Just days after their sell-out debut performance, Oh Wonder tell Corey Fischer about happy accidents and growing as songwriters.
