Four-piece rock outfit Ottawa has kept busy the last five years making memorable tunes with an appeal far beyond its Cleveland home. Over the summer, the band released a string of singles that blend gritty garage rock with pop melodies. They've been making the rounds across Northeast Ohio venues to debut the new material.
Guitarists Tim Czajka and Will Hooper, along with vocalist Dale DeLong and bassist Jeremy Barnes, spent the past year writing and recording new songs that blend “steel-town grit” with “new wave gloss”.
Hooper and DeLong began creating music together after meeting via Craigslist in 2009 and attending Cleveland State University. Both musicians were seeking out additional players to form a band, and after linking up, they initially went on to call themselves the Royaltons.
After that group dissolved, the musicians formed Ottawa and subsequently released two EPs, “Roman Lights” and “Small Talk.”
Ditching the full album
The band made the decision to periodically release six singles this summer, rather than compile new music for a full-length album or EP. DeLong explains that he and his bandmates had limited time in the process of deciding which songs to pitch to gain commercial recognition and exposure.
Because of this, the decision to spend hours writing, recording, producing and releasing a comprehensive album did not align with their current aspirations.
“We were like, all right, every three weeks to four weeks we’ll put out a new song and hope that somebody important hears it,” DeLong said. “And we really felt like every one of these songs could be a potential single, as opposed to, like, this is an obvious album track.”
The first single released this year, “Strangers,” served as the perfect seasonal kickoff track. Its sound is akin to a modern-day Don Henley summer anthem, while “The Good Kind” and “No More Love Songs” are a bit moodier, with lush guitars and an overall vibe that mixes the most distinguishable attributes of bands like The Last Shadow Puppets, Interpol and The Killers.
“Wrong” is Ottawa’s most recent debuted single, a vulnerable yet universally relatable rock song that could sit comfortably on pop radio or be performed live in a small DIY venue. The band’s melding of broad influences, coupled with its skillful musicianship, are sure to draw a crowd across various locations along its upcoming fall tour.
Writing a hit single
Ottawa will release its sixth new single, “Friends,” Sept. 21. The song’s coinciding video was recorded on the floor of the Grog Shop and features the band illuminated in blue light while each member’s face is obscured in shadow. The lyrics evoke the ending of a relationship and the pain that lingers after the breaking point.
“I just think it’s probably the best song we’ve ever written,” Hooper said. “It’s just a really good mix of, like, a pop song [and] Dale’s best lyrics.”
Ottawa’s songwriting process begins with an initial idea. This could involve a guitar riff or progression but evolves into a collaborative effort that involves input from each band member. Inspiration from other musicians or life events can serve as the basis for a new melody as well.
DeLong said the band worked with high-level mixers on its new singles, including Tim Palmer, who has collaborated with Ozzy Osbourne, The Cure, Goo Goo Dolls and Robert Plant and is noted for producing and mixing Pearl Jam’s 1991 hit album “Ten” and U2’s “Beautiful Day.”
The road to success
DeLong said the band is trying to find that “sweet spot” right in between commercial and critical success.
“You could dress cool and have great hair and an important manager, but none of that stuff is going to matter if you don’t have great songs,” DeLong said.
He explained the band remains realistic, believing that if they didn’t have something special they wouldn’t move forward with such persistence in their music careers.
The musicians have been working quietly to craft music with a universal appeal. With their unique commitment to gradually release singles, versus an entire album, they have allowed each song to shine on its own and resonate with a specific audience.