She Bears uncovers a new path while making 'You Should Get Lost'

Before the local band's album release show at Rumba Cafe on Saturday, frontman Stephen Zefpha Pence discusses the process of documenting a big life transition through songs about a parallel universe

Joel Oliphint
Columbus Alive
She Bears

When singer/guitarist Stephen Zefpha Pence began writing the songs for You Should Get Lost, the fourth album from local indie-rock act She Bears, his life was in transition. Zefpha Pence had recently quit working a longtime gig at a Franklinton bar, and after about five years living in the SoHud/Old North area, he moved north to Clintonville. 

Reflecting on the changes, Zefpha Pence wanted to capture how he felt during that time. “You look back on so many experiences, and you're like, ‘I didn't take enough pictures.’ Or, ‘I should have written this down so I remembered it better,’” said Zefpha Pence, who began filtering his reflections into a new batch of songs that serve as both a time capsule and a goodbye. “I didn't necessarily want to write about people that I knew and specific experiences, but I felt like there were energies and types of people that I wanted to capture.” 

Zefpha Pence created a cast of based-on-a-true-story characters to populate the songs: Casey, Mercy, the Architect of Calamity, Terror, The Tourist. “They're all different people, different puzzles in this patchwork,” he said. “It’s sort of a parallel universe to what I was living.” 

In “We Exist,” a rocker with big guitars and breakneck drums, Zefpha Pence describes workers being chewed up and spit out. “Never mind our bodies breaking/No one needs to know/There’s a sour smell coming up from the sewer,” he sings, later directing his ire at the Architect of Calamity: “I don’t want to waste another date in the factory.” 

“That really was a lot of what I saw in the service industry,” Zefpha Pence said, describing long hours stretched over nights and weekends with few days off per month, in contrast to his current, healthier 9-to-5 job. “It’s maybe not the cool or exciting thing I envisioned myself doing, but it also allowed me to be at peace more often. I feel good. I take walks with my dog and I have a yoga practice. I read books, man!”

More:Locals: She Bears at Rumba Cafe

In March of 2019, Zefpha Pence and his She Bears bandmates — Alex Douglas (guitar, keys, vocals), Ryan Franz (bass) and Alex Eiler (drums, vocals) — rented a cabin in Hocking Hills, where Douglas recorded the new songs and managed to capture a great-sounding rock record despite less-than-ideal conditions. “You see pictures of big bands recording in these huge cabins, but this was a little cabin with not a lot of space. It was more for the experience of being together than it was the ideal sonic environment,” Zefpha Pence said. “But Alex is super talented.” 

Rather than rush the album, which follows the band’s 2017 record, Great Lakes Tidal Wave, She Bears slowly chipped away at the songs after the weekend at the cabin. “By the beginning of 2020, we were feeling like we had it together,” Zefpha Pence said. “And then our name was on the Spacebar marquee for six months.”

Once the pandemic put any plans for an album release show on hold indefinitely, She Bears opted to release some singles in 2021 and the first few months of 2022. After the band members got vaccinated, they found a new practice space and began rehearsing the songs, and on Saturday, May 7, at Rumba Café, She Bears will finally celebrate the release of You Should Get Lost alongside local acts Lakehorse and Mukiss.

If anything, the pandemic only deepened the ideas and feelings Zefpha Pence excavated on You Should Get Lost, particularly themes of loneliness, isolation and the tension between wanting to escape and wanting to be known. “I want to get lost, but there’s always someone around,” Zefpha Pence sings on opening track “Lite Pop,” later offering an altered take on the concept: “You should get lost, lest you might be found.” 

Zefpha Pence’s parallel-universe take on the service industry also proved to be especially prescient as waves of workers left their jobs. “It's not a new problem. It's just that the pandemic offered the opportunity for people to really look in the mirror,” he said.

More:The myth of ‘nobody wants to work’

While artists often seek service industry jobs for their perceived flexibility and, perhaps, a preconceived notion that the lifestyle lends itself to creativity, Zefpha Pence has improved his mental health and found a new way to create.

“The biggest thing that I've really gained from changing careers is that I can shut it off and not think about it. I can manage my time better. I know what to expect from my schedule. And maybe I'm not ever going to be in a place where touring is a thing, but I can't sleep on hardwood floors anymore anyways,” he said. “What I know that I like most about creating is creating, and having the time to do that is so much more freeing. To a degree, I was probably chasing a little bit of that lifestyle that I thought I should have in an effort to do the thing that I wanted. But I think a lot of the time I sacrificed my ability to create. … It didn't work the way I wanted it to most of the time.”