Oh, so you thought this label only released burly, noisy, weird aggressive music or something? Yeah, we did a Lemuria 7” too. I mean, they were such nice people.
Something about a friend of a friend, or something like that, had been telling me I ought to go see this band Lemuria from Buffalo because they were quite special. They had been playing all over the place, and already had a few records out, and at some point they finally landed in Syracuse, and played someone’s basement. So I checked it out. To say I was immediately taken by their music may have been an understatement. They kind of got lumped in to a pop-punk sort of thing, which I thought was certainly not accurate. Between the atypical song structures, drumming that chose some very interesting rhythms, lyrical content that got awkward (and definitely went beyond the standard ‘you broke my heart, boo-hoo’ woe-is-me-isms), and guitarist/vocalist Sheena Ozzella’s exceptionally heartwarming and upbeat voice they were definitely doing their own thing.
Pretty soon they got to be regulars around town and beyond. Many house shows were played, my band at the time played a handful of shows with them, and their growth as a group felt very natural and organic. It helped that they were a non-stop touring unit, booking it all themselves, often releasing their own records, and just going for it. Nothing against their music, which was wonderful, but I really think that a lot of their success came from just how kind, friendly, and genuine they have always been as people. It really goes a long way. There’s just something about the music of Lemuria, and the people who create it, that gives you the warm-fuzzies. They make you feel like things are good, even if they’re singing somber tunes. I’ve never left any of their shows (of the probably dozens of times I’ve seen them) not feeling like my best self. They truly can bring out the best in people as far as I’m concerned.
So it was at some juncture around the time their first proper full length, “Get Better” came out that I approached them about doing a 7”. By this time we were all friends and I thought it would be a really fun idea. However, I wasn’t sure what they would think about doing a record with a label known for releasing a lot of really heavy stuff. But it’s that local connection- I had lived in Buffalo for a couple years and visited often. Sheena worked at the best damn diner in all of Western NY (Amy’s Place for those looking for a place to go should you end up in Buffalo) and drummer/vocalist Alex Kerns lived upstairs from it, and I would see them regularly. Lemuria played all over NY state and myself and friends often went to see them if they were playing anywhere within a two hour radius. And, as if the point needed to be driven home, they played Syracuse all the time. They were surprisingly into the idea of doing a record and so, several months later, we started getting ideas together for what became the “Ozzy” 7”.
Maybe I’m just being biased, but of all the various records Lemuria has released (and they have a pretty thick catalog) I think “Ozzy” stands out as one of their best recordings. That song, in and of itself, stuck around in their set list for years and is one of the most heartfelt songs they ever wrote. That record also had a great B-side, “Expert Herder”, as well as a third song that was a download-only track that came with the record (“Race the Germ”).
Since that time Lemuria have released several more records, done a heck of a lot of touring, and have gone through a number of changes. Right after “Ozzy” came out bassist Jay Draper exited the band, and was replaced for awhile with Canadian nice guy Kyle Patton before he stepped aside to make way for current bassist (and also incredibly nice guy) Max Gregor. They also added a fourth member in long time contributor Tony Flaminio, who has done some manner of back-ups on various instruments on pretty much all their records, but now he’s officially in the group. The band is spread out all over the US these days with Max down in Austin, Alex out in Las Vegas, and Sheena in Washington DC. So while it’s a lot tougher for all of them to get together I did manage to catch up with my old pal, and professional dog-mom, Sheena Ozzella about that specific record and stuff happening around that time.
During the time that the “Ozzy” 7” came out what was up with the band?
Oh my god Hex, what was that? 2010?
I think it was 2009?
I remember recording at Watchmen (Studios). I remember the song “Ozzy”. I had to look up what the other song was because we have so many fucking seven inches.
It was “Expert Herder”. I had to look it up too.
(laughs) That’s very funny. I couldn’t remember. So yeah, we were up at Watchmen, a Buffalo studio that everyone has gone to. Doug White runs it. He’s been a local gem forever. He likes to do super-polished, clean recordings. But he mostly does metal stuff. Every time we went to him- there’s a lot of his recordings that we really liked- he seemed to lock in the Lemuria sound pretty early on.
But we were also just trying to tour as much as we could at that time as well. I remember when we released that seven inch, though, I had written “Ozzy” and the lyrics for “Expert Herder”. But “Ozzy” is one of my favorite songs we ever recorded.
That was a song about your dad, right?
Yeah, I wrote it for my dad. My dad is still doing well. My dad adopted me when I was about 6 months old. Him and my mom started dating when they were 17 and I was 6 months old. And by the time they were 21 they got married, and they had three kids already, which is insane. It’s crazy. And then my dad legally adopted me shortly after he and my mom got married. I know it was a different time back then, and people did things a lot earlier. Plus, to adopt a kid that wasn’t even his! And he was starting a family and all that bullshit. It really showed me how great and wonderful a person he is. So I really just wanted to write a song for him.
I know a lot of people lose touch with their parents, I know some people who are very fortunate to have cool parents, and my parents are great people. So writing a song for them is the least I could do to show that I’m thankful for them.
And my dad is a really simple, pretty normal, small-town man. He has a mechanic shop, he does everything himself. He’s a very stereotypical man. But in that simplicity there was no pressure to write anything prolific. You know with some people you want to write a love song that’s never been written before. For my dad it was more of… he’s just a simple guy, he loves whatever I do, and is always very supportive, and it was refreshing to be able to write a song about him that came very easy. There was no pressure, or anything, I just wanted to show him that I loved him.
It’s not really punk to write a song about liking your parents.
(laughs) I know! I’m so not cool! It’s not very punk. But, to be fair, I have years of being punk and my dad and I hated each other for about three years. I cut all my hair off and he was so mad at me. But then I realized he’s actually a pretty good guy. He deserved the song.
That’s the make-up song. The ‘I’m sorry for writing angry songs when I was a teenager’ one.
Right! It’s the ‘I’m sorry for having been a fucking turd for a long time, and I love you’ song.
(laughs) And also at that point everyone in the band was still in Buffalo, right?
Yeah. I think Jay Draper played on that too, so, yes, we were all in Buffalo. We were all practicing a couple times a week, we were doing a lot of shows, playing a lot of weekends, we were pretty busy.
At some prom formal thing around 2009 (l to r): me, Lemuria roadie Curtis Guy, drummer Alex Kerns, our friend Dan, bassist Kyle Patton, and guitarist Sheena Ozzella
So not long after that you made the transition to having Kyle Patton play bass, who didn’t stick around too long. How did he come into the picture?
I think we met through shows. Lemuria played Canada a couple times, since the border is right there. So I think it was natural. We knew who he was, and he liked the band. And honestly, when he did join the band Alex and I had the idea that whoever was playing bass, or not, we were going to do Lemuria anyway. We were the main songwriters and we still very much wanted to play music with one another. So when Kyle joined the band we set it up where it wasn’t necessary for him to write with us, we just needed someone to play the songs with us. Even the record that Kyle did play on Alex and I would write the parts. We were also a little afraid to let someone in permanently. Playing with Kyle was really great though, and we were really grateful that he wanted to play with us. It allowed us to tour and do a lot of stuff that we wouldn’t be able to do otherwise. But we were really stubborn about letting someone join the band after Jay left. Eventually we eased up. It sounds stupid, but we opened our relationship to Kyle, and that then allowed Max to end up playing with us. Max had roadied for us on a tour Kyle played on, which is how he came in.
I think Alex and I would both say that Max ended up becoming something, obviously-
Yeah, for sure. Max is definitely the third member. He has his own voice.
Yes. For sure. We all love him. Max is very much part of Lemuria and whatever we do after this break we’re on. I don’t think any of us are really sure what’s going on, we just need a break. But I recently went out to Las Vegas and hung out with Alex for a whole week. Max is busy taking care of stuff on his own in Austin. But there’s no weird drama. The break definitely feels more like a break than a break-up.
So around that time of the 7” how was the writing being handled? How was it being decided about who would be doing vocals, since you and Alex both were writing parts and lyrics.
For that 7” specifically, I brought in “Ozzy” as it was with the music and lyrics and vocals. We then brought in bass and drums. For “Expert Herder” the riff was a part I brought in on guitar, and then we played it with drums and bass. But typically with Lemuria we don’t write vocals, or lyrics, until after the music is completed, and that’s for pretty much all our stuff. There are some songs where Alex has written vocals, guitar parts, and bass altogether. He’s one of those annoying people that knows how to play and do everything. But for that 7” specifically, it worked in the way that we had the music before we put the vocals down, and then basically if there’s a song that I wanted to write lyrics to- “Ozzy” was the song I wanted to write lyrics to- we would sit down together and arrange how that would go. “Expert Herder” we did together to figure out how the melody would go and how the lyrics would fit the melody.
How did Ben Sears get roped into doing the artwork?
We met him on tour. And we know he was a person who did art, and we had seen some of the art he had done, and we just asked him to do this. I think it was real simple. We just asked him if he had any art that we could use for this seven inch we were doing, and then we picked that image out of some random stuff he had.
His art has changed drastically since then.
Yeah! And he has done a lot of stuff for Lemuria over the years and it’s quite a bit different than a lot of the other stuff we have released over the years, but it’s very cool and it worked. I like how it was screenprinted (ed.- only the first pressing), and it’s striking, and very aesthetically pleasing.
So at what point was everyone starting to move to different places? It seemed to kind of start with Kyle, since he was in Canada, but when Max entered he was in Pittsburgh, right?
Kyle ended up having some border problems, so that kind of put an end to that. Max was a friend who had been on tour with us as a roadie while Kyle was in the band. It was pretty natural. We knew he played bass. He was in Pittsburgh, and pretty desperate to leave, but with the idea that he would still have a place to live when he got back because it’s cheap there. He ended up moving to Buffalo pretty soon after that though because we were touring a lot, and the band was the main priority at that time. But pretty soon after that, maybe after a year or two, he moved back to Austin. And then I lived in New York for awhile, and then I moved back, and now I live in DC. But Alex is the only one who consistently lived in Buffalo for the majority of the time. Now he lives in Vegas, but he was in Buffalo for a long time.
Did it make it where you couldn’t do weekends anymore, just tours? Or did it feel as if it wasn’t too affected?
We have to do super-concentrated stuff. So when we recorded “The Distance Is So Big” and “Recreational Hate” we would spend weeks together, typically in DC because they could work from home. They were typically a little more flexible with their work life. But we would spend weeks in a garage, or a pie shop. We spent a long time in Austin just renting space.
We couldn’t really do weekends anymore, unless it was a special occasion, like if we were playing a festival or something. That would pay for us to all get to the same place. So touring was really the only way we could do it. So that’s how we did it. There were a few shows where we didn’t have a chance to practice together beforehand and it showed! (laughs)
But yeah, we had to hammer down when we have plans to do stuff and we just lock ourselves in our room for 8 to 10 hours and that’s all we do. And that’s how it happens.
I don’t think it’s my preferred way to do it, personally, but I think Max and Alex love it. They can spend all day in a dark room with no windows just looking at each other. Some people really like it, but other people need a break every couple hours.
What’s been the best thing about the band and what’s been the worst?
The favorite things have been the crazy-ass places we have been. I can’t believe some of the places we have been! International touring, and the ability to do that is such a privilege. It’s something any of us take for granted. We travel really well together and I think we all really appreciate that outlet, and being able to do it for so many years.
The worst part being in Lemuria? I guess the amount of time you have to be away sometimes. It’s kind of a double-edged sword. When you start getting older I feel like it’s hard… I don’t know. We started Lemuria when we were all in our early 20’s and we said ‘fuck it’ all the time and we would really just play anywhere, any time, and that was fun and awesome. But 15 years later you start to get really cranky after 6 weeks on the road.
Yeah, I can imagine so.
But it’s hard because it’s a privilege to go on tour, so I want to tread lightly on complaining about not getting good sleep for a little while. But it gets hard and then you take a break.
So, in the last few years I have released the rights to "Ozzy" back to the band because, to be completely honest, I just didn't feel like repressing it anymore. So it has never been up on my bandcamp page, nor will you find any digital platforms hosting it under my banner, and the physical version is way out of print. So they own it and can do whatever they want with it. However, for this week only, it's up on the bandcamp page and it will be a fundraiser where 100% of the sales will go to Planned Parenthood because it's a good cause. So you can get the 7", plus the bonus track and put some money towards a good thing all at once. DO IT. We are all better for having a little Lemuria in our life.