Oh Wonder: “We wanted to focus on the art rather than the artist”

For most bands, playing live is the absolute pinnacle of the musical experience. Playing live is where you cut your teeth, build an audience and learn to progress. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth for London duo Oh Wonder. Despite having shared their first song back in 2012, Josephine Vander Gucht and Anthony West have never actually played an actual gig as Oh Wonder. Next week, the duo will finally take to the stage following the release of their self-titled debut album. All Things Loud spoke to both Josephine and Anthony about the record, their impending live debut and their studio manifesto. Read on for more.

Anthony helps kick off our chat by telling us how Oh Wonder actually came to form. “We (Josephine and I) met about for years ago” he explains, adding that he was one of Josephine’s acquaintances whom he would “keep meeting without realizing”. Following various encounters, the two decided to step foot inside the studio, writing together occasionally. Josephine then tells us that “it slowly built up to a working relationship about a year ago”, which also coincides with the time that Vander Gucht and West properly started work on their debut album. Before the album was even recorded, though, Anthony and Josephine had already created plenty of buzz through debut track Body Gold, which lit up the Internet in 2012. According to West, the song was “more of an accident”. As he explains, “we wrote it on a piano with Josephine singing, and then we recorded it on a laptop at Josephine’s parent’s house”. The song is based around an old 909 sample pack which West found on his laptop, with the pack being one he’d never used before. The whole process of creating Body Gold was exciting for West, especially from a production stance. “We ventured into a world where we only really used samples and little live instruments” he explained. Did this new type of production shape the way the rest of the album came to fruition, though? No, as West explains, as Body Gold was actually “quite affirming”. “We took inspiration from Body Gold, but we also started listening to a lot of James Blake”. Most of West’s samples came from a Swedish keyboard which formed the backbone of Oh Wonder’s music. The rest of the album was subsequently conceived in the duo’s South London studio, which featured an interesting piece of motivation pinned to the wall, namely a manifesto. However, as Vander Gucht explains, using the word manifesto makes it sound grander than it really is. “It was more like a scrap of paper with four goals which we wanted to achieve; one of these was wanting to be respected as songwriters. Manifesto is quite a grand word, though” she explained. Anthony further adds that it’s “good to have an overarching goal, something to work towards”. Although Josephine downplays the impact of a small scrap of paper, she does point out that it had more impact than you’d expect. As she explains, “You always need to be reminded when you’re not feeling so positive about something. It (the manifesto) is a constant visual reminder to keep going”.

And keep going is exactly what they did, with Oh Wonder’s 15-song debut album spanning a range of influences. Instrumentally, Josephine points out that what’s on the record is actually quite different to what the band actually listen to. “The classic songwriters of our parent’s generation are what we listen to a lot, such as Joni Mitchell, Elton John or Cat Stevens” she starts, before adding that a lot of modern bands also play a part. “There’s also Foals, Efterklang and Angus & Julia Stone. We’re quite grounded in that traditional indie songwriter world, yet people have also compared us a lot to James Blake, whom we adore”. Vander Gucht feels honoured to even be mentioned in the same sentence as Blake, whose influence is definitely present across Oh Wonder’s debut. One such song is Technicolour Beat, one of their most popular tracks. The track was conceived during a trip to Melbourne, where the pair visited Anthony’s brother two years ago. “There was a big hotel party in this house with crazy cocktails and homemade sushi, it was really weird” explains Vander Gucht. “It was really weird because we were out of our comfort zone and anonymous to everyone at this party” she adds, continuing with a small story about her short stint in the DJ booth. “I locked myself in the DJ booth for one hour and took all my clothes off whilst dancing to Destiny’s Child” she laughs, concluding that Technicolur Beat is generally about “being and feeling free”. This feeling definitely transfers across to the studio version, its vibrancy spreading across the whole album. According to West, the record was all completed in a South East London home studio, with solely Vander Gucht and West involved in the whole process. “We didn’t work with anybody, we wrote and mixed the whole thing ourselves” explains West, adding that this is how they’ll always work. “We’re very close to these songs, so it’s important that we stayed real and honest. On every record it’s going to be just the two of us”. He also mentions how special it feels to be holding your own music, in particular when you “pick up a vinyl which solely consists of songs we produced. It’s special”.

Although the band have now released their debut album (following a year of recording), it did take quite some time for everything to actually materialize. Once the band created loads of hype on Body Gold, they waited 18 months to reconcile. Why, though? “We were really proud of Body Gold” explains Vander Gucht, “but we were also busy with other projects at the same time”. The vocalist tells us that “it was more a case of putting up a track and seeing how it goes”. And boy did it go fast. Within no time, blogs all over the Internet had picked up on the track and subsequently latched onto the idea of Oh Wonder. The only problem back then, though, was Oh Wonder’s identities. Body Gold was put out anonymously, and this was a very conscious decision. Josephine tells us that they did this because “today’s industry is really focussed on the artist”. “We wanted to focus on the art rather than the artist. We didn’t want to focus on how we looked, who we were or where we came from. Just the music” she further adds. Whether or not Vander Gucht and West have actually come to the realization that Oh Wonder could be more than just a bedroom project remains to be seen, though. Right now, West believes that this moment is yet to come. “We still pinch ourselves every day, because we haven’t actually met anyone who likes our music” he says, continuing to explain that their first big gig will be the most amazing moment. The gig in question, Oh Wonder’s first ever, takes place at London’s 350-capacity ICA next week, with a second gig at the Institute of Contemporary Arts occurring the following day. After that, the band will be touring across Europe, including a sold out show at Amsterdam’s legendary Paradiso. Which songs do Oh Wonder think will best represent them, though? According to both of them, Livewire “is good enough”. Josephine does also reserve a special mention for Lose It, though, which “has an infusion of real jagged instrumentation and live electro”. Whether or not it’s enough to help propel Oh Wonder to the top of the charts remains to be seen, although Josephine Vander Gucht and Anthony West are definitely heading in the right direction. Jack Parker

Stream Oh Wonder’s debut album here. Listen to Technicolour Beat below.