They were never supposed to be a band. Now they’ve toured most of the world and are about to release their second album.
“It’s like Oh Wonder is a beast that we’re constantly trying to jump on the back off. It’s doing its own thing and we’re just trying to keep on top of it,” says Anthony West, one half of the successful London duo.
“I’m still in a happy blur or lack of understanding of what’s going on,” adds Josephine Vander Gucht. “It’s so bizarre because it feels like we’re so out of control – and yet so in control.”
The two met through mutual friends a few years back and shared an immediate musical connection. Vander Gucht, who is a classically trained trained pianist and vocalist, was about to launch a solo career, and West offered to produce some of her songs. But they soon undertook another project; to write and release a song every month for a year. They were going to pitch the songs to other artists but when they started putting them up on SoundCloud, they immediately gained a following that only grew for each release.
A few months in, the pair decided to self-release all the songs as an album at the end of the ‘song a month’ project. They did so, along with a couple of unreleased tunes, in November 2015 and they’ve been on the road with the record pretty much ever since.
Now the time has come for their follow-up album, Ultralife, which will be released in the middle of July. And even though it can be a hard task to follow a successful debut, it isn’t something they’ve struggled with during the process.
“We took some of the pressure off ourselves by thinking about this as our first album,” West explains. “With the first one, it never really felt like we were writing an album, so this feels more like a proper debut. It’s been a lot of fun. We had three months at home where we would just get up every morning and head to the studio and make music, which, having been on tour for two years, was such a relief.”
“It’s the first time I’ve made an entire body of work like this. It’s been really nice to have perspective and time to figure out what songs align sonically and lyrically and work next to each other,” Vander Gucht continues. “And also having an opportunity to make a different album and push ourselves on the terms of production and the sound. A lot of this album is recorded in a studio, compared to the first album which was done on a laptop in a shed. So yeah, it’s been amazing,” she laughs.
Ultralife is “a lot more colourful, a lot more diverse and a little more upbeat” than the debut, and it’s also a much more personal record.
“We’ve gone through such a new dynamic lifestyle these past two years touring, we’ve met amazing people and done things that we have never done before. And probably done things that we’ll only ever do once,” West says. “So a lot of these songs are reflections on going all of those places, the highs and the lows, and all of those crazy experiences that we’ve been having.”
Since the debut, Oh Wonder have signed with Island Records (Dew Process in Australia), but signing to a Universal Music sublabel doesn’t mean handing over the creative reins.
A lot of this album is recorded in a studio, compared to the first album which was done on a laptop in a shed.
“One of the reasons we chose Island specifically was because they have artists on their books that we really admire,” says Vander Gucht, “and we got the sense that they were creatively very independent and allowed to flourish and be in control of their music, which is the most important thing for us. We’re not a band that necessarily wants to do a lot of co-writing or co-production or anything like that.
“But we’re also very lucky that we have a very clear direction – we know what we want to do. Some labels excel on being able to help mould an artist and work out what they want to say or do, but for us it wasn’t about that. It was more like, ‘This is what we want to do and you can help us.’ And it’s been really great.”
It has also been paramount for the duo to share new music as soon as they can, and they have currently released five songs from the forthcoming album – which holds 12 tunes in all.
“We want to feed people music as much as we can. And then just let the songs do the talking,” says West. “We don’t really do loads of massive marketing things and crazy music videos, it’s about the songs and for us to release as much as we can.”
Oh Wonder will be playing Splendour In The Grass this year, along with a few sideshows in Melbourne and Sydney. And they’re quite excited to be coming back Down Under.
“One of our favourite ever shows was in Melbourne last time we were down there,” West recalls. “It was the first time we’d played in Oz and it was crazy. There are some shows where you can’t really figure out why they have so much energy. But it was a really good crowd. It’s still mind-blowing for us to imagine that people that far away wake up and listen to our music.”
Photo: Josh Shiner
Ultralife is out Friday July 14 through Dew Process/Universal. Oh Wonder play Splendour In The Grass 2017, Friday July 21 – Sunday July 23, and sideshows at the Metro Theatre on Monday July 24 and the Factory Theatre on Tuesday July 25.