“I am a boy with question marks at the end.”
Atlanta native Jeofry Wages’ fervent chorus rang through the 529 bar on Jan. 30, and the space filled with a new and enthralling energy. Wages and friends, who make up the self-described queercore pop-punk band “ozello,” strummed, drummed and fiddled together with a passion that would make the likes of Jimmy Eat World and the Ramones proud. The urge to hop along to their music was both irresistible and encouraged — spaces like the 529 are ones in which you often find yourself banging your head and singing for joy alongside complete strangers.
Ozello, whose band name is stylized in all lowercase letters, undoubtedly lives up to their self-prescribed pop-punk moniker, but also refuses to let you forget their Georgia origins. The band boasts five multi-instrumentalists, including keyboardist and trumpeter Laura Spears and guitarist and violinist Garam Ri. The trumpet and violin present in most of ozello’s original songs give the band a signature and unmistakably Southern sound. At the 529 in East Atlanta Village Ri’s violin and Spears’s trumpet conversed over drummer Mike Burkhardt’s punky fills and Chris Robinson’s bassline during their single “Next Life.” This prompted the audience to cheer and haw in classic folk fashion. If Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros married Paramore and had a little queer Southern baby, it’d be ozello.
Fantasy punk-folk family trees aside, ozello’s true charm comes from the band’s extremely vulnerable songwriting. Wages and friends don’t shy away from the struggles of modern life and love; the band’s first single off their album “Pronouns,” titled “Caleb,” walks us through the turmoils of Wages’ unrequited love for a boy from their past. Other songs from that night like “Boy???” urged the audience to question why our definitions of gender and sexuality remain so rigid and how those rules can damage and invalidate the lives of LGBTQ+ folk; Wages crooned over an acoustic guitar about their struggle to come to terms with their love for nail polish, eye glitter and men. The group of “greasy punks” from Atlanta don’t just want you to see them when they play — they want you to see yourself in their music, too.
Ozello’s set at the 529 ended with “Borderline,” where Wages’ and and Spears’s harmonies told a story of depression and suicidal thoughts, but ultimately ended with an encouragement to “just keep breathing” as the music built in volume. The band’s earnest plea — “don’t do it, keep going, it gets better, you know it” — seemed to touch each audience member in a different way; reactions ranged from tears to cheers and everything in between. Ozello says its members like to “jump around and yell about their feelings with the hopes that they’ll make someone else feel something too.”
As the loud and exuberant close of “Borderline” received raucous applause in that little hometown bar, ozello left the stage with their hopes realized and their audience in awe of this newfound Atlanta gem.