Exclusive: British Alt-pop duo Oh Wonder get chatting about finding comfort in music, how to live with your partner during a lockdown, and more!
Naming the series the House Tapes is definitely a nod given all of our housebound condition, but UK-based alt-pop duo, Oh Wonder is embracing the occasion to test out their new home studio, and put together a new set of songs (that may eventually turn into an album). After all, the group, that consists of Anthony West and Josephine Vander Gucht, started out their musical career in 2014 by releasing one song a month for a year — a collection that turned into their debut album.
Fresh off the release of their third album, No One Else Can Wear Your Crown, the House Tapes is, perhaps, the band’s fastest turn out of new music in the last few years. We got chatting with Anthony and Josephine — who ‘came out’ as a couple after seven years — about the importance of music in trying times, their evolving sound, and even managed to snag a few tips on how to deal with a lockdown with your partner.
Your 2020 album, No One Else Can Wear Your Crown explored a more personal and intimate space. Was there any trepidation about putting that kind of music out into the world as opposed to keeping it for yourselves?
For our previous two albums, we’d always written about characters or other people’s experiences. It’s definitely a little scary writing about your own feelings, but we believe that power comes from vulnerability so it feels really good to convert those personal thoughts into songs that can be universally shared.
In an interview, Josephine had mentioned: “We will write a song on the piano, take it into the studio, and then layer it up with as many as 200 sounds, strip it back to maybe 10 and that’s the finished album.” What about the sparseness and simplicity of sound appeals to you?
I think that’s definitely how we approached our first album, just because we were experimenting with our sound and trying out loads of ideas. More recently, our songs tend to have anything from 18 to 200 individual tracks of harmonies, instruments, beats. But a song like All We Do only has 12 tracks, and we love that the song itself doesn’t need layers of extra production in order to shine. Stripping it back can really expose a good song.
Is it ever hard to balance this simplicity with the need to have a produced/orchestrated sound?
The art is definitely finding the balance between letting a song shine in its simplest form, versus adding loads of instrumentation. When you get it right, it feels so smooth and easy.
What's your take: do lyrics need to be great to fully appreciate a song?
We are huge lovers of beautifully written lyrics, and fundamentally can only be emotionally moved by poignant words that are set to a great melody. The two in tandem is breathtaking. That said, you don’t necessarily have to understand the lyrics or the intent behind them - you just have to feel something.
You gave yourselves time to work on your third album and months into its release you are already releasing new songs. What has changed between Ultralife and No One Else Can Wear Your Crown, and No One Else Can Wear Your Crown and the Home Tapes series?
Between Ultralife and NOECWYC we spent a year at home and reconnected with ourselves after a couple of very intense years of touring. We needed that space to find something to write about, and feel comfortable enough to be more vulnerable in our music. Between NOECWYC and Home Tapes we’ve basically had about three weeks of touring, and two weeks at home to try and process what is happening in the world! So Home Tapes is definitely a knee jerk reaction to what is going on. We had planned to spend 2020 touring the world, and are now confined to our house in lockdown, so we are doing all that we know how - making music!
When one of you brings in a song, how do you discuss what it's about and what it will sound like?
We always write songs together; everything is very equal. And both of us have to have our own meaning for it and feel connected to it. This is very much the same for the recording side of things, where we sit down and work out what feel the song should have. It’s very mutual, and we just follow our gut instinct until one of us feels comfortable!
Is there an overarching theme to the House Tapes? Give as us a sneak peek into what we can expect?
We’ve only written a few songs for Home Tapes so far, and they are out attempts at processing what is happening in the world right now. Lonely Star was our immediate reaction to lockdown, the next song Keep On Dancing was written about Josephine’s 30th birthday at the start of April, which obviously wasn’t the big party we’d planned!
Do you see yourself converting into a complete album?
We will definitely take this time to make another record; what that will look and sound like is a bit up in the air at the moment! But we’ll definitely make another album this year.
Stories of familial discord seem to be on the rise with people forced to stay indoors with their partners. In your case, as not just romantic partners, but also as individuals who run a business together, who create music together... how do you navigate that space so that it does not get overwhelming?
We definitely feel like we have been in training for this period! Living and working together from home has basically been our life for the last few years, and we often spend long periods away from our families and friends whilst we are touring. That said, this time obviously feels way more intense, difficult and sad, predominantly because it’s all such an unknown and there isn’t an endpoint. Typically we make sure that we have our own hobbies and social groups. But beyond that, the most important thing is that you don’t let your ego get in the way whilst trying to advocate for your own needs and respect someone else’s.
Musically, can this band go anywhere it needs to go, or does it need to remain in this vein?
We feel really fortunate to be able to experiment in different musical lanes, and make music that is big, poppy and live-sounding, or minimal and introspective. Our unison voices are our “sound” so it’s really freeing thinking that we can soundtrack them with a multitude of different genres. We’re having fun trying new things out for sure!
What's currently on your playlist?
The new Dua Lipa album, Phoebe Bridgers, Jeremy Zucker and Bon Iver.
Oh Wonder will perform live on the Instagram Page of Vh1 India on April 20, at 6 pm for Vh1 Quarantunes.