- Spencer Daley
After nearly two years, local dream pop artist Ophelia (soundcloud.com/opheliaopheliaophelia) is releasing their debut EP Like a Lover on Saturday Feb. 15, emerging from an incubation period of personal growth and ready to stake a claim in the heart of Salt Lake's arts scene. The 22-year-old artist's dreamy synths are a bed for their avant-garde evangelism—a series of Kate Bush-esque reflections and responses to the world around them. For those who have followed the trickle of their work since 2017, Like a Lover is an assertion of artistic identity, and it serves as a foundation for their upcoming four-person project, The Mercy Seat.
"I feel like my background has a lot of contradictions," Ophelia tells City Weekly, talking through their life story. Ophelia grew up in Fruit Heights, around suburban orchards and Mormon culture—their father from Brooklyn, mother from Wichita, Kan. Culturally, they were torn between Baptist and Presbyterian churches. A rumor once spread in high school that they worshipped Satan. Pulled in different directions, Ophelia eventually found community at Boing! Collective, a now-defunct spot for house shows. "The shows there gave me my first realization that other people exist who are into the same stuff as me," Ophelia says.
In the summer of 2017, they posted a video playing a cover of Leonard Cohen's "Chelsea Hotel No. 2." "My whole life, I never thought I could sing," they say. "I always was super bashful." The positive response upended a walled-off part of themselves—a self-perception as somebody who couldn't sing, who was denied any participation in the music they enjoyed. Before that, Ophelia sought self-expression through acting, but slipping into predefined roles only worked against their desire to trailblaze an identity. Consequently, and with the encouragement of friends, they slowly began to focus more on music as an outlet. "It took me a year to write one song," they say.
Despite the positive response, Ophelia was still fighting against years of having their talent minimized, or being told that their talent was secondary to that of peers—especially that of men. On top of that, they were depressed, and had been for much of their adult life. "[Depression] can be very limiting in terms of how much energy I have, physically and mentally," they say. "Perfectionism and harsh self-criticism are also something I've struggled with most of my life ... That's changing, but it definitely played a huge role in the EP taking me so long to finalize."
In May of 2018, Ophelia released "Like a Lover" to their SoundCloud, which would become the title of the three-track EP. "I wrote poetry prior, but literally had never written a song before that," they say. The song was dreamy and flattering, a synthy bop that showed vocal talent. The almost immediate feedback sharpened their attention; "It kickstarted me into pursuing music seriously," they say.
In 2019, Ophelia released "Sinking Fast," which channeled a melancholic New Order-style sound. "Isolation comforts me/ Misery loves company/ If I stay inside, the world can't hurt me," they sing. The newest track, "Forbidden Fruit," plays with a sad sentimentality of young love. "I often jokingly refer to [my music] as 'danceable depression,' though I do want to continue to expand my frames of reference, and don't plan on confining myself to particular genres or sounds."
Ophelia's resistance to classification is understandable; music is only a piece of their interest. Discussion about their journey to releasing Like a Lover is peppered with tangents about their plans for The Mercy Seat. The group has tall aspirations to invigorate what Ophelia feels is an ideologically disparate and stagnant music and art scene. "It's more than just a band," they say. "It's a conceptual art project. Philosophically and artistically, we are deeply influenced by the early 20th century modernist and avant-garde movements ... particularly Situationist International and existentialism."
The band (including Connor Lockie, Dyana Durfee and Ysa Pitman) plans to release art books and zines, essays and music. They hope to tour, domestically and abroad, and perhaps one day make it to the U.K. Ophelia's ideological fervor for The Mercy Seat is nearly overwhelming; they reference The Society of the Spectacle, extol post-punk and its subgenres, opine about 21st-century society's obsession with appearance over substance. It's genuinely infectious enthusiasm for a collective that, as of now, only just exists.
When asked how they wanted to be perceived—both by themself and by their community, Ophelia says, "It's hard to put this eloquently. I want to be seen as a source of cultural movement and subversion. An artistic force. It's really important to me to make an impact, to forge my own place ... I advocate for individuality and being expressive regardless of societal expectations. I want to be an example of that."
Like a Lover is Ophelia's moment to assert that example. Whether that momentum will carry into The Mercy Seat is still a question, but the passion is plain to see.