The Cincinnati-based indie pop quartet The Ophelias hold the key to the pearly gates of emotion, tenderness and complete affection; their new album Crocus cuts a copy of this key to lend to listeners and invites them inside to divulge in their angelic soundscapes.
Hailing from Cincinnati, The Ophelias have been serenading our eardrums since 2015 with their delicate harmonies, and gentle stories. Lead vocalist and guitarist Spencer Peppet, violinist Andrea Gutmann Fuentes, drummer Micaela Adams, and bassist Jo Shaffer came together through their mutual disappointment of their past musical projects. With a diverse background of tastes in music, The Ophelias became an outlet to explore music in exciting new ways and in an environment that was safe of judgement.
The band's third album Crocus, released through Joyful Noise Recordings last year, features an array of extravagant string ornamentation, lush vocals, and cheerful moving rhythms. Focusing on topics of relationships, identity, and growth; Peppet's sincere and elegant vocals evoke fluttering passion and warmth, it is such a special feeling that translates through. Along with the band's core members, some familiar guests were invited to be a part of a few songs within Crocus. Indie folk singer-songwriter Julien Baker delivered her powerful harmonies to the track "Neil Young On High," a vulnerable piece about reminiscing on a previous relationship. Baker's harmonies paired with Fuentes' lingering solemn violin add an intensity of desire and passion to the track, a highlight on the album.
As 2022 rolls along, the band have just announced that they will be going on a tour throughout America in March and April, hitting a range of cities on their journey. In anticipation of this exciting expedition, we caught up with lead vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Spencer Peppet to have a chat about the new album and some fond memories of their time recording.
Paperface Zine: I read that The Ophelias officially began in high school through a mutual annoyance of being surrounded by male-dominated musicians. How does it feel to be in a collective of supportive diverse creatives? How is it different to the bands you played in before?
Spencer Peppet: One of the many reasons I love my bandmates is for their openness and flexibility in creating parts. I write the basic parts of the songs and bring them to the band to work on collaboratively, but because everyone is so supportive and interested in exploration I don't feel limited in the genres or ideas we can explore. That's a different process than in bands my bandmates have played in previously, and I've tried to foster that collaborative spirit through almost all the songs that we've released.
Who have been some of your musical influences recently?
The Fiona Apple album Fetch the Bolt Cutters that came out in 2020 has been a huge influence for me. I've also been listening to a lot of The Books, My Bloody Valentine, Swirlies, and Taylor Swift (obv). Mic has been listening to the Carissa's Wierd album Songs About Leaving and the new Serpentwithfeet album Deacon, plus a lot of Imogen Heap. Jo has been listening to a lot of Bad Brains. Andrea hosts a weekly radio show called meadowtations, and she's played everything from Dolly Parton to Tierra Whack to The Beach Boys.
Congratulations on the release of your recent album Crocus! It's so marvelous with its soft angelic string compositions and delicate storytelling. How has the reception been so far?
Thank you so much! We're really excited to finally release it — we recorded it in summer 2019, and it was originally going to come out in 2020. We figured we would "wait out the pandemic" to release it, then quickly realized that wasn't happening. So it came out in 2021, and people have been very kind about it. We got to play a handful of release shows, our first shows in two years, before things kind of shut down again. That was wonderful, and it's been cool to hear what people think of the record.
What did recording the album look like? Any fond memories you want to reminisce on?
We recorded Crocus in a massive, converted Masonic lodge/studio in Bellevue, Kentucky, fittingly named The Lodge. Our friend John Hoffman engineered and mixed it, so it was mostly the four of us and him hanging out in this haunted lodge, surrounded by clown paintings, suits of armor, and miscellaneous disco balls. One memory that I think of fondly is recording the vocals for the title track on the Fourth of July. There were fireworks going off outside, and since The Lodge is a pretty tall building, they were basically at eye level. It felt very surreal and romantic, singing this song as the fireworks went off so close. We recorded the fireworks themselves too, I think if you listen closely at the end of the song you can hear the sound of one of them fizzling out.
I read that some of the album was recorded at night in the haunted lodge! How did that come about?
The Lodge definitely has a haunted house vibe, haha. We asked John if he wanted to work with us and were psyched when he said yes! He suggested The Lodge and we were very down. He was working a day job, so we would start around 6:00 p.m. and record until 2 or 3 in the morning.
Do you typically write your songs together as a group, or does one person write a main part and everyone fills in the blanks? Tell me what a typical writing session looks like.
I write the guitar, vocals, and lyrics, and then bring them back to the band. There's a lot of voice memos sent over text or in Google Drive folders! Pre-pandemic we would just all sit in a room together and figure out parts, which is how Crocus was written. I tend to have more songs than we need, so we sift through them all and pick the ones we like best, then write parts. Since the pandemic, we've been writing more remotely, which has been interesting. It's pushed us to think about different ways of arranging things, and building more one-at-a-time than all together.
This album touches on heartbreak and internal conflict through lyrics that are incredibly personal and touching. How does it feel to open yourself up like that to the public through your music?
It's definitely interesting reading people's interpretations of the lyrics! A lot of these songs are either old (meaning written a long time ago, in the case of "Sacrificial Lamb" and "Vapor") or about events that happened a long time ago. The first line in "Vices" was originally "Senior year is lonely," but I changed it to "Every year is lonely." I tend to use songwriting as a processing mechanism, and I've realized that it takes me a long time to really process things. The emotions in these songs are real, and the pain and hurt I felt are real, but I find that only once I've had some distance from them am I able to write about them.
Which song is your favorite off Crocus and why?
I think "Becoming a Nun" is a favorite for sure! We got to invite a lot of really cool musicians to play on this record, and that track showcases a couple of them. Kate Wakefield played cello, including that ascending, layered part at the end. I was practically jumping up and down in the control room when she was recording that, it was so cool. And Nina Payiatis plays that amazing violin solo in the outro! Nina has toured with us before, and it was great to have her play on the record. That song is also incredibly fun to play live. I also love "Spitting Image," especially Jo's slide-y bass part and the big chorus of voices.
Do you feel as though you have grown as a band since your previous album?
Yeah, absolutely. I think we're more settled into ourselves — we've grown up, graduated from college, Mic came out as trans and transitioned. We're more comfortable and confident in our musical decisions, and better at communicating with each other.
What's next for The Ophelias?
We're actually already working on something new.... more on that soon :).
Crocus is out now through Joyful Noise Recordings.
Stream the new album below and purchase tickets to their upcoming tour here.