Playing Opossums: Memphis Rockers Release New Record 

Opossums are medium-sized omnivorous North American marsupials, too often maligned because, well, they're ugly. Frequently seen scurrying across the road or under front porches, the small mammals are best known for "playing possum," or feigning death when threatened. Opossums is also the moniker of a three-piece band of Memphis-based musicians who specialize in catchy rock-and-roll songs, and they're set to release their first full-length album later this month.

Opossums' self-titled debut is being released by Black and Wyatt Records on glorious vinyl (and digital streaming and download), with a release show at B-Side on Friday, July 26th. Dennis Black and Robert Wyatt, pediatricians who met at Le Bonheur Children's Hospital and bonded over a mutual love of music, head the label, which specializes in plumbing the depths of the Memphis underground scene.

click to enlarge Opossums - MIKE MCCARTHY
  • Mike McCarthy
  • Opossums

With their pop sensibilities and no-frills aesthetic, Opossums' collection of 12 lo-fi songs is a fitting project for Black and Wyatt. Patrick Jordan sings with a nasal, proto-punk vocal timbre. His guitars are heard in snatches over the steady chug of bass and drums. "Patrick writes all the songs," says Jesse Mansfield, Opossums' bassist and audio engineer. "Me and Liv [Hernandez] get it together with the arrangements pretty quickly. We usually don't spend a whole lot of time on anything. If we do, then we're thinking about it too hard."

click to enlarge HALEY MITCHELL
  • Haley Mitchell

Mansfield says that keep-it-simple ethos is integral to the band dynamic. "I cover all the recording, mixing, and mastering of everything," Mansfield says. "I don't mix anything too extensively." The bare-bones production echoes the origins of Opossums' songs. Jordan's songwriting lends itself to a sense of immediacy, which Mansfield and drummer Hernandez bring to life. It helps that Mansfield and Hernandez have known each other for years.

"Me and Liv are from Mississippi," Mansfield says. "I used to come to Hi Tone shows a lot during college," Mansfield explains. "I had in my brain that I wanted to move up here just because I liked the Hi Tone and Stax and Goner and Shangri-La."

So when Jordan moved to Memphis from Asheville, North Carolina, with a guitar, some dark sunglasses, and a tape of song demos, he found a ready-made rhythm section in Mansfield and Hernandez. It didn't hurt, either, that, like Black and Wyatt, the trio quickly bonded over a shared love of music. "We're all a bunch of big record nerds," Mansfield says. "We're also really into British invasion '60s garage two-and-a-half-minute singles that'll blow your ears off, as well as all the various British punk. Big into the idea of pop songs no matter what the genre is because you can fit the pop format into any kind of genre if you keep it simple."

Fittingly, the songs on Opossums are punkish rock numbers that get to the point. "Sharp Cheddar," the longest track on the album, clocks in at only 4 minutes and 13 seconds. The band's DIY aesthetic is on full display in the music video for "Left in the Ground," the lead single for the album. In the video, Jordan sings, "I don't really care about it, left in the ground," as he picks a maroon Danelectro guitar. Mansfield rides an eighth-note groove on bass, and Hernandez keeps the beat in the pocket. The video marries pop simplicity with a dangerous edge: shot in a room with a coffin leaning in the corner and in a small field that the informed viewer might rightly recognize as the Bettis Family Cemetery — or the infamous Cash Saver cemetery.

But why the coffin? Why the cemetery? "I'm not totally sure," Mansfield says. "The song's called 'Left in the Ground.' I don't know if it's about being dead or dying or killing people. I hope it's not about killing people, but I would assume it has something to do with that," Mansfield continues before summing up: "Pop doesn't have to be friendly."

Opossums album release, with Rosey, at B-Side, Friday, July 26th. 9 p.m.

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