The Ophelias’ Lyricist Reflects on Tisch Graduation and Embraces Uncertainty

The frontwoman has just graduated Tisch and moved into the national spotlight — but she’s still carefully planning her next steps.

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Lauren Harper

Spencer Peppet, a recent Tisch graduate and lyricist of the band The Ophelias. (Courtesy of Lauren Harper)

By Amelia McBain, Contributing Writer

Twenty-two-year-old Spencer Peppet, a 2018 Tisch graduate, was driving through her hometown of Cincinnati when her phone buzzed with The New York Times notification. She was with her best friend and the band’s bassist, Grace Weir. When Weir glanced at the screen, her jaw dropped: their band was featured in that week’s playlist.

“The voices are gentle, sharing unisons and then harmonizing with wistful, enigmatic tidings,” NYT said of The Ophelias’ song, “Lunar Rover.” “Given a chance, it’s immersive.”

The review linked to a video of Peppet, who acts as guitarist and lyricist, with her trademark pink cheeks and clear, angelic voice, singing into the camera with her bandmates in the middle of a Cincinnati street. That video now has over 13,000 views on YouTube.

“I had to pull the car over and call my mom,” Peppet said. “She was crying on the phone.”

The Ophelias’ sophomore record “Almost,” which came out in July, brought them into the public eye. Along with the NYT piece, a slew of publications praised the release. Pitchfork gave the album a 7.1 — higher than its average rating — and NPR praised their song “Fog” on “All Songs Considered,” saying they immediately “fell in love with it.”

“I look at all this stuff, I read all these publications, and then your name is in it and it’s kind of like … what?” Peppet said. “It feels really good to know people are listening to things that you make, you put time into and you care about.”

Peppet started The Ophelias during her senior year at an all-girls Catholic high school, inviting her friends to play with her after teaching herself guitar. She picked the name while reading “Hamlet” for an English class.

“I was like, ‘I love her,’” she said. “So we made her the band name. I’m an Ophelia stan.”

The girls in the band have tried their best to put music out throughout the four years since they joined, but it was hard to get together when they all went off to college in different cities.

Coincidentally, the day the NYT article dropped, Peppet was driving to the same art supply store she was in when she found out she got into NYU.

“I should go to that store more often,” she joked. “I always get good news there.”

During her time at NYU, Peppet studied in Tisch’s Experimental Theater Wing, studying acting, not music. However, she has been a student of many mediums. In high school, she studied visual arts, creating two Advanced Placement portfolios with a combined 40 or so pieces. She is also a trained opera singer. Peppet is currently writing a collection of essays and a television pilot about a Catholic high school similar to the one she attended.

Jo Shaffer, Peppet’s romantic and creative partner, said Peppet’s control of every artistic channel continues to impress them daily.

“It’s always cool when you meet someone who can carry a common thread or style through their art and throughout different mediums,” Shaffer said. “I think she can do that and I think that’s pretty rare.”

Over the two-and-a-half years Shaffer has been dating Peppet — along with creating music videos and films with her — they have noticed her “common thread” emanates from a tug-of-war battle between her art and reality.

“I think there’s a really strong tension in her art between being careful and being messy,” they said. “A big part of her art is a sense of an orderly mind trying to come to terms with human mess.”

Peppet’s aversion to life’s messes has caused her to approach her life and work with caution.

“In my life, I’m just a careful person,” Peppet agreed. “My mom worries a lot and she definitely taught me to be cautious in ways that I appreciate and in ways I’ve had to unlearn.”

Her music demonstrates this tension, as she writes lyrics in a style she called “unconscious songwriting,” a barely edited version of the moods and themes her brain spits out at her.

“Most of the time, I don’t sit down to write a song about something,” she said. “For me, maybe music is a good way to be able to say, ‘f-ck it.’”

The band wrote and recorded “Almost” two years ago, but the production time delayed its debut. Peppet said that in the time since, she has written four more albums worth of songs. They are just waiting to be recorded and released — and that is what she plans to do next now that she’s graduated.

“I’ve got something going for me, which is comforting, but no matter what, it’s still terrifying,” Peppet said. “You could have four job prospects lined up after college and you can still be like, ‘what the f-ck am I gonna do?’”

Peppet’s next move is to tour, record and put out music in the hopes that The Ophelias can make it even bigger.

“My dream is to be able to make music and art and do more movies and have that be my job,” she said.

A version of this article appears in the Monday, Jan. 28, 2019, print edition. Email Amelia McBain at [email protected]