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Ophil: Raised On Beer And Pork And Still Going Strong

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One veteran Wichita band performs a show this weekend that will bring together members from its past, present and maybe its future. KMUW’s Jedd Beaudoin recently spoke to one of the group’s founding members and has more.

Thirteen years ago, Ophil took a break from writing and from extensive live performances. The group didn’t exactly break up—whatever the rumors may have been.

The band got together at least once a year to play shows for special occasions and then three years ago kicked off a new cycle of activity with a new lineup. But, as has happened so many times in Ophil’s 20-plus years as a band, that lineup came to an end.

However, the group had one show booked, so vocalist and co-founder Alex Thomas decided to honor the commitment by calling in some former band members, including a man who was there from the band’s beginnings at Southwestern College in Winfield: guitarist Shane Marler. Thomas remembers Marler’s Winfield home where some of Ophil’s earliest songs came together.

“The kitchen was filled with empty beer cans and Vienna sausage cans. That’s the nourishment, the nutrients that every young college age person needs—beer and pork,” Thomas says with a laugh. “We just hit it off. We had a great time and I ended up staying over breaks, I ended up staying over the summer. We just developed a bond.”

That bond resulted in an enduring writing partnership.

“Eighty to 90 percent of Ophil songs started with me and Shane in his room and him coming up with a hook and me singing along to it and him being kind enough to let a non-musical entity like myself collaborate with him. He’d listen to me and adjust. I would express things in very strange manners—it’d just be me saying, ‘How ‘bout that part go duh duh dun?’ He would just read it and do it,” Thomas recalls. “It was a good musical relationship, but he needed to move on for his own musical growth, and I understood that. I still wanted to keep going with Ophil, so I did that.”

Marler has more recently recorded solo albums in the gypsy jazz tradition and gigs regularly with his Americana outfit The Mischief Makers.

Thomas has led the band through numerous lineup changes, although he’s reluctant to take full credit for the band’s survival.

“It’s not me," he says. "Even though I’ve played every show, it’s not me. It’s not me that keeps it going. It’s all these players that are willing to contribute.”

Today, Ophil consistently draws large crowds, but Thomas recalls a time a little more than a decade ago when his band was as far from being cool as possible.

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“Early on we were the popular band that was doing that new music that was the buzz, but there was a lot of backlash years," Thomas says. "That’s when we wrote some really cool stuff—when we were hated, and we were playing to five people and we were struggling. We wrote a body of music that I’m still proud of to this day.”

Wichita’s music community has changed a great deal since Ophil’s last album, 2004’s Love Songs For Soccer Moms. For one, Thomas now owns Kirby’s Beer Store, where he and other members of Ophil used to hang out after rehearsals or on nights off and where Ophil played some of its most intense and lively shows.

“Kirby’s was our home base," Thomas says. "When I moved up here to Wichita and bought my first house, I was just over at 21st and I used to come to Kirby’s and hang out and it was easy for me to come there alone because I was familiar with the place. It was funny because I always ended up coming on the Monday--that was Disco Macabre. It was goth night! I would show up in a red shirt and everyone was in black. And I’d say, ‘Oh, goth night. Again. How do I keep coming on goth night?’”

In the years since purchasing Kirby’s, he’s also purchased Lucky’s Everyday and Barleycorn’s—three of the most active music venues in town. He says he’s come a long way from his first impressions of Kirby’s, recalling the first time his band played there.

“We were pretty popular at the time," Thomas says. "We were playing out of state and everything. We had been getting attention. I maybe had a little bit of ego about it. I thought, ‘What are we doing? There’s not even a sound system here. Blah blah blah.’ Shane’s girlfriend at the time, which is now his wife, pulled me aside and said, ‘Hey, you need to realize that Kirby’s has been here long before your band and will be here long after your band is gone.’ So far she’s not quite right on that.”

Ophil performs Saturday night at The Brickyard.

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Jedd Beaudoin is the host of Strange Currency. Follow him on Twitter @JeddBeaudoin.

To contact KMUW News or to send in a news tip, reach us at news@kmuw.org.

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Jedd Beaudoin is host/producer of the nationally syndicated program Strange Currency. He has also served as an arts reporter, a producer of A Musical Life and a founding member of the KMUW Movie Club. As a music journalist, his work has appeared in Pop Matters, Vox, No Depression and Keyboard Magazine.