“Putting a Little Gloom into It” an Interview with Sheena Ozzella of Lemuria
Citing influences from Fleetwood Mac and Heart to Polvo and the Muffs, Lemuria combines the frenetic and gritty glee of pop punk with contemplative moments and the occasional irregular time signature to make deeply dynamic rock.
I sat down with guitarist/singer Sheena Ozzella at Quack’s Bakery in Austin, Texas to talk about the band’s unique songwriting process, and playing before you ‘don’t know how.’
She Shreds: I’ve noticed that a lot of Lemuria’s music is pretty upbeat but the content can be a little darker. What does this bring to the music?
Sheena Ozzella: Well, musically and lyrically the band can feel very different. A lot of the music that we are influenced by has that vibe going: taking a poppier, happier song and putting a little gloom into it, or the opposite, like, something that sounds really sad can be really beautiful and happy. I would say that it’s a collaboration between me and my bandmate, Alex, who’s also one of the main songwriters; he writes most of the lyrics. I guess it depends on which album you listen to, because there’s a couple where we split it up more evenly, but he’s way faster at writing than I am.
So guitar comes more naturally?
Yeah, guitar is always the first thing that gets put down, I never have lyrics before I have guitar parts. There’s actually a lot of songs I’ll show Alex and be like “Do you want to write lyrics for this? How do you feel about this, what are you thinking about lyric-wise?” We’ve known each other since we were 14 or 15 and I’m 31 now, so we’ve known each other for 16, 17 years, and because of that, I think I can sing his lyrics like they’re my own, like I know where he’s coming from. I feel confident that I can do the lyrics justice. And when I don’t, I say, “I’m not gonna sing this.” There are some very personal songs that he maybe wanted me to sing that I would have never sung. I don’t know, I sometimes forget that they’re not my lyrics, you know? Because I feel like we’re so intertwined with that, with music.
How has your songwriting process changed over the 15 years you’ve known each other?
At first, neither one of us really played our instruments. I had been playing guitar for about three years when Lemuria started. I am self-taught out of boredom in the Buffalo winter, which I’m incredibly thankful for. Alex had said “I have these songs that I wanna play, do you wanna try to play them with me?” And so I said yeah and I started learning them on guitar but honestly, I didn’t even know, like I learned how to play guitar one finger at a time , just whatever sounded good is what I played. I still to this day don’t know most music theory , I just know the very simple basics. We played our first shows in October of 2004 and we played 5 or 6 songs our first show. It was probably terrible. Alex hadn’t been playing drums for long before, so Lemuria started as a band that we could both learn on. I think that really helps people, that kind of vulnerability when playing music, and not being intimidated.
Do you find that that the dynamic of constant travel finds its way into your songwriting?
For sure, yeah. Before I started dating my fiancé I definitely wrote more about long distance, you know, the sadder parts of being in a long-distance relationship and being away. Now I think for Chris, my fiancé and I, we’ve kind of worked it out where we truly understand each other and accept what it’s like to be gone so much, and we have our ways of dealing with it and I don’t really write songs about it anymore.
What do you write songs about now?
Trying to be a good person, I guess [laughs] Yeah I mean I think, if you’re gonna spend so much of your time singing about something it should probably be something that motivates you to figure your shit out.