For Otto, a series of virtual songwriting sessions provided unexpected creativity and camaraderie.
The Detroit indie-pop quintet of Chesney Walters (vocals), Jonny Walker (guitar), Nate Dornfried (keys), Ryan Freitas (bass) and Austin Howard (drums) instantly gelled while penning new tracks over Zoom for their infectious debut EP, Still Picture You.
“In 2019, I was ready to call it quits with music, and then two weeks later, I just changed my mind. Austin and I decided to start doing our own project, and we started writing with no end-game in mind. And I knew Nate from where we grew up, and I ran into him and asked if he wanted to be a part of it,” said Walker, who previously played with Howard in another project.
“The three of us wrote together for a year and a half and auditioned 10 different singers, but couldn’t find anyone we were happy with. I was ready to call it quits (again) because we just couldn’t find anyone, and then Chesney just came out of nowhere. Austin and I also have known Ryan for a while. He ended up playing bass with us for one show, and now he’s here.”
With the right lineup intact, Otto started compiling a new batch of earnest tracks in 2020. Walters met regularly with Walker to write and refine the ‘80s-inspired, synth-pop songs that would become Still Picture You.
“I was living with my family at the time in the suburbs, and I wasn’t allowed to go anywhere except to Jonny’s house to write music,” Walters said. “We would just write and write for months while there was nothing else to do.”
During their writing sessions, Walters and Walker collaborated remotely with other Otto members until the pandemic subsided. It would be another six months before the entire band would meet in person.
“I hadn’t met them for months once we started, and we would all rotate at Jonny’s house and be there at different times,” Walters said. “But the first time we were all together in the same place was when we went to Nashville in March 2021 to record.”