Stephen Zefpha Pence hits the reset button to make new record 'Great Lakes Tidal Wave'
She Bears' third full-length, Great Lakes Tidal Wave, follows 2014's We Will Be Fossils, a record that never came easy. The writing and recording process was full of false starts and hiccups. It took so long to make that, by the time Fossils came out, singer/guitarist Stephen Zefpha Pence said he'd lost all perspective on the music.
“You spend so much time looking at something under the microscope, you know all of its flaws,” he said. “It got to the point where I was second-guessing everything. We were really frustrated. … When we started working on [new] songs, it wasn't, ‘Let's make a record.' It was, ‘Let's get away from those songs.'”
By letting the creative process flow without self-imposed deadlines and other constrictions, Zefpha Pence said Great Lakes Tidal Wave seemed to form itself. “Because we weren't forcing it in any direction, it started to take on this odd, disjointed feeling that felt like a dream,” he said.
Leadoff track “Ruby Haas, Mount and the Mirror” sets the dream-like tone from the get-go. Over galloping guitars and locomotive-like drums, Zefpha Pence sings about the last time he saw his great-grandmother, Ruby Haas. “It was her 100th birthday, and we had this family reunion. It was during this huge wildfire in Colorado,” he said. “We were in Fort Collins at a hotel, and you could see the fire coming over the mountain. I was standing outside the evening before we left, and it was thick with smoke. This idea came to me: What if this was all something she'd written? What if this is my reality? What if I was just written?”
Other songs were inspired by actual dreams. “Great Wave” recalls a time Zefpha Pence dreamt that a Lake Michigan tidal wave crashed ashore, sweeping away all of Chicago. “It's this idea of a reset button,” he said.
Zefpha Pence hit the reset button himself when, after growing up in Garden Ridge, Texas, he left to attend Ohio University. “For a long-haired kid who didn't want to dress normal, I just didn't fit in being in the Texas hill country,” he said.
He formed She Bears in Athens in 2008, and while the lineup stretched to include seven musicians at one point, the Columbus version of She Bears has operated as a four-piece for the past few years, with Zefpha Pence on vocals and guitar; Alex Douglas on guitar, keyboard and glockenspiel; Ryan Franz on bass, and Alex Eiler on drums and vocals. The indie-rock foursome will celebrate the release of Great Lakes Tidal Wave with a show at Rumba Cafe on Saturday, July 22.
On the new record's cover illustration, pieces of fruit rain down behind a mountain, simultaneously evoking that smoke-filled time in Colorado with Ruby Haas and a line from “Great Wave.” “I've been thinking of your old fruit and how it used to taste/I've been thinking of this whole mess and how it seems to fade,” Zefpha Pence sings. But after mourning the temporal nature of existence, he turns disaster into renewal: “There's a great wave a comin', it's gonna make us right/We'll all get clean tonight.”