Her first EP, a self-titled R&B/soul release, came out in 2017, and since then, Sellers has only put out singles. But that’s because she wasn't in a hurry, just waiting for the right idea to come to her.
“I’m not into forcing a concept, and I really like concept projects,” she says.
The spark came last year when her bass player, Denzel Chismar-Oliver, sent over a beat that he made on a loop pedal. She wrote a song — which became “Ophelia,” the intro and title track for her upcoming EP set to drop March 25 — and a lightbulb went off.
“I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I should make a whole project about Ophelia Street in Oakland because that was a really pivotal time in my life.’”
Sellers spent the summer of 2014 hanging on Ophelia Street, doing something fun and outrageous every day. She says there was no drama, and it was the first time where she was out with friends, and oftentimes, lying to her dad about where she was.
“It was the best and worst summer of life,” says Sellers. “I had gotten out of a really important relationship and didn’t know how to handle it because I was so young. I was heartbroken but also having the time of my life. It was a really unique time. I don’t think we — we as in the people I experienced it with — will ever be able to recreate that summer.”
Ophelia chronicles a night in Oakland, from getting ready with friends to meeting someone new at the end of the night, and “Ophelia” is meant to be the “kickback portion of the evening.” Sellers started thinking about what she needed to encapsulate her vision, and realized she had already written the tracks: “Grown” a song about being treated like an adult, but not having the responsibilities of one; “Good Time,” a track where the title speaks for itself, about going out after a fight and letting go; “The Feeling,” about getting nervous and excited when seeing someone new at a house party; and “Thyme,” the final song, about approaching that person and wanting to suddenly make time to get to know them.
Originally, Sellers had more to add to the EP, like little skits and transitions, but stripped it back because she wanted Ophelia to truly represent an evening spent on Ophelia Street. After a recent performance in Chicago, a University of Pittsburgh alum approached Sellers to comment on her music.
“He was like, ‘Man, we always used to party on Ophelia in Oakland,’’ says Sellers. “And he was really stoked when he found out that was exactly where I was talking about the whole time.”
Focusing on performing is another reason Sellers has been slow to release new projects over the years. Her goal for 2018 and 2019 was to get over her massive stage fright. To do this, she regularly put herself in front of audiences all around Pittsburgh, and beyond, at places like Deutschtown Music Festival, Con Alma, Mr. Smalls, Club Cafe, and more.
“I still get butterflies now, but I love performing,” says Sellers. “That was a huge thing to work on. Now one of the goals for 2020 is really focusing on studio work and getting better with recording.”
Named one of NPR’s Slingshot: 20 Artists To Watch In 2020 (Benji. received the title in 2019), Sellers is already stepping up her studio work with the production of Ophelia. It was created with the help of a prominent cast of Pittsburghers.
The title track features Buscrates (synths), Brad Brad Fritcher (trumpet), and Feralcat (saxophone). “Grown” has bass played by Jonny Goood and was produced by DropOuts, the production team of Ryan Tedder and Aaron Karsh. Karsh is who produced Seller’s self-titled debut. “Good Time” was produced by Nice Rec, with Charlie Scott on bass and beats from Buscrates. The track also features has Feralcat on saxophone, Brandon Crosbie on trumpet, and Shanyse Strickland on flute.
“The part in the pre-chorus that says, ‘If you hatin’ you can hit the door,’ and then it echoes ‘by the door,’ that’s actually Buscrates saying that on his vocoder in his home studio,” explains Sellers.
For “The Feeling,” Buscrates, who produced the song, made a beat inspired by The Wiz, Sellers’ all-time favorite movie, and “Thyme,” was produced by Seller’s keyboardist, Remy Vega, with the help of Nice Rec and Allen Bell.
“The production on this EP is kinda crazy, just by who touched it,” says Sellers.
Ophelia by Sierra Sellers, out Wed. March 25 on most music streaming platforms.