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Will Schube is neither ladies man nor landmine.
When Cincinnati-bred The Ophelias self-released their debut LP, Creature Native, plans for a release were vague. Fellow Nasty ‘Nati resident Yoni Wolf (of WHY?) spotted the band playing a set and immediately fell for their homegrown tales of heartbreak, distance, and isolation. Unbeknownst to the band, Wolf submitted Creature Native to WHY?’s label, Joyful Noise, and the indie upstart ended up re-releasing the debut under their White Label series. That same year, principal songwriter Spencer Peppet began jotting out ideas for album number two, while bassist Grace Weir brainstormed with Joyful Noise boss Karl Hoffstetter about the best way to find a new label home.
“I wasn’t sure what our next step should be so I asked Karl for advice because I was friends with him and trusted him. Like two months later I sent him the demos and he texted me and said, ‘I think Yoni should produce it and we can refresh these tunes and breathe new life into them,’” Weir explains over the phone somewhere outside of Boulder, Colorado, surrounded by a car full of Ophelias. The structure and skeleton of the now just released Almost was solidified and sturdy long before Wolf got involved, but the WHY? frontman was tasked with blending his hyper specific style with a distinct sound the Ophelias had concocted on their own. This clash of sorts resulted somewhere in the middle of these two poles, a place in which the band expanded their sound to create an album with more substance and greater clarity than Creature Native, while Wolf toned down his penchant for left-field noises and crystal clear electronic highlights.
“We had a joke that he’d always try to put spaceship sounds on the tracks,” Peppet explains. But the push and pull that the band and Wolf warred over during the mixing process brought out more shared aesthetics than stubborn resistance from either side. “You need multiple perspectives to be able to see your way out of a problem, to see solutions in different ways, and that helps everyone grow by seeing that different people work differently or have different preferences, but you also need some shared aesthetic to be able to build something at all. It’s a balance of the two,” Wolf explains from Ohio, where he’s retreated to after a seemingly endless run of WHY? dates.
All of the lyrics on Almost come from Peppet, and the themes once again circle romance, fleeting feelings, and a sort of elegiac remembrance of things that have passed. On the poppy and methodical “General Electric,” she sings, “I wanna be just like the girls you like/ I want to be what you fantasize,” before a catchy toy piano emphasizes what’s been lost. With the lyrics circling so close to Peppet’s headspace, it’s up to the rest of the band to convey meaning from instrumental arrangements. “I don’t necessarily feel the same things that Spencer’s feeling at any given point in a song, but I can sympathize with them and because I know Spencer I can guess what she’s talking about. That’s the fun part: trying to guess what she’s talking about,” drummer Micaela Adams says. Adds Weir: “I’m not a super lyrically driven person, but I can relate to all of the songs. We’ve been able to all make different worlds for ourselves within each song and our relationships with the arrangements.”
There’s a fascinating play between the clean and the rough on the record, distorted guitars duel with glassy drums and the mesmerizing violin of multi-instrumentalist Andrea Gutmann-Fuentes. “Yoni comes from a lo-fi and acoustic instrumentation but recently he’s gotten really into pop and electronic sounds. Just hi-fi electronic stuff,” Weir says. We’re really into acoustic and natural sounding things. It was going from a metal to a wood. It was finding the middle ground between those two, those were the two extremes,” she adds. Oftentimes, those dueling entities make their way onto the album at the same time with fascinating results. “O Command” features a lush string section bolstering Peppet’s prayer: “O command/ O release/ You’re a saint/ On your knees.” This lush delicateness gives way to a propulsive rhythmic balance, a punchy drum part and growling bass line bolster the track with a bite that plays perfectly into Peppet’s feigned innocence. It’s a startlingly assured track, a metonym for the record itself, a match between brash confidence and morose regret that ends in a draw.
Wolf’s inclusion on this project is somewhat odd, considering he’s often times willfully ignorant of the unending cycle of new music, refusing to play along when journalists ask what new acts he’s digging. So, it’s worth wondering what, exactly attracted him so quickly to this band? “I think I saw a potential in a young band…I saw the things that I wanted to hear within their music,” he explains. “I hope I didn’t ruin the band, but I don’t know.” Thankfully for all parties involved, The Ophelias are far from ruined, even without the inclusion of Yoni Wolf’s patented spaceship sounds.