Seattle's Ephrata have been purveyors of dreamy, expansive-yet-poppy music scene they formed in 2012. With each new single and EP, they've expanded their sonic palette and even managed to squeeze in some startling visuals and music videos — sometimes things got bloody. The band will self-release their debut self-titled record on Sept. 22. Ahead of the record, they've shared their new single "Odds." It hits the hallmarks of a great Ephrata track — glimmering guitars, serene vocal harmonies, and a melody so infectious that it will be stuck in your head for days.
You can stream the track below. We also caught up with the band and discussed the road that led to the new record, how they've forged their aesthetic, and get some hints at their next music video.
Brady Hall: When Skadi and I first started recording Ephrata material, we intended to have an album to shop around to labels. We did have an album's worth of stuff, but nobody wanted it so we parted it out and used that stuff for singles and parts of EPs and stuff. Since that initial batch of recordings, we always pecked away at new stuff — usually writing and recording one or two things at a time. It finally became glaringly obvious that we needed to stop releasing bits and pieces and put out a proper album because there's only so many singles and EPs you can do before it gets ridiculous. There's no point in waiting around for a long-shot, Cinderella moment when somebody swoops in and offers to finance and release a record for us, so we just did it ourselves. One of the songs on this record was written in 2011 and 2012 and recorded back then ("Pharaoh") and others we're had in our set lists for a couple years ("Tunguska", "1000 Things") but all of the material on this new record was recorded fresh for the release. As with all of our prior material, we recorded it ourselves in my house. I'm a big proponent of the "never stop learning" school of thought, so I'm always figuring out recording and mixing techniques to improve things and I think the stuff on this album really shows a cornerstone in how our material can sound when produced properly.
Jules Jones: We have been consistently generating new songs, videos, and other content, along with keeping ourselves on a steady diet of live performances, since we got together. Every year we had at least one larger scale project, whether it was a music video or trip to SXSW. When Jules got past the point of pregnancy where live performances might be unsafe for her fetus' hearing, it seemed like a good time to buckle down, focus, and finish/record a bunch of our songs en masse. In addition to our regular bi-weekly practices, we added larger chunks of time where we would all get together in Brady's house and lay down different tracks, giving feedback as we went until we were all happy.
Ephrata often gets lumped into the “dream pop” category, but it feels like a pretty broad term to catch just how much contrast you have in the band that can jump from jangly to synth-heavy and foreboding across different tracks. How would you describe the “Ephrata sound”? What direction will the new record be taking?
Hall: It's always tough to categorize a band with a couple words when describing their genre. "Dream pop" certainly doesn't fully describe what we do, nor does "shoegaze", but we settled on those two descriptors as the best way we can think of to do it without needing a whole paragraph. beyond that, how many average people even know what "dream pop" or "shoegaze" even means? I can't count how many people hear me say that and look at me like a puppy hearing a weird noise. It's then when I usually end up muttering "spacey guitars, big four part harmonies, or something..." There's certainly a lot going on with our sound, even more so on this new album as we start branching out a little bit, but we do usually try to keep some semblance of our core sound in any song. That jangly, weird guitar sound I use and some kind of harmonies. I think the harmonies are a big component always. Not a lot of bands focus on that and we all think it's important to keep it a crown jewel of our whole deal. Jules and Skadi were both in a capella groups in college and when they start hashing out stuff it's kind of amazing to behold. You know that meme of the Brazilian woman in jail doing the mental math? It's like that. Then they tell me and Ben, the harmonic morons of the band, what our parts are and we all work it until we have it down. With the new record we wanted to explore some different ideas, so Jules came to us with the western-flavored "Evil Twin" and Skadi cooked up a couple of swirly laments and I wrote "Odds",Breakers" and "Sea Of Straight Faces," which are a Smiths-y tune, a 90's alterna-jam and a 50's sock hop slow dancer respectively.
Jones: An epic wall of sound with tons of harmonies and influences from eras ranging from the '60s to the '90s to the future!
Can you describe a bit about “Odds” and how that song was formed? What made you want to choose this for the first single?
Hall: Whenever I get the idea for a melody or something in my head I record it on my phone. There's a lot of short files of me mumbling or humming tuneless garbage over the years and this one was definitely borne from that process. I came up with the verse melody and then at some point brought it into Pro Tools to flail around with it for a bit. But overall it came together pretty quick. There's not a lot to the song as you can hear, so it didn't take weeks of slaving away over a hot guitar to get it into shape. The lyrics are in the old standard Ephrata wheelhouse: about a conflict between two parties that spirals out of control. Definitely more about "being at odds" than "Never tell me the odds, Luke Skywalker!!!". We did have some discussion about what the first single would be, but ultimately decided on this one since it is short, sweet, catchy and not too much of a departure from our core sound. It's not as harmony drenched or layered with guitars as our other stuff, but still serves as a wonderful intro to our music.
Jones: There's just something really fun about playing and listening to the song. It's got an upbeat vibe and, as with most of our songs, darker undertones and pathos bubbling up around the happy vibe created by the peppy bassline and pretty, rhythmic vocal harmonies. It captures much of the spirit of Ephrata and what makes us unique, so it seemed like a strong way to introduce people to our sound and aesthetic.
Aside from creating dreamy imagery in your music, you have some pretty fantastic music videos as well. You both are filmmakers — does that ever cross over into how you work creatively as a band? Is it harder or easier making a visual piece for your own music?
Hall: I think we have an easier time than most bands when it comes to thinking of supplemental content. Jules and I can usually sit down and figure out a solid video concept in an hour of spitballing. We had a great idea for the "Odds" music video at first that involved bickering bodybuilders, but ended up going for a cheaper and easier concept since time was getting crunched. Personally I am way into making the videos for our stuff because when you hire outside parties to make your videos you never really know what the finished product is going to be or if you're going to hate it. Granted, you still might not be enthused with the music video you make on your own, but at least you know that only you are to blame. But knowing how visual presentation works and all that surely helps a little in terms of how we present as a band. We can crank out really nice looking videos and photos and stuff and that's one less worry for us.
Jones: [We] actually met through film projects many years ago, and the fact that we can collaborate together on creative/visual concepts as well as logistics is super awesome. Maybe the chaotic, collaborative spirit of indie film work has something to do with it, but as a band we are all really open to each others' ideas and suggestions throughout the writing and arrangement process. There isn't a ton of ego. If someone has a good idea, it's a good idea and we will experiment with ways to incorporate it. If it makes the music better, we will run with it.
This probably makes doing our own music videos a bit easier as well. We're not too self-conscious and don't take ourselves too seriously, so if one of us has an idea for a video that we know we can execute with the bandwidth and resources that we have, we will start working it out. The financial constraints are always (for better or worse) a fundamental part of the brainstorming process. For "Belle of the Ball," it started with "We don't have any money. Where can we shoot something for free?" "Hey, my friend has a backyard." "What can we do with a backyard?" "What about an outdoor wedding?" "Let's set something on fire." "How about the bride?"
Sounds like you’ve got another music video in the works. If the blood soaked “Dying” or the fiery “Say A Prayer” videos are any indication, you might have something else exciting up your sleeves. Any hints as to what we can expect?
Hall: With our videos we have a definite band mandate to never make a video of us just standing there lip syncing to the song. That is so boring to watch, especially for smaller bands that don't have that "ooh SUPERSTARS" factor. I think there is this outdated idea of what a music video should be that is a holdover from the days of old when the whole thing was a novelty and you could only see music videos on MTV and they were all these household name bands. Nowadays literally anybody can make a music video and put it on YouTube and make it available to billions of people. But, for some reason, bands and directors are still stuck in this idea that people wanna watch a band standing in a room lip syncing. Whenever I see a regular old lip sync video, I am lucky if I get past the first verse. I want something interesting, something new, something that gets me excited or in awe or at least thinking "Hey that looks neat." So we always strive to make our videos look interesting or be funny or have some kind of "wow factor." They also usually end up having some kind of conflict or violence which isn't because any of us are violent people (we are all gentle, gentle lamps) but conflict and combat look cool on screen and are relatively cheap and easy to do in a compelling way. The video for "Odds" is in that vein too, and has a bit of a message to it too. It explores the fantasy of a woman walking down the street who gets catcalled one too many times and goes into full berserker mode. Let's just say that we got one of the finest stunt-women in town to be the star...
Jones: It's current and topical, replete with a little good-natured violence.
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