The first track written and recorded for Cleopatra, this was the "cornerstone" for the record. Band member Jeremiah Fraites told Wat Kyk JY: "Once we finished and completed 'Ophelia' I felt like it was easier to proceed finishing the album. 'Ophelia' was the cornerstone of this album. For whatever reasons, it was just easier to proceed and shed all the pressure of having to deliver a second album. It became fun again to write and that was a burst of joy to feel that again after touring for so long playing similar sets night after night. The idea of new music was ecstasy."
The song is named after the ingénue of Shakespeare's Hamlet.
Oh, Ophelia You've been on my mind, girl, since the flood Oh, Ophelia Heaven help the fool who falls in love
Ophelia was the naïve daughter of Polonius who fell in love with Hamlet. She is humiliated by him and when Hamlet kills her father she loses her reason. Soon after Ophelia drowns after a branch from a willow tree she climbs upon breaks.
The Isaac Ravishankara directed video pays homage to the classic Gene Kelly film Singin' In the Rain. The band's frontman, Wesley Schultz said: "For the music video Ophelia, our good friend Issac Ravishankara, who directed the 'Stubborn Love' music video from our first record, brought us a treatment that involved me dancing in the streets while it was raining so I had to learn choreography for the first time in my life. I learned how to dance for this music video."
Vocalist Wesley Schultz admitted to Billboard magazine that though the lyrics were intended to be a "stream of consciousness," they actually might have some meaning. "You know, there's funny situations where people say, 'Did you mean the flood of attention in the hook [for "Ophelia"]?' And it's like, well, I guess I did… I don't know," he said. "It wasn't written like that, but sometimes the truth comes out of just blabbering and blurting things out that you don't really know where they're coming from."
The Band also recorded a song titled "Ophelia" for their 1975 album Northern Lights – Southern Cross. Wesley Schultz was concerned about giving The Lumineers' tune the same name. He told Jam! Music: "I was a big fan of The Band growing up and also our new bass player Byron [Isaacs] played for like six years with Levon Helm, the drummer from The Band, at his 'rambles,' so he was incredible. Our producer's been to a bunch and played them. So there's a connection there.
But I was thinking how silly it was to name it Ophelia having so much love for that band and that song [Ophelia], it was so big [for The Band]. But I just couldn't get away from it."
"'Ophelia' is a vague reference to people falling in love with fame," Schultz told Entertainment Weekly. "That spotlight can seem like an endless buffet, but in reality, you're just shiny, bright, and new to people for a quick moment - and then you have the rest of you life to live... It's about caring so much about the people around me, and wondering if we're all going to be alright."
This sat on the back burner for four years because Schultz couldn't come up with a verse that was worthy of the song's powerful hook melody. "It almost makes you more upset because you know that there's this shiny, beautiful part of the song and you're not really matching it with something to balance that," he told Song Exploder. "No one will ever hear the chorus if you don't make the verse hold its own."
Can't feel no remorse and you don't feel nothing back. Schultz explained the lyric came from an emotional disconnect he felt while on tour with his bandmates. He said, "We'd look over at each other and it was like we were strangers to one another. So the big part of writing this record was sort of understanding who I'm sitting next to when I do the writing and not having it be this- literally, like a stranger to yourself and to this other person."
Schultz, Fraites, and producer Simon Felice donned their boots and stomped out the song's distinctive percussive beats on the wooden floor of the Clubhouse studio in Rhinebeck, New York. "You're kind of creating drums around that simple foot stomp," Schultz said, "and then you're almost giving that some steroids; you're just pumping that up. But that's all you need sometimes."
This originally had horns courtesy of the players from Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band.