A Huntington-based band is catching wind—even though its members try not to think about it.
Things are going well for the guys in the Huntington-based rock group Ona. In 2014 they released a cassette single of their song “Ides of July” to enthusiastic reviews. Last summer the song appeared on a listener favorites’ playlist compiled by National Public Radio’s All Songs Considered. When Ona’s new album American Fiction debuted on October 23, it was the top-selling rock album on the indie music website Bandcamp.
For more than a year, the five-piece band has spent almost every weekend on the road. They recently made a run to Chicago, by passing through Louisville, Indianapolis and Cincinnati before driving straight back from the Windy City. They got home at four in the morning. Everyone had to be at work by nine. “Everybody woke up and was texting each other, freaking out. We were just in Chicago, and now I’m here spreading mulch,” says lead singer Bradley Jenkins.
Such is the life of a weekend warrior band. The group has started to establish a fan base outside its local music scene, but Ona isn’t quite big enough for its members to quit their day jobs. “Many nights you play to the next band and their girlfriends. It sounds like a joke, but it’s true,” says lead guitarist Zack Owens.
But the band is seeing dividends from all that hard work, even if its members’ bank accounts don’t show it. The more they play together, the better they sound. “We’ve gotten really tight,” Zack says. For proof, look no further than their new album.
The band spent more than a year working on the album with producer Bud Carroll, recording on off hours from work and touring. The tracks were all captured the old school way with every musician in the same room and playing just as he would onstage. It’s about authenticity, Bradley says. “We want it to be stuff we can replicate live.”
Each track on American Fiction pairs thoughtful lyrics with arrangements that sound like 1970s classic rock and ‘90s indie bands like Wilco or The Jayhawks. It’s a vibe that references the past but remains totally fresh. “A lot of the sound of the band is kind of mine and Zack’s heads colliding. He’s a trained musician. He was always into like Radiohead and experimental sounds. I came from the acoustic guitar,” Bradley says.
When the two met through a mutual friend in 2011, Zack had just returned to Huntington from Berklee College of Music in Boston, where he studied music performance and songwriting. Bradley, a former athlete, turned to music in his senior year of high school, after his father died. Although they come from disparate musical backgrounds, it didn’t take long for the pair to recognize their creative chemistry.
They formed the band in 2013 to supplement that sound—with Zach “Jeter” Johnston on bass, Max Nolte on drums, and P.J. Woodard on keyboards—and named the group after Bradley and Max’s hometown in Cabell County. “You go anywhere else, and it’s just a word,” Zack says. “We were joking we could just get t-shirts from the Little League and just sell those as merchandise—which we still might do.”
Two years later and on an upward trajectory, Bradley says the band tries not to think too much about the increasing possibility of success. “We don’t talk about it. We don’t say ‘Oh, a year from now we might not have to have a job.’ We just show up and practice,” he says. He worries that, if they think or talk too much about what’s possible, it will take the focus away from the music. “I think the creative process would get botched,” he says. “(Coming from) West Virginia, nothing’s going to come to you. People are going to look straight over you. So you have to work even harder.”
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