Ophelia Syndrome are a bunch of weirdos who make noise together. They try to blend various keyed instruments, cello, bass, drums, guitar, vocals, and whatever else they can find to hit, pluck, strum or occasionally blow. The result is their own unique blend of “indie” music, a term they are fairly certain has become ambiguous enough to encompass their indistinguishable classical, jazz, folk, roots, funk, soul, r&b, classic and contemporary rock influences. Yeah thats right, they like music, listen to it, and unintentionally steal whatever they can get away with, since by now everything’s been done by someone else anyway… you’ll just have to decide for yourself what they actually sound like because you won’t read it here.
Based out of numerous Southern Ontario basements, garages and attics, the band has actively existed in one iteration or another since the dawn of time it seems. After recording an EP “Shades of Grey” and their debut album “All Things Forgotten” at Catherine North studio, a stunning converted cathedral space, the band decided to return to their natural habitat to try and achieve a truly honest, cathartic, and performance-based vibe for their newest fan-funded release: “North Sea”. Teaming up with their good friends Dan Rodrigues and Kori Pop to produce and record the album in Dan’s basement, the goal was to balance North Sea’s often depressing themes of loss, failure, betrayal, abuse, inadequacy, anger, helplessness, and other forms of general human stupidity by having more fun than you can imagine making music with their friends. Listen and enjoy? That’s all folks!
Josh Kohler: Bass, Hype Guy, Trina Nadeau: cello, back-up dancer, Deanna Wells: keys, vocals, electric recorder, Andrew Barbisan: Drums, Jazz Uke.
I was happy that Deanna found Culture Fancier via Twitter and contacted me to say hello. Read on to find out about their inspirations, unusual things that have happened on tour and more.
1. How long has the band been together and what was the thought process for coming up with the name?
Well, most of our bandmates went to school together. We are all graduates from the Mohawk College Music Program, and so I met Trina, and asked her to play with me in 2002. We are really functioning (for lack of a better word), as a collective. We have had the opportunity to have worked with some seriously incredible people since our inception, and are continuing to do so, presently with The Basement Choir, which joined in 2014.
The band name is a question we get asked a lot. Ophelia Syndrome was a term I first heard in high school (ironically, not in my English class). It was a study on the character of Ophelia from Hamlet, who in some schools of thought, let men dominate her to the point of mindlessness (again, I am paraphrasing the concept). It is an interesting theory, and character critique. Hamlet is a complicated play, as is the character development. I took this to mean something entirely different however. I thought at length about what that means.
Another observation of Ophelia Syndrome is the desire to be liked above thinking for oneself. I thought, if I were to work with men and women alike, equally, then it is a really important thing to remember. It keeps the writing honest. Not to placate, but to honour the process, so to speak. Just to be forthcoming. That can be difficult, let me tell you. I would be lying if I said that every time I finish a song, I don’t panic slightly. These are personal songs, and for our members, personal parts, and performances. Yeah. It’s good to be reminded to be honest.
2. Is Ophelia Syndrome a full-time pursuit or do you all have other occupations outside of the band?
Ha. We are musicians full-time, and that’s how we pay the bills if that’s what you mean? We teach private music lessons, and play weddings, parties, and funerals, (depending on the member of course), and I also manage social media and create website design as well. But, that doesn’t mean it’s not a full-time pursuit. It is. It takes up copious amounts of time. Every single day, whether intentionally or not. I think when you spend your entire life doing something, no matter what that is, art, music, sports, reading, etc., then it’s a semantics game at a certain point. The drive to create is a bitch sometimes. Yes, there is something wrong with me I think most days. You know the old cliche, when you do something you love…
3. Where does the band draw inspiration from?
Okay, it’s so hard not to sound douchey when I answer this question, but honestly, it depends on the day. And on particularly challenging writing days, it depends on the minute. To address the elephant in the room, we all (save for one) went to jazz and classical school together. So whether we like it or not, it’s in the music. You can’t create in a vacuum. It’s there. We own it. But, also, I can speak for myself (and my bandmates here), our first love, for a lot of us, was pop music. Honestly, we are the biggest band of nerds you will ever come across in terms of listening and sharing together musically. Friggin nerds. I’m taking stylistically, which I am sure you can hear in the music too. It’s been expressed to us (which is kinda a joke in the band now), that we are a serious bunch of weirdos, influence wise. The reason I say that, is because when you truly work in a large group of people, are there influences that overlap. Of course. But then, there is much more that doesn’t. Somehow, we meet in the middle, and that’s what you hear on the albums. I am also including the producers, and engineers we have worked with as well.
4. What skills or attributes do you think are most important to being successful in the music industry?
I think that depends on who you are discussing. I like to think that hard work is the defining factor. I mean, talk about rejection if you do it long enough. That’s just how it is. You have to have a thick skin, and work your ass off.
Also, being able to work with people. Whether booking, playing, or behind the scenes, there are a lot of people involved, and so you have to both listen and act appropriately. It’s a job you know? You also have to be able to listen honestly. I mean, you’re probably not the best. Not always. That’s hard to hear. We’re not! Maybe you are, and good for you. I have seen that too to be honest. Just not us! We welcome someone coming in, who we trust, I might add, and laying out the good stuff, in terms of critiques. That’s what made us (hopefully) better. I wish I had more answers here. Maybe if we were more successful? Ha! That’s all I got. Hard work and effort.
5. What have been some career highs for Ophelia Syndrome?
Well, we’ve headlined a few small festivals, and that was really incredible to be a part of. Also, last April, Trina and I were part of The Light Series presented by Feminine Harbor: https://feminineharbor.com, which we were truly honoured to be a part of. But I think for all of us, being able to fan fund 2 albums, 2 itty bitty tours to Europe, and some tours here too, and 6 music videos would be up there in terms of highs. That meant a lot to us. Releasing our first EP was a wonderful experience as well, back in 2009. We met some special people that go around.
6. Do you ever get discouraged working in the music industry?
Not anymore. I think it’s about defining parameters. I mean, speaking personally, this is just what I do, and whether I was gigging publicly or not, it’s what I do. I started writing songs (that I can remember, with words and melodies), when I was 8. Not good songs, might I add. But, I have never done anything else. Technically, I am a musician by trade, and it’s been good to me. It’s how I earn my living, so no, I don’t get discouraged.
But I do understand what you mean. In the age of paid likes, fake hype, autotune, paid play, and over saturation, it can get ugly I guess for some. I truly understand the frustration. I also, am truly (along with my bandmates) a serious music fan. It’s actually what gets me up in the morning (we’re talking literally here). And so, I owe so much to all the artists who continue to fight through all malaise. I think integrity, and hard work shine through. Every single day when I listen, I am reminded that there is a lot of good in the music industry too. I just redefine my terms and redefine what success means to me.
7. What is your dream gig?
Oh dear. Every time we play to a packed room, with people listening, it’s a dream. When we have people singing along, it’s even better! It doesn’t happen every time, but when it does, Hallelujah! Playing really cool art events, in cool spaces, is always a highlight. To be honest, we’re pretty picky here. We don’t play a space unless we’re excited about it, and we’ve done our research beforehand. We’ve played several lack lustre shows, and so history has taught us to be more careful. Also, having good sound. Sound people are key. Those gigs are the best. It’s hard to find people who care about putting on a great show start to finish, but when you do, it makes it worthwhile.
8. What's the most unusual thing that's happened to you on tour?
Well, there really are several. Pretty much, every time you leave your house/place you are inhabiting for the night into the big bad world, you’re asking for it. Especially in new, and unfamiliar places.
I would have to say, to pick one for the interview, getting led out of the streets of Amsterdam, in a rented car, by a Police horse, alone, is up there. Yeah. Also, in Appeldoorn, one of our fans got peed on by a monkey, that wasn’t supposed to be there. That was up there too. It’s all pretty strange. Strange, and beautiful. Don’t get me wrong, we wouldn’t be doing it if it wasn’t wildly entertaining. It really is a lot of fun being in a band. If it wasn’t, why do it?
9. Do you have any advice for aspiring musicians?
You really have to work, and gig. The Internet is a wonderful tool, but the best thing you can do, is keep your head to the ground and work your ass off (I’m saying it again, sorry). If something seems too good to be true, it probably is. You have time. There are no limits when you are doing something that comes from yourself, and let me tell you, it’s a train that doesn’t stop. I have never once thought I am quitting singing, or playing the piano, or writing. Might I stop publicly? Sure maybe, although I started gigging when I was 15 and haven’t stopped since, so I doubt it. Work. It isn’t easy. It isn’t always fair. You aren’t always the best. You make mistakes. Learn from them. Be kind. Find friends, and for God’s sake, PRACTICE!
10. What's next for you?
Currently, I have lost my mind, and am recording an EP on my own, in my basement. We are just demoing, but horns are also involved, and The Basement Choir. I question my sanity every day at the moment. You have to push yourself out of your comfort zone (or at least that’s what I’m telling myself to get through this malarkey). We have also been consistently playing Southern Ontario, and have several gigs lined up into the spring.
Listen to Ophelia Syndrome here
Interview by Glodeane Brown
All photos provided by Ophelia Syndrome
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