Lemuria Talks About Getting Your "Heart Torn Out," Hank Williams-Style

Sometimes, we need a little fast-paced pop-punk in our lives -- even if we're going through a tragic, emo breakup.

Buffalo three-piece Lemuria boasts a melodious, sing-along discography (like Dinosaur Jr. and Superchunk before them) fashioned from the sweet soprano of winsome frontwoman Sheena Ozzella, the sharp croon of drummer/vocalist Alex Kerns, and the quavering bass of Max Gregor.

But the band's fundamental themes of heartache and longing (often at the hands of long-distance relationships gone sour) imprint a noisy, unvarnished punk amid sweet indie-pop sentiment. And their versatility has garnered them a gamut of fans. At a Lemuria show, you may witness a crust punk bum-rush the stage arm in arm with a straightedge hardcore kid while chanting unassuming lyrics like "I want my hands in your hair" or "Maybe I should wear lipstick too." Lemuria just has a true crossover appeal.

Fresh off releasing their third album, The Distance Is So Big, Ozzella and Gregor took a break from their summer tour to talk to New Times about their affinity for Florida (the Sunshine State is one of their favorite places to play, guys!), punk teamwork, and their journey with traditional hardcore label Bridge Nine Records.

See also:

Punk Cartoonist Brian Walsby on New Hardcore Bands: "Who Cares Anyways if You Think It Sucks?"

- Candy Hearts' Mariel Loveland on Touring with New Found Glory: "It's a Dream Come True."

Lemuria has a special tie to Florida -- you play Gainseville's punk staple The Fest every year. What do you like about the punk scene in Florida?

Sheena Ozzella: We've made a lot of good friends in Florida. Every time we're there, it's a lot of hanging out. Not as much swimming as I would like, so maybe we can change that on this trip. Tampa is awesome, I really like Tallahassee a bunch, [and] The Fest is awesome. I can't imagine not being there every year.

Max Gregor: Yeah, The Fest is pretty much the one reliable show every year we can look forward to and know that it's going to be, if not the best, one of the top five best shows that we'll play all year. Personally, I have a connection to Florida. I was raised in Cape Coral. So I really enjoy the punk scene in Florida, because I feel like I have a connection to seeing the development of it. I know a lot of people from when I was younger, and to see where they are now [is cool].

I got hooked on you guys after listening to your first album, Get Better. Your music works because the songs are catchy and upbeat, but the themes are often sad. Do you think people would rather listen to happy-sounding music more than a ballad when they're down?

Sheena: When we write, we separate the music from the lyrics before we put them together. If you were thinking about writing a sad song, you wouldn't necessarily think to write a pop-y one first, but I feel like each one of our albums has kind of been a theme for something. Alex writes a lot of the lyrics for the songs, and he can write forever, so I'm sure we will have albums in the future that will have completely different themes than anything that we've written before.

Max: We really all value music that brings together a mixture of happy and sad and funny and serious and kind of compiles all those things in one record. Because no emotion is so straightforward that it's entirely one thing; no life experience just brings one emotion to the table. I like to think of country music, and think of Hank Williams singing about having his heart torn out and being an alcoholic and a lot of really serious themes. But if you ever see pictures of him or see videos of him singing those songs, he has a giant smile on his face.

So would you say whatever you guys are feeling is the driving force for Lemuria's sound?

Sheena: It's three people going through three different things at the same time. And we spend enough time together to make it work. We're all so close, that we can get behind whatever any of us are saying in our lyrics.

Max is a newer addition to the lineup. How did you and Alex handle the loss of your former bass player while recording Pebble?

Sheena: Pebble was an interesting time for the band. [Alex and I] were writing the songs completely, as opposed to writing with the songs with a third member. Some of us were in pretty miserable relationships at the point that Pebble was recorded, so I think lyrically, that can be like dealing with a frustrating relationship, [which] Alex was going through. [But with] The Distance Is So Big, adding Max as a songwriter has made it a lot different. Alex wrote the lyrics for twelve of the thirteen songs; he's been going through the breakup from the frustrating relationship since Pebble, so I think The Distance Is So Big has become a breakup album. But in a very positive and moving forward way.

Did you guys grow up listening to catchy bands?

Sheena:Yeah of course. I listened to screamo and stuff I definitely don't listen to now. But I loved Rancid and I still like Rancid now, Blink-182 -- you know, I'm a child of the nineties.

Max: The Descendants were really huge to me when I was younger. Against Me! was like the first band I ever booked, and it's a band that you can't listen to without singing along to every word.

Lemuria signed with traditional hardcore label Bridge 9 not too long ago. Do you think it has expanded your sound? Was it openly received by fans?

Sheena: I feel like I keep seeing this newer crowd of kids that started coming to our shows, and I do think that is because of B9. But I think more so, it was a chance for them to open up their genre. [Bridge 9] is not a hardcore label so much anymore; I feel like they're trying to branch out and they're trying to just do music that they want to do. It was time for [the owner Chris Wrenn] to start showcasing other bands that he really likes. You'll see now that they're doing a lot more stuff that's indie. Iron Chic is part of the B9 crowd now, Candy Hearts, even Polar Bear Club.

In an interview with Punknews.org, Sheena listed Paramore as a band she'd like to tour with. What do you think touring with a more mainstream girl-fronted band would be like?

Sheena: I mean it's mostly because I want to see Paramore every day. I don't know what it would be like for us. [Paramore] has crazy stage setups. Among professional touring bands, I feel they still are like, weirdos. They're very chill but they have a business. They have to provide an entertaining show for you, and I think they do it in a way that's still refreshing and admirable.

Who influences you?

Sheena: Ever since I started playing guitar, I've definitely been influenced by like Lou Barlow from Sebadoh, or Dinosaur Jr. As far as females musicians are concerned, I like Neko Case, I love Portishead. I love seeing bands that have been bands for years. For vocalists especially, to see how much their voice has warmed up to their body, and how much a voice can really change over the span of time that a band is around. Even like Fleetwood Mac. [Stevie Nicks'] voice is crazy, she's just got a lot of character to her voice.

America is pretty crazy right now -- in good and bad ways. Do you like to imbue a political message in your music?

Max: No, I think that's sort of one of our band rules. We don't really insert politics in a very obvious or cut and dry way into the songs. We leave it separate, and decide to focus on things that maybe we're a little bit more confident in discussing.

Personally, some of us are very involved or at least very aware of what's going on. I live in Texas, so I live in an especially fucked place when it comes to politics. Right now, there's something really amazing going on with SB 5 and what Lindsay Davis just did with filibustering the Senate. Women's rights are really under attack there, and it's a really pivotal moment in the state that I live in. I've been talking about that with the people that come out to the shows, because it's important to be aware.

What does every day life look like for the members of Lemuria?

Max: Pay rent and work. That takes up a lot of time.

Sheena: I did just quit my job to go on tour. I worked at a bakery in D.C. that I really enjoyed working at. But that doesn't mean I still don't love to bake. If you need a cake you can call me.

Lemuria. With Sadie Hawkins, Antics, and Rale D'Agonie. Sunday, July 14. Talent Farm, 20911 Johnson St., Pembroke Pines. Doors open at 7 p.m.; show starts at 7:30, and admission is $10 at the door. Call 954-438-3488, or visit thetalentfarm.com

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