For London duo Oh Wonder, the story around their debut is all about how it was released. A Soundcloud phenomenon, the pair put out one new song a month from last summer, building hype with every step. That’s the talking game of their first work, out this week. But what about the story around it?
In Upbringing, DIY asks its favourites acts to talk through early musical obsessions - the pop songs they’d sing in the mirror to as kids, the gigs that changed their lives, that sort of thing. The more embarrassing the better, really. Now it’s the turn of Josephine Vander Gucht and Anthony West.
Catch up with our Oh Wonder interview here, where they discuss the inner workings of their debut LP.
What was the first gig you ever went to?
Josephine: I was 13 and I went to watch Hard-Fi at the London Astoria (my favourite venue).
Anthony: I went to see a band called ‘4ft Fingers’ (punk rock ‘til I die) with my brother in Milton Keynes.
Was there a good supply of venues to go to in your hometown?
J: I grew up in London so I was spoilt for choice! Until they knocked down the Astoria…
A: Yeah there was always a great scene growing up in Bucks - plenty of small music venues and pubs who would always support local bands.
Can you remember the first song you ever developed an obsession over?
J: ‘Heartbeats’ by Jose Gonzalez is the one song I became obsessed with when I was 15. It helped me through a teenage break-up and I listened to it 435 times in one week.
A: ‘It’s Oh So Quiet’ by Björk was one of the first records I’d ever been crazy about. I was probably 8 years old at the time and always requested it when my family were eating dinner.
What was the first song you purchased with your own money, and why did you choose it at the time?
J: I am ashamed/proud to say that it was ‘Barbie Girl’ by Aqua when I was 7 years-old. I must have chosen it because I thought it was genius pop writing, obviously.
A: In my 7 year-old head I had a love affair with Gina G, so naturally bought ‘Ooo Ahh Just A Little Bit’ to strengthen my chance of meeting her.
What’s the story behind you getting your first instruments?
J: When I was about 5 my grandparents wanted to buy me a piano so I could have piano lessons. They’d heard that Harrods (very posh!) were having a big piano sale, and we found this Clavinova electric piano with 50% off, which they very kindly bought for me. It wasn’t until I was 15 that I got a real piano, but that electric piano with its built-in organ demos and cheesy elevator music is what I learnt on, and made me fall in love with the instrument.
A: My uncle is a touring blue grass musician from Kansas, so whenever he was touring in Europe when I was kid, he’d be visiting my parents’ home. I’d be at his side, keenly learning the life of a working musician and watching him write songs at the kitchen table in the middle of the night. He gave me my first guitar aged 11 and I’ve been inspired by him ever since.
“We’ve been around for hundreds of thousands of years, there are now seven billion of us, and yet no one has learnt how to deal with their emotions properly.”
Josephine Vander Gucht, Oh Wonder
What’s your worst musical habit?
J: I try and play the piano like Elton John. All the time. In recording sessions Anthony is always like, ‘OK, can we just get a little less jazzy movement and try stick with some simple chords?’ I love the piano too much to be simple with it, when often less is more.
A: I can sometimes get carried away with beats and spend hours trying to find the perfect closed hi-hat sound. In the end, I always find that it’s worth it.
What kind of inspirations outside of music have an impact on your songwriting?
J: People, for sure. We write all our songs about people in our life or people we see in documentaries or meet in the streets. Humans are so interesting; we’ve been around for hundreds of thousands of years, there are now seven billion of us, and yet no one has learnt how to deal with their emotions properly.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given as a band?
J: Don’t do things because everyone else is doing them. We have said no to 99% of things over the last year, just because we didn’t feel like it suited us at that particular time. A lot of the industry has a fear of missing out on opportunities, which is a totally valid concern, but if you’re not 100% ready to do something, you shouldn’t do it. We didn’t do any press or interviews for six months, we started out anonymous and only had one press photo for the first 8 months, and we have waited a whole year to play a gig. It’s made everything that we end up doing way more special.
If you could be any band from the past two decades, who would you be and why?
J: Spice Girls. They were totally at the forefront of “girl power” and made it cool for women to be ambitious and assertive. They all had their own personalities and were celebrated for their individualism (even though I am well aware of the irony of them being a girl group manufactured by a load of men. But they were freakin’ cool when I was a kid).
A: Death Cab For Cutie. I’d like to stand in Ben Gibbard’s shoes and sing all those wonderful songs to an appreciating crowd. They are a band who have a perfect level of success and seem to have such a strong grasp of their art.