On “Oahu, Hawaii,” one of the highlights from Lemuria’s splendid third LP, guitarist Sheena Ozzella and drummer Alex Kerns repeatedly, harmoniously confer, “The distance is so big.” The phrase serves as the album’s title and guiding principle, a hopeful lament about the social strains of life on the road.
“It seemed to apply to a lot of things about the band,” Kerns said by phone last week.“Right now I live in Buffalo, New York, Sheena lives in Washington, DC. and (bassist) Max (Gregor) lives in Austin, Texas. And then on top of that, we’re all constantly in long distance relationships.
Kerns and Ozzella, along with a series of bassists, have been touring the country’s punk houses, dive bars and concert halls since 2004, making lots of friends along the way but always leaving them behind when the next adventure beckons.
Those journeys included many stops in Columbus to play long-gone house show locales like Screamer House and Monster House. They’ve also played Carabar, where they’ll turnalongsidelocals (and hard-touring DIY brothers in arms) Delay and Tin Armor this Wednesday.
“Those guys have been our friends since 2004 when we first put out our demo. They’ve become really, really great friends. But yeah, I haven’t seen them in two years,” Kerns said regarding the Columbus bands. “It also goes the same for all my friends back in Buffalo. I’ll come back and find out that them and their girlfriend broke up or something. It’s like, ‘Oh, I didn’t know.’”
Lemuria has logged thousands of miles over the years, but The Distance Is So Big could just as easily apply to the ground they’ve covered toward perfecting their melodic blend of pop-punk and indie rock.is the pinnacle so far:“Oahu, Hawaii” glides along as if Belle and Sebastian decided to write a Pixies song; “Chihuly” envisions shattering glass sculptures with irrepressible sing-song bounce to match The New Pornographers; “Brilliant Dancer” taps that same vein in even more acrobatic fashion.
The maturation from punk neophytes to road-tested rockers is one Lemuria’s Ohio buddies can relate to.
“I’m just stoked to see Tin Armor and Delay continuing on and not worrying about what they sounded like 10 years ago,” Kerns said. “When our first demo CD-R came out, I had been playing drums for a year, maybe, and Sheena had been playing guitar for a year. The music was so naïve, I thought. I still enjoy it, but we probably won’t ever be writing too much music like that again.”
One more treacherous gulf Lemuria continues to bridge is the one between the network of genuinely underground house shows it continues to navigate and the music industry machine that has embraced the band lately. Last March, played a high-profile SXSW showcase; in June, NPR premiered The Distance Is So Big on its online series “First Listen.”Like fellow media darlings Screaming Females, Kerns and company have their feet planted in wildly different worlds, but it doesn’t appear to faze them.
“It’s always been a really big mix,” Kerns said. “We kind of enjoy playing everywhere. There’s certain cities where we can’t play house shows because the draw’s too big now. We’ve done a handful of support tours where we’re playing to like 1,000 people. Doing those kinds of tours helped us get comfortable with playing bigger venues and stuff like that.”
Keeping up that kind of growth is exhausting, especially while continuing to hold down day jobs back home. But Lemuria keeps moving onward and upward, geographical cultural boundaries be damned.
“If living in different time zones hasn’t made us break up,” Kerns said,I don’t know what would.”