A Name That Looks Good on the Marquee; An interview with Terry Ohms

Terry Ohms is the alter ego of Birmingham, Alabama native Wes McDonald – or maybe it’s the other way around. After spending time in their individual musical worlds and influences, it becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish where one ends and the other begins, or where the rhythmic reach of one extends and the melodic ambitions of the other continues.

But this wasn’t always the case. If you go back 20 years or so, there was only McDonald and an instinctual need to create music and to share it with those within earshot. And to see these sounds released, McDonald moved from Birmingham to Athens, Georgia in the late ‘90s to begin a six-year residency, which would start the gears that would eventually put him on a collision course with Terry Ohms.

McDonald released his rootsy, garage rock-informed debut solo record, Alarm Clock Recordings, in 2000 and, in the process, discovered a kinship with fellow former Tuscaloosa musicians Jeff Buckley and Mark Evces, and South Carolina native Andrew “the Fiddlin’ Heatwave” Heaton. They quickly found themselves playing and creating together and adopting the name of The Ohms for their collective musical divinations, and the band soon became an Athens favorite, performing in venues throughout the city and across the Southeast. Their time together yielded two albums, Electrical Resistance and If You Don’t Think I Love You, which rang with authentic alt-country bluster and twang, bound together through an electrified rurality.

Throughout his tenure with The Ohms, McDonald continued to write and record LPs under his own name, sharing Chandelier in 2001 and Cutting Up Rocks in 2002. However, the release of Cutting Up Rock” signaled the end for The Ohms, as it marked the point when McDonald moved back to Birmingham and subsequently reunited with some old musical friends, including Matthew Jackson, Drew Davis and Jake Waitzman. All four would soon fall into those familiar rhythmic steps and form the Wes McDonald Plan, kick-starting McDonald’s immersion back into the Birmingham music scene.

Shortly after his reintroduction to the area, he released another solo album, The Guest, for Birmingham-based label Skybucket Records, which earned him a spot on the two-disc compilation, Low Dose Exposure. Curated by Skybucket chief Travis Morgan. Following this spotlight, the Wes McDonald Plan put together a hectic tour schedule which included a stopover at SXSW. And in 2006 came a new record, 1:50 in the Furnace, and with it, a new sound – something a bit more rocking and less rustic in tone and sensation – and new perspectives. Working with producers Ken Coomer (of Wilco fame) and Charlie Brocco, McDonald later revealed that he was fascinated by the ways in which they approached his music and developed a better understanding of his own musical identity through their work.

And it’s at this point that Terry Ohms shows up, an anomalous identity fighting to capture command of McDonald’s movements and thoughts. Terry Ohms plays Wes McDonald was released in October 2006 and found Ohms embracing the Southern hum and rush of his upbringing while mixing in a little bit of fuzzed-up rock ‘n’ roll. But this wasn’t the only thing vying for his attention. McDonald had also struck up a new musical conversation with Lester Nuby (of Verbena), Jake Waitzman and Keelan Parrish – and formed Vulture Whale, whose debut record was released in 2007. Vulture Whale occupied the majority of his time, until they disbanded amicably having decided that they had reached the limits of what a four-piece rock band could accomplish. Throughout those years, however, McDonald never forgot or ignored the calling of Terry Ohms, sharing Gets Emotional in 2014 and A Lot More Than Enough in 2017. During this time, he also became a partner in, and operator of, Birmingham-based Cornelius Chapel Records, working with artists such as Dexateens, Bohannons and Leon III.

In 2019 it appears Ohms has finally taken over and convinced McDonald to let him loose for a while, as a new record from Terry Ohms called Terryfirma, which will see the light of day on Jan. 18. Recorded in his basement, McDonald played all the instruments on the album, created all the artwork and handled the visual duties for the accompanying videos. Terryfirma is the sound of willful release and inclusivity, an ode to the unbridled creativity and tactile experiences which his history has afforded him. An arrangement has been settled upon, a meeting of personalities and impulses, and Terry Ohms couldn’t be happier.

Ghettoblaster recently caught up with Ohms/McDonald to discuss the record and this is what he told us. Ghettoblaster also has the pleasure of premiering the video for “Bring All To Front” (below).

When did you first begin writing the material for Terryfirma?

A little more than a year ago.  Terry Ohms has been a side project up until about six months ago when my 12 year old- four piece rock band, Vulture Whale amicably called it quits. The day after that, Terry Ohms became my main thing and the Terryfirma production accelerated from there.

“We Love You” is such a bizarre number. How did it come about? Was it an initial riff that morphed into a full song?

I was playing synthesizer on another song I was in the middle of recording (one that was never finished) and I get to the end where the song was just kind of jamming out into space and the tune starts morphing and there was this cool part at the end that happened that was so much better than anything else that happened in the song before. So, I stopped recording that song, took the morphed out end section and created “We Love You” out of that.  Songs want to do what they want to do. They don’t really care what you want to do. You say “Hey song, let’s go somewhere. And the song says “I’m driving.”

Speaking of bizarre, I had recently watched Wild Wild Country, the documentary about the Rajneesh in Oregon. The craziness of that seeped into “We Love You.”  

Our current fave on the record is “Mind Blow” What’s the story behind the song?

I used to come up with song ideas with a guitar, and writing the lyrics later. Lately, I’ve been coming up with ideas by just singing random stuff around the house or wherever, not really thinking about it. “Mind Blow” was one of those. I had the basic idea in my head before I touched an instrument to flesh it out. Originally, I had the idea of making it kind of snarly British sounding punk song and then it turned into more of a smoothed out Smiths kind of thing.  This is one where the fake british accent was helpful.  (See Vulture Whale’s EP, Bamboo You, which is 90 percent fake British accent).

Who were your musical inspirations for this adventure?

I think with every record, I just want to make it a bit different than any of the other ones.  A subtle change of flavor.  I don’t mean that I’m  trying to push some kind of envelope because how do you do that?  I mean progressing from one place to another trying to get somewhere both familiar and unfamiliar.  And Buick commercials. Everything I do is raging against those annoying Buick commercials.

How do Terry and Wes differ? 

Terry’s from Alaska. Wes is from Birmingham. Other than that, there’s not much difference.

Terry Ohms looks a lot better on the marquee and the album cover than Wes McDonald. 

Do you plan on filling out the lineup and touring?

Yea I got a great band together. We’ll be playing a lot more in 2019.

What current artists are you listening to these days? Any Alabama artists that we should be aware of?

Leon III – Soulful, charming, and gritty with a beginning middle and end

Will Stewart – Pure solid gold and better than Americana

Timber – Nobody chills like Timber chills

Bohannons – The best band in Tennessee

Brad Armstrong – Moody, muddy poetic perfection

Holiday Gunfire –   Southern Brit rock that rules

What’s next in Terry’s World?

I’ve been trying to get a track on one of those high-end playlists. Does anybody know anyone at Spotify? They won’t call me back.

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