Musician/Band of the Week: Otis
Band reaches its branches out to Fayetteville
By Richard Davis
TFW Main Flunky
Otis is coming to town. Not your cousin Otis. Not your mom’s high school boyfriend she still secretly has a thing for Otis. Nope, it’s Otis the Chicago-based soul band.
The band will play Saturday at the new stage at Kingfish in Fayetteville. Jessica Ott, the lead vocalist for Otis and a Little Rock native, did the question-and-answer dance with the Freekly.
Jessica: Otis is many people. When we say many people, we specifically mean our influences: Otis Redding, Shuggie Otis, Otis Spann, etc. It’s a nostalgic reference to the roots of soul. Once you hear the name Otis, you also think of some of the great blues and soul artists. It’s like a tree, a soul tree, where Otis resides in the leafy green area and the soul legends reside in the roots. Most people can’t hear our name without being reminded of some of our natural influences as a soul band.
TFW: So, you’re from Arkansas. Are you looking forward to coming back? Any other Otissians from Arkansas or is the group from all over?
Jessica: I’m incredibly excited to play down in Arkansas with this band. The boys are from six different states: Massachusetts, California, Michigan, Missouri, Illinois and Connecticut. That being said, none of them have ever really spent a lot of time in the South … I’m not sure they know exactly what to expect. Let’s show them a good time, shall we?
TFW: You’ll be performing at Kingfish, which has an outdoor stage. You do realize it’s drop-dead-smite-you-with-a-heat-stroke hot here at the moment, right? Are you guys gearing up to survive the heat?
Jessica: Oh, I realize this. I’m trying to tell the guys to HYDRATE. I think they’re a little more prepared since it’s been incredibly hot in Chicago for the past few weeks. I think we can handle the heat, and it’s a fair trade to get to play on an outdoor stage for the first time. I’ve seen pictures of Kingfish’s new stage, and it looks pretty serious. I think we’re all super excited no matter what the weather conditions are.
TFW: There’s a local slogan “Keep Fayetteville Funky.” Might you be persuaded to play some funk for Fayetteville?
Jessica: Oh, we’ve been known to play some funk. We like to think of ourselves as a funk/soul/blues/jazz/neo-soul/what-have-you band, but funk definitely takes precedence, especially in a live setting. We’re gonna do our best to keep it funky for y’all.
TFW: From your Bandcamp page it looks like you perform mostly original tunes. Is that a fair assumption? Does that mean there’s an Otis album or maybe one on the way? Who does the songwriting for Otis?
Jessica: Well most of the tracks we have recorded are originals, but we also play a fair amount of covers ranging from artists like Stevie Wonder and Sly and the Family Stone to The Band and Joe Cocker. We are hoping to start recording on a full-length studio album sometime in the next year. We have a few more originals in the works to include in addition to the ones we’ll be performing at Kingfish, and we may even be compelled to record a cover for the full-length. Everything is still in the budding stages for that whole process, though.
As far as songwriting goes it’s generally all of us. Each person comes up with their specific part based on chords that our guitar player, bass player or keyboard player comes up with. I handle the lyrics and the melodies as soon as there is a rough idea for a chord progression, groove, etc. So far that process has served us pretty well. We kind of feed off of one another’s creativity, which is the fun part.
TFW: Is there a signature Otis song? What is it and why?
Jessica: Signature song? I wouldn’t say that any of us favors any one of our originals in particular. We’re pretty proud of all of them. So far our fans have responded best to “For A Writer.” We’ll be playing that on tour so we’ll have to see what the Southerners think about it.
As far as a signature cover goes, I think we’ve all been pretty excited about a new one we’re doing: “I’m A Ram,” an old Al Green tune. I know I’m excited about that song because the lyrics require me to be extra sassy when performing it. That song is just arranged so well. There are lots of interesting sections that make it unique and fun. It’s impossible to not get excited when we play it.