inspired by that line of thought. But certainly the guys in my band, and I think all the guys we surround ourselves with now, like our producer, are all the kind of guys that don’t even flinch and say, “Duh, of course I’m a feminist, why wouldn’t you be a feminist?”
You mentioned that Homme was inspired by the free jazz scene. Can you say more about that?
MS: The free jazz scene is so awesome because it’s “in the moment” music. It’s not written out. You go up there and you just play and see what happens, and explore these new crazy territories of maybe awful-sounding things. It’s just the trains of thought of a bunch of people combined, which I think is really cool and really unique. That’s what we wanted to do with Homme but with electric guitars, because you can get so many interesting textures out of electric guitars. And we wanted an excuse to play guitar and not feel like we had to adhere to any specific style.
SC: Yeah. I think that there was a confidence that we largely derived from spending time in that scene and wanting to experiment with new sounds and also having this attitude of, “Hey, just go for it–”
MS: –“And it’s okay.”
It’s so interesting that this band started as an experiment because the vision and the aesthetics of the band feel so clear and specific.
MS: I think it halfway is, and halfway isn’t. I think subconsciously we know exactly what we want to do. We’ve always loved the dichotomy of crazy, angry guitar and creepy sounds with nice little vocals on top. That’s our intention and vision musically, but the aesthetics of the band are still coming together the more we do it.
SC: Macie and I write some of the music together, but most of the songs we write separately and then bring it to each other and arrange it together. For me, Homme was certainly a new avenue for songwriting. My solo project is very songwriter-based, it’s very direct, and earnest, and sort of face-forward to the audience. And in Homme, there’s more —
SC: Homme gives me an opportunity to speak more with myself instead of speaking directly with the audience, and work out ideas I haven’t really even worked out in my own inner self. I really love the music that I write solo, and it means a lot to me, but Homme is a totally different project. Lately I’m capturing songs more often when I’m in a moment trying to define how I feel, and so those are the words that I use in the songs. Does that make any sense? I’m not going back like, “OK, got it, I figured out what that feeling is, now I’ll clarify that.” I like to capture in real time the actual words that immediately come to me while I’m feeling something, so in that way the style of Homme is more stream-of-consciousness.
What are some lyrical or musical themes that continue to come up in your songs?
SC: When I think of our songs, a lot of them have something to do with visual interactions with light. I think light is something we thought about a lot when we were recording, like in “Ithaca,” there’s that part in the middle of the song that we wanted to feel like a ball of light, and there’s references to light in “You, Your Face,” and “Fingerprints.” The idea of looking at light and being blinded by it, but also being swept up away in it, out of focus — those are some thoughts that run pretty steadily through the record.
MS: I think another theme that’s a little more concrete and applies to [Sima’s] solo songs too is loneliness in different forms. I think all of the songs are about isolation, or loneliness in some small aspect.
SC: I totally agree, because going back to what I was saying before, there’s this really strong sense for the both of us that these are songs that are about an internal dialogue we’re having with ourselves. They’re very personal. It’s like pulling out ideas that are inside of you, and showing them to someone while they are still fuzzy. The songs are dreamy–with hard madness mixed in.
What has it been like to kind of grow up in the Chicago music scene and how has this city informed and supported your work?
MS: I’m biased, but I think Chicago is the greatest place to be making music and making art, because there’s not really any pretense here, which I think is unique. Everyone here just wants everyone to do well. I’ve never met a more supportive group of people. Not even just artists, but people in general.
SC: Yeah. I’m not trying to hate on New York or Los Angeles, but in Chicago, I think it’s really, really a relief because there’s no concept here of, “Oh, you need to think about being cool,” in order to be a musician. It’s just not a thing. You think about being good. Everyone is really just focused on talent in this city, which is really cool, and by talent I mean, “Hey, you’re a good musician and you’re fun to record with and be around.”
MS: It’s very collaborative here. And being in a band that’s trying to tour, there literally is no place better than Chicago. You can’t get a practice space in New York City, and you can’t drive anywhere from Los Angeles. Chicago is literally in the heart of everything. You have space, and you have a lot of venues to play at, and you can also drive two hours any direction and play in a totally different market.
SC: We love Chicago.
MS: I’ll keep talking about it. I just convinced my best friend and roommate to stay in Chicago instead of moving to Seattle.
Seattle is cool. But it’s not Chicago.
MS: Yeah, that was my argument. And she said, “Okay!”
So what’s next for you guys after you start your tour on January 14th?
SC: We go on tour, and then we’re going to start recording again to make another record that will hopefully be more full-length. We’ll do that, and then probably do some more touring. Hashtag lifegoals. Hashtag Hommegoals.
MS: We’re just trying to do more, in general.
SC: We’re a very small, compact band, so—
MS: We can go anywhere, everyone!
SC: We’re trying to get more people to realize that we can be flown for very cheap to Japan or anywhere in Europe…
MS: Hint, hint, hint!
SC: We’re trying to market ourselves as, “Homme: Your handy mobile band! You can throw us in your back pocket!”