Alumni, student – run band works on its debut album

By Estelle Mandeville
Staff Writer

Characterized by rich vocals, guitar-riffs and violin chords, Franciscan-based band Acaciawood is aimed for greater heights as its members, senior Aislin Hilgeman and alumni Brigid Ambuul and Luna Oppus, work on the band’s first album.

It has been a long jouney to get to this point, however.

“I met Luna when we were playing in the Festival of Praise band together last year, and I had met Aisy my freshman year and she and I always sang music together. We had done a couple coffeehouses,” Ambuul said.

Hilgeman said, “It started out with Brigid and I playing together, and then we recorded some of her songs one weekend in Pittsburgh.”

Hilgeman added that that initial recording session didn’t go well, but the aspiring musicians didn’t give up yet. Not long after, Ambuul asked Oppus if she would be willing to join the duo.

Oppus said Acaciawood got its official start after the three women played together at Bennigan’s restaurant in February 2022.

It wasn’t long before the band turned from covers to original music.

Ambuul said,  “Luna, Aisy, and I got together in an attic in Pittsburgh to record what would become our debut single, “Bend the Roses”. We drove away that day with a recording that was just a really low-budget thing, and we just had one microphone there that was set in the middle of the room.

“We played the song live fifteen times and then got a take we were satisfied with, and then drove back that weekend with the song.”

Almost as soon as “Bend the Roses” was recorded, opportunities to play at various events begain to roll in.

Hilgeman said, “We started out at the Last Class Luau, and then the next big gig was the Capuchin Café in Pittsburgh. Then we did First Friday on Fourth.”

Oppus graduated from Franciscan University in May 2022 and Ambuul graduated in December. Hilgeman is finishing up her senior year at Franciscan and will be graduating in spring 2023.

Despite this, the band members have only gotten closer and more dedicated to their work.

“Lately it (Acaciawood) has been more of a creative outlet for us to share our gifts and talents with the world in a very unique way,” Hilgeman said.

Ambuul added that the band has settled into a guitar-centric, lyrically rich folk sound. She said that the music she writes for Acaciawood is largely influenced by Joni Mitchell.

“We listen to Phoebe Bridgers a lot … we’ve taken a lot of influence from her sound. Maddison Cunningham is probably our biggest influence as a group,” she added.

Hilgeman said, “What influences me in Acaciawood are (the band) The Civil Wars. Their harmonies are so beautiful and so tight.”

She also added that she is inspired by Gospel music and artists such as Adele, Haley Heynderickx,  Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald.

Oppus said she had different influences growing up.

She said, “I grew up listening to R&B and hip hop. . . There is a huge folk culture here, so I slowly let myself veer in that direction. . . I went off of the groovy stuff I grew up with”.

“I’m not a very frequent writer. . . but I do always write from a place of raw emotion, and I try to capture a feeling in its entirety, at its intensest point,” Ambuul said of her writing process.

Hilgeman said of her own writing process, “I just start playing a melody, like on a guitar or the piano. . . It stems from a single thought I had and I’ll write it down.”

Ambuul, Oppus, and Hilgeman said that they are still learning to balance their academic and career responsibilities with Acaciawood.

“I just graduated this past December, so I’ve had the most free time to devote to music that I ever had before,” Ambuul said. “There was a time where all of my free time was focused on music. . .There is one day a week where I’ve decided not to work but to focus entirely on music”.

Oppus added, “I had to really take a step back from my career goals this year. I really wanted to be a teacher, but I knew that it wouldn’t be a good idea for me to jump into my first year of teaching as a musician recording an album. . . It feels like a full time job on top of my job, but it’s so worth it”.

Hilgeman said that she has to sacrifice and know her limits in order to balance her music with schoolwork and student teaching.

More changes are on the horizon for the trio.

“We just launched a Kickstarter for our debut album that we just started recording a couple weeks ago,” Ambuul said.

The band’s kickstarter, which was set to end on May 1, was fully funded by April 20.

Oppus said, “We’re hoping to have the album done by February 2024.”

“Pray for us as we take this big step,” Ambuul added.

Hilgeman said that the band is set to play at Steubenville’s First Friday on Fourth in June. She also said that Acaciawood is planning a trip to New York during the summer.

“If people want some new music–something refreshing, something that’s outside their regular genre–or if you want to be inspired by a group of young women who are trying to express themselves through music, listen to our songs,” Hilgeman concluded.