An Interview with Spencer Peppet
We shared Happy Hour drinks with Spencer Peppet at Eastwood in the Lower East Side and spoke about her new album with The Ophelias and the beauty of collaborating with the ones you love.
Canvas & Cassette: We just saw that The Ophelias are releasing an album! That’s awesome.
Spencer Peppet: Thank you! We’re debuting the album with Joyful Noise on July 13th. We were introduced to Joyful Noise through the “White Label Project”—where members of their roster play bands that’re considered underheard, and then those chosen bands get copies of their work pressed on vinyl as well as some press around their music. Yoni Wolf, from the band Why?, chose our album for his White Label series pick, and then we spoke to the label about our demos! Yoni ended up producing this album—which I’m very excited about because he was one of my favorite musicians in high school. The fact that we got to work with him is amazing.
C&C: How and when did The Ophelias come together?
SP: The summer before senior year of high school, so 2014.
C&C: Wow, coming full circle now.
SP: Oh, that’s weird. During that time, I was in a collective—for lack of a better word—for a non-profit young actors studio back in Cincinnati. I put benefit shows together once a year so that we could get the rights to shows. My first band that I made was when I was sixteen and played ukulele...it was a phase (laughs). Eventually, I wanted to play in the show that I was setting up, but I didn’t want
to play by myself nor did I want to play with any of the guys in that scene, so I asked the girls—who I later formed The Ophelias with—if they wanted to play a couple of songs with me. We ended up writing all of our songs on our album during that first practice together. I don’t know how it happened. It was almost like a gut feeling or some kind of intuition matching up. Our reference points are not the same as we come from different musical backgrounds. Our process is, “I’m going to play my thing and then you’re going to come in with your own background and play this thing that I’ll never think of.” It was an amazing experience. After that practice, I asked them if we could keep playing together. I’m so lucky to work with these girls; I think the world of them, they’re all stars. It also helps that they’re my best friends.
C&C: We didn’t realize that the songs were written a few years ago.
SP: The oldest one dates back to the year I graduated high school, May 2015, and then “Fog” and “Night Signs” were both written at 2 A.M. the night before I left for college. The newest songs are from sophomore year of college. “Moon Like Sour Candy,” the title track of my EP, was re-recorded and on the album as well. Everything is finally coming out and we’re going to go on tour across the Midwest, Southwest and West Coast this summer.
C&C: You have your EP, Moon Like Sour Candy, under your name and you write the lyrics to The Ophelias’ songs as well. Has the differences in location been the reason for why some things are under Spencer Peppet while others are under The Ophelias?
SP: Pretty much. Last summer, I was living in the East Village and missed my band and hadn’t written for a while. My dad had given me his old interface, which is this huge block that’s very temperamental. You have to set it on a level space and it needs to be a specific distance from the computer or else it’ll shut off in between takes. I locked myself in my room one day and was like, “okay, what can I do here?” Those were the songs that ended up turning into my EP and were the first that I’d recorded and mixed on my own. Normally, with The Ophelias stuff, one of our friends will record it so this was my first, “bedroom recording.” I consider the songs on my EP to be rejected Ophelias songs that I still wanted to do. Whenever I wrote a
song, I was like, “this is an Ophelias song and this isn’t.” Though, I’m not sure what the distinction is anymore now that “Moon Like Sour Candy” is both.
C&C: What’s your songwriting process like?
SP: The way I tend to describe it—the term I’ve used is “unconscious songwriting” which is pretentious (laughs).
C&C: That makes sense, though. You have to describe it somehow!
SP: Normally, I don’t think about it. It just comes out. Either on paper my phone notes or computer, and then suddenly there’s a page of writing and I’m like, “where did that come from?” Sometimes I’ll write something and just go to bed and then wake up the next morning and read it while thinking, “oh, that’s how I was feeling.” Other times, I’ll create a song like “Sister Wives” which is a story that I created out of a collection of images that I liked. Songwriting’s that weird ephemeral thing. My guess is no one really knows how it happens. It just does and you say thank you and keep hoping it continues.
C&C: You’ve worked with Pom Pom Squad. Can you tell us more about that collaboration?
SP: Mia’s my best friend, I Iove her. I’m not in Pom Pom Squad, that’s very much her project, but I’ve been lucky enough to play some shows with her. We had a duo project called Honey Lamb—we had one show, it was short-lived but we’re trying to bring it back. I might play bass for her in the fall which will be fun. I think she’s the future of punk music. It’s a bold claim but she has the music to back it up with.
C&C: Do you feel like New York fosters music collaborations?
SP: New York’s interesting because everyone has a project, and sometimes collaborations work and sometimes they don’t. Everyone is encouraged to be a musician and do things here which is awesome. There are so many venues to play at.
C&C: What’re the New York venues that you have a soft spot for?
SP: There are a bunch of really cool venues, but the first Ophelias show we did in New York was at Mercury Lounge and the first show that I played by myself was at Sunnyvale, so those two are important to me. I love going to see shows in weird places. Once, The Ophelias played in a person’s basement in a suburb. They had a
full stage with lights, a soundboard and a bar. It was nuts. In Ohio, we’ve played shows where we built the stage, created decorations, played our songs and then went and got ice cream after. New York’s such a different beast. There’s unloading and soundcheck and then after that you come back and do the whole thing. Playing here’s cool though because bills are so big. There will be five bands on a bill! I’ve discovered so many amazing bands by seeing a bunch of shows here.
