A unique musical project, with roots in both Sheffield and the east coast of the US, Ophelia was born out of a collaboration between local lad Samuel Taylor and Virginia-born actress/songwriter Rebecca Van Cleave. Bringing together influences and experiences from their respective homes, the duo have moulded a British-Americana sound penned largely on US highways but honed back in the Steel City.
With a debut EP recently released and a new single not far around the corner, Exposed invited the duo along to partake in our next Exposed In Session feature and settled down with a pint beforehand to discuss their story thus far.
Why not start off by talking a bit about your musical backgrounds?
Becca: My dad was singer-songwriter so I grew up doing things like musical theatre and would always be singing around the house – in the shower mainly! It’s only been recently where I’ve taken it outside the shower and sang in front of actual people. I released my first EP in 2015, which I made with Sam, and it was produced by Ed Cosens from Reverend and the Makers.
Sam: I’ve been in bands for years, the main one being a Sheffield band called Dead Like Harry – we even released a record. Since then I’ve played with various different artists and released my own stuff. I’ve been writing and playing music since I was about 17.
When did it first become apparent that there was a creative spark between you both?
Sam: The first song we did pretty much came out of nowhere. We were in the Gulf of Mexico, on the Emerald Coast, and I was just playing the guitar when Becca started singing over it. It just happened really. The song was literally done within half an hour.
And what do you think makes the dynamic work with Ophelia?
Sam: It’s really exciting for me to be writing with Becca. When you first start writing it’s like the rules don’t really exist, but as you get older you start to develop and follow these weird rules around songwriting. It’s nice to have someone around who shows you that they don’t exist.
Becca: Sam is great for interpreting most of the stuff I hear in my head. A lot of times I’ll be walking down the street when something pops into my head, so I have to pretend I’m on the phone to someone when really I’m singing into it. Then I go to Sam and just say ‘work this out!’.
With this mix of backgrounds and influences coming together, how would you describe the sound you’ve arrived at?
Becca: I think it’s really difficult. People have described us as sounding like anything from Jeff Buckley to Paul Simon to Feist. One actually said if Nick Cave and Feist had a baby it would be us.
When did you make the decision to focus on this as opposed to your solo stuff?
Becca: It’s a lot more fun to have to someone to do it with, to celebrate the highs and bitch about the lows.
Sam: We both have songs which we see as our solo stuff but we’ve had such a great time writing this record together and we’ve already written another one; it’s just great fun so we’ve got stuck at it. We headed to America late last year just working out who we were. We took our time and spent a year making it happen naturally instead of rushing it.
Becca: We love doing it all together, writing songs together, traveling to amazing countries together to play. We really enjoy it.
The Ophelia EP has a nice mixture of sounds and styles across it. Do you think that’s due to the transatlantic influences of the band, the writing in the US and recording in the UK?
Sam: Yeah, lot of people have said that to us but the truth is we only realised it when people told us. You can definitely tell that the songs have been written by two different people. It was recorded in different studios across different countries too so, yeah, it’s bound to have a very varied sound.
Becca: It means that there’ll be something on the record for everyone, so it’s all positive for me! There’s a theme that runs through the upcoming album which pulls it all together, it’s takes you from the beginning of our journey.
So when do we get to hear the LP?
Becca: The album will be out in the autumn, but we’ve got some exciting things before then.
Sam: We’re releasing another single ‘A Little Too Late’ on June 2. It’s one of the ones Becca wrote and I just love the lyrics to it. It’s got Eamon McLoughlin on the fiddle which is a great coup; it was great to get him involved. We recorded the video amongst the Blue Ridge Mountains in Becca’s hometown of Virginia, which was pretty memorable. We’ve got a tour starting on the 15th in London and then heading over to Europe, then we’ll be playing some UK dates, definitely Sheffield, Leeds and maybe London again.
You had your first full band Sheffield show at The Greystones early last month. How was that?
Becca: It was such a lovely evening. We had Ed Cosens playing along with Adam Crofts from The Crookes. It was pretty full and we got two encores from the crowd.
Sam: It went down really well, it was packed and I wasn’t expecting that at all. The record is definitely a band record so it’s nice to perform it like that. It’s just difficult when you travel because it’s very expensive to take a whole band on the road!
Becca: If we had it our way we’d play with a band every time.
Right then, down to the business at hand. Do you know what you’ll be playing for your Exposed In Session?
[Looks and whispers are exchanged] Becca: I think we’ll be doing a version of the new single A Little Too Late.
Sam: It’s an upbeat song but I think we’ll slow it down and almost invert it like Ryan Adams did with Taylor Swift’s ‘1989’.
The band ended up playing a previously released EP track, ‘I Can’t Dream About You Anymore’.
Name one person who needs some Ophelia in their life?
Becca: Like, who do we want to go on tour with? It’s too hard – there are hundreds of names!
I’ll be nice and give you three.
Becca: Bruce Springsteen definitely needs some Ophelia in his life; I think The Boss would actually get on with us. Michael Eavis at Glastonbury too. Who else?
Sam: Chris Evans. Wait, is he still cool? I don’t know, just a cool radio DJ.
So you want to tour with Bruce, play at Glastonbury and get some more radio airtime?
A bit of ambition never hurt anyone.
Exposed In Session
An exclusive YouTube gig from some of the city’s finest musical exports, filmed live every month at The Greystones.
Filmed & directed by: Tristan Ayling www.rentonproductions.co.uk
Recorded & Mixed by: Big Sky Records www.bigskyrecords.co.uk
If you are a band/artist interested in playing a gig at The Greystones, contact email@example.com