In this era of digitally-enabled infinite accessibility, and the deeply personal fandoms that it engenders towards even the most marginal of public figures, the position assumed by contemporary artists often goes well beyond the acts of creation and dissemination; for those whose audiences skew younger, that shift is only more pronounced. For self-described emo pop act Openside, though, the responsibility that they feel to their audience is one that they’re happy to assume.
With the band’s latest dispatch, ‘Waiting For Love’, released last Friday, I caught up with frontperson Possum Plows for a chat shortly after their return from one of their increasingly frequent visits to Los Angeles. The lead single and sub-title track from the band’s imminent Episode Two EP (following last October’s Episode One: Character Flaws), ‘Waiting For Love’ finds Openside leaning heavily into the ‘pop’ side of their self-designation, with producer Josh Fountain (Bene, Matthew Young, Leisure) and the band setting a neon-bright scene for Possum’s hopeful paean to the restorative powers of companionship.
It’s a song which also offers a succinct counterpoint to the more inward-facing anxieties of the earlier Episode. “It has the emotional centre of how I was feeling when we wrote it,” Possum told me, “with ‘Character Flaws’, ‘Work Out’ and ‘Tuesday’ [from Episode One], they all have quite a dark hopelessness about them, which was bred out of how I was feeling when we wrote those songs and what I was going through at that time. Episode Two does have a more wistful, hopeful energy about it, because life’s turning around; it’s peaks and valleys, but I’m in a better place now than I was last year.”
There’s a slight sense of relief in Possum’s tone when they talk about the emotional conditions that led to this new music, acknowledging that in their particular musical niche there’s sometimes an instinct to lean harder into the darkness than the light. “There is something scary with the notion of ‘emo pop’, where sometimes you want to hold onto your darkness; your depression,” they admitted, “because you think that’s what makes your art great…[but] I’m still a neurotic, intense, anxious person, I’m just happier than I was then.”
As an outspoken advocate for issues facing young people particularly within queer communities—they wrote a still-powerful essay for The Spinoff in 2017 about coming out as gender non-binary, and the video for their breakout single ‘I Feel Nothing’ saw them proudly and defiantly brandishing the trans flag in an arid Californian sandscape—there’s a particular lucidity and purpose in Possum’s voice when talking about their responsibility to those in their audience coming to terms in whatever way with their own identities.
“When I started with Openside, I wasn’t out as non-binary,” Possum explains, “I was sort-of out as pansexual but I didn’t talk about it, it was more just in my personal circles.” With their coming out came new anxieties – ”I was nervous that people would take a step back from us, that it would compromise opportunities for a band” they admit – but the positive impact quickly outweighed those concerns. “We played at a high school after I’d come out,” they recall, “and the principal came to me and said, “We have these queer kids at our school who really value what you’re doing, and it would be really helpful if you could talk about that.” And to have that school openly value that was quite moving...from that point on, everything came into focus.”
Given Openside’s clear-eyed and full-hearted focus on providing both an emotional outlet and authentic voice for their fans, it’s little surprise to hear the genuine love present when Possum talks about the community which the band has helped to foster. “I think there is this industry of ‘cool’ at the moment” they tell me, “But my passion is for things that are really extra and kitsch and over the top and unapologetically emotional, and that’s what these kids are like: they’ll line up early, they’ll wear weird outfits with glitter on their face, and it just warms my heart because I feel like there’s not enough of that. Everyone’s trying to present a certain way, and they’re missing out on expressing how they really feel.”
Openside play their Episode Two: Waiting For Love release party at Avondale’s Hollywood Cinema on Saturday April 6th, with special guests Daffodils and Foley.