Alt-country outfit Ohtis enlist the voice (and production skills) of beloved Detroit artist Stef Chura for their audio-visual fuckboy call-out “Schatze,” released digitally at the end of January (a 7″ vinyl is available for pre-order ahead of its February 26 release via Saddle Creek). Starting out like a guided meditation accompanied by Fred Thomas’s ambient track “Backstroke,” the brief moment of Zen is promptly squashed by the unrelenting, familiar chimes of an iPhone. The messages come rolling in, narrated by lead singer Sam Swinson – “I do/do what I please/it’s my Shatze/it’s my treasure/it’s not difficult, I do it with ease.” Chura replies to Swinson’s apathetic admission with an appropriate “Fuck you very much sir!” – a line that serves as a mantra throughout the song.
It’s an appropriate and timely catchphrase for the past few years we’ve had as a country, bleeding from the effects of men who think they can get away with anything. But recently, we’ve also seen slow steps towards a reckoning – lies coming apart at the seams, survivors stepping forward to bring their abusers to justice, and the grand finale of a bigoted predator being removed from office. And although the villain in this song doesn’t exactly sit in that rung of evil, he serves as a symbol of that one guy – or guys, and the toxic culture that enables them – we all know that just really, really sucks.
“It’s a story about a fictional character and his faults. As I see it, crafting this song as a cultural commentary, but through the lens of humanity and humor, makes for a more accessible listening experience,” explains multi-instrumentalist Nate Hahn (pedal steel guitar, guitar, bass, keys, trombone). “We hope that this encourages more people to listen and reflect on the issues explored.” Those issues range from binge-playing video games, cheating on your significant other, and just having a general air of entitlement and indifference to one’s surroundings. “The title is a reference to a friend’s cat who’s a vicious beast of the same name,” adds multi-instrumentalist and producer Adam Pressley.
Granted, an unruly cat is arguably a much easier beast to tame – or at least tolerate – than the character than Ohtis creates in “Schatze” – a self-obsessed, vape-loving, mask-hating gamer blob that admits things like, “I’m a piece of shit/I just think I’ll get away with it.” Chura’s gritty vocals are the perfect counter to Ohtis’ Frankenstein douche and serve as a sort of accountability angel. She says that the collaboration came together naturally, as Pressley was playing in her band at the time and the two had talked about working together. “We kinda jokingly tossed the idea around about the collaboration,” says Chura. “I really like Sam’s singing voice and was down for it. Then one day they just kind of hit me with the actual song. The rest is rock ‘n’ roll history, baby.”
Hahn adds that having a female voice on the track was essential to rounding out the song’s message. “From the beginning, it was clear that the story needed to be told from both sides of the relationship,” he says. “We loved working with Stef because she’s a friend of the band and she’s the rockinest.” Aside from contributing her voice, Chura also co-produced the track and prevented the band from “keeping some silly digital DJ Khaled style vocal chopping we had in the track early on in the process,” according to Pressley.
While the song is a slight departure from Swinson’s deeply personal lyricism on Curve of Earth, the character in the song serves as a self-aware caricature of what we can become without actively checking ourselves. “I think it’s incredibly important that everyone takes stock of the way they might act in relationships and how actions could affect other people,” says Swinson. “Hopefully it can bring about some self-reflection in people as to how they could be better to the people around them.”
Outside of the commentary on personal relationships, the song also nods at the fact that white men have historically gotten away with doing evil shit, and a lot of them still do. It also nods at the role – however divisive it can be – that the internet has in unveiling the truth (or spreading lies) about people. The video even sneaks in a text from “Ohtis” reading, “do you liek ariel pink?” a reference to his troubled reputation and recent “cancelling” after he was spotted with John Maus at the pro-Trump rally preceding the insurrection. And while the members of Ohtis are galaxies away from being caught at a MAGA gathering, Swinson admits that they still have work to do when it comes to deconstructing the patriarchy. “There are definitely lingering bits of toxic masculinity from our conditioning that we can still identify and ultimately hope to carve out of ourselves in the process,” he says. “ [We] have no problem being self-deprecating about that.”
Whatever your opinion on call out/cancel culture may be, this song and video serve as a relevant reflection on the moment we’re in – a chaotic e-landscape swirling with accusations, accountability, and assholes. For the listener, maybe it’s an opportunity to reflect on how you act in your relationships. Maybe it’s just an excuse to say “fuck you very much sir” a lot. For me, it’s both, and I’m better for it.