C&C: What was one of your favorite discovering moments?
SP: I work for WNYU and we put on shows throughout the year. My friend, Jonathan, put together a show at Trans-Pecos that the Deli Girls played at. They’re so good. It’s punk and it’s good punk. The lead singer has bright orange hair and is very commanding.
C&C: There are so many different platforms to discover music but that almost makes it difficult in some ways. How do you feel about online discovery?
SP: I just started using Spotify and I love it. Release radar! So cool (laughs). If we’re going to get into it—I think the labor politics behind Spotify is a little wacky. Musicianship isn’t exactly lucrative for most bands, and to have the main platform do something where you get fractions of cents for every play is devaluing artists and their time and effort. I have mixed feelings about it. I was on a Bandcamp binge for a long time and still love it. I think it’s an invaluable resource. My first show at the radio was called Dirty Fingernails and it was a platform to support women artists across all genres. I used Bandcamp to discover a lot of the music that I played on the radio. Using it to find music is cool because they have a curated section where you can search by tag, and then the uploading and accessibility side’s great. It allows people who are not on labels, or don’t get attention from labels, to share their music on a popular platform that has a great reputation.
C&C: Can you tell us more about your music background?
SP: I was an opera singer for eight years and wanted to be a professional up until my junior year of high school. By then I began to hate it; not the art of it but the culture. It’s very competitive. I’m kind of a wuss and not very good at cutthroat competition. It’s emotionally taxing to feel like you’re going up against your friends all of the time. I also have a weird thing with my voice. When I was in seventh grade I purposefully pitched my voice down so the boys would take me seriously and listen to what I had to say, so speaking the way I do while singing in a soprano voice had me feeling confused. I didn’t know what I sounded like and I didn’t know my voice. Voices are very personal. You feel lost if you don’t feel like you have one or that you cannot claim one as your own. That same year I picked up my dad’s guitar and started playing songs. It was a cool revelation to be able to sing the way that my voice sounds—realizing that my voice is “allowed” to sound like this.
C&C: Can you speak more to that journey of picking up the guitar and forming your band without any prior technical training?
SP: High school was weird because I was surrounded by a lot of amazing male guitarists. I have this friend who can pick up anything and master it immediately. He’s unbelievable. Being surrounded by a lot of men who really knew what they were doing was difficult because I was making music that I thought was interesting but it wasn’t technically advanced. I was surrounded by people who could play anything and I was barely able to form a G chord. I feel lucky that I found a band that I could learn from and grow with. It always felt like we were on a level playing field; even Micaela, who’s an amazing drummer, both technically and emotionally, is never condescending the way that some men can be. It’s a great environment.
C&C: I adore the way you speak about your friends. Your love for them resonates in your visual album Moon Like Sour Candy. Do you mind speaking more about the visual album and that process?
SP: I love my friends. I’m a huge softie for them. I feel like I could talk about my friends for eight hundred hours and not run out of things to tell you about them. The visual album was a lot of fun because my partner directed and shot it and we got to do whatever we wanted because we were using a tiny cam recorder and shooting on dv tapes—which was an arduous process but really fun. My friend, Ben, let us use his farm in New Jersey for the “Lydia” video; we had a bunch of my friends dressed up in these crazy costumes as we rolled around in the mud.
My favorite people to collaborate with are my friends because I think so highly of them. Making Moon Like Sour Candy was just an excuse to hang out with all of these beautiful friends and make things together. That’s an Ohio thing—that sense of, “I want to do it with my friends, I want to do it DIY, I want to do it for no money, I want to do it on my own time and I want to do it with you.” I think my friends are the best and I love making new friends because then I think they’re the best, too. It’s also cool when your friends are doing different things than you because you’re like, “how’re you doing that? I cannot even imagine doing that!” That’s the best. So cool. I love it. I love collaboration and I love friendship! (laughs)
C&C: You mentioned you worked with your partner on this project. What was that process like?
SP: I think my partner, Jo, has worked on every video that I’ve done. They worked on “Fog,” “General Electric,” and “Lunar Rover” for this album. We’re currently working on a new one for the fall! They’re a film major so they do all kinds of cool stuff. They’re directing “Hell is Empty,” the feature I’m doing this summer that’s based on the lyrics from the song “Sister Wives” from the EP, and the character I’m playing is named Lydia so it’s going to be crazy. It’ll be two years that we’ve been dating in June. It’s a special thing to make art with someone you love. There’s something grounding and down to earth about it. Jo learned my artistic vernacular so they know what type of images are important to me or that I find interesting. I think the world of them and I think they’re incredibly talented. I’m really excited to keep making stuff with them.
C&C: What’s your personal philosophy when it comes to music and your work?
SP: Listen to female-and non-binary-fronted bands and support the people in the scene who aren’t getting the support that they need or deserve. Working with your friends is the best thing ever but also working with people who are not your friends is enlightening and educational. Being genuine’s cool and I think that’s very important during a time when being genuine isn’t a social currency. And, of
course, DIY or die.
-Autumn Fox and Marissa Passi