Three musicians and a giraffe: a portrait of Near Hills from Athens, Ohio

Jamie Moriarty, Ben Leeson and Maddy Ciampa of Near Hills are just as authentic as the trio’s raw music style would suggest. I popped in to listen to a rehearsal at Moriarty and Ciampa’s home. Flopping down on the big futon couch in their twinkly-lit and bulldog-paraphanalead living room, Moriarty, who already had water boiling on the stove, offered me a cup of tea. Leeson, who does vocals, guitar and piano for the band, soon joined us. Ciampa, cellist and vocals, got held up at work. But that didn’t stop the guys from enjoying their tea:

Photo courtesy of Near Hills Facebook page.
Maddy Ciampa on the cello at Folk Fest, 2015. Photo courtesy of Near Hills.

Moriarty set a big mason jar of honey on the coffee table. The honey was, of course, made by none other than his uncle’s own honey bees. I spooned a big helping of the sweet mess into my heart-decorated mug of spiced chai, and chatted with Moriarty and Leeson about their music and why it matters to them.

The guys echoed each-other’s love of collaborating in a small group to create something new. Moriarty said, “I think I get my drive out of … being able to have that connection with each other, and being able to come up with something that just us did, that just we, ourselves did. And I think in that sense we’re simple, because it’s not that we’re not ambitious, we just wanna keep it holistic and keep it real. Just the three of us …That’s way more special.

Leeson, Ciampa, and Moriarty celebrating New Years in January, 2015. Photo courtesy of Near Hills’ Facebook page.

As we talked, a giant, 6-foot stuffed-animal giraffe, sitting on the sofa to the left of Moriarty, kept falling on him, its plush hooves wrapping around the musician, trapping him in a giant, giraffe embrace.

You might think that these musicians sound like your typical brand of Ohio University hipsters living in west Athens, but they exude a sense of humility and enthusiasm for their work that makes them not only likable musicians, but great foster parents to a slightly-creepy, 6-foot giraffe.

When I asked about what artists influenced them, Moriarty shared, “We bonded over our individual inspiration from Bon Iver.”

Leeson added, “He [Bon Iver]’s … from Wisconsin, [and] he recorded an album in a log cabin, when he was super sick, one time, and it became super famous. He just recorded it all himself and it’s just this really different kind of folky, soul — awe, I don’t even know how to describe his sound — it’s just so unique.”


“Super rustic and creaky. He captured a lot of the location, and I don’t think a lot of artists do that,” Moriarty piped in.

Near Hills describes themselves as “alternative musicians with folk instruments.” They use a lot of harmonies to create a simple, yet evocative sound. They played a little demo for me, Leeson shredding up the piano, and Moriarty strumming his guitar and stamping his Teva-clad foot to the beat:


Not bad, right? They call it “Fear of Anomoly.” I think Bon Iver might even like it.

If you’re interested, you can check out more of Near Hills’s music on SoundCloud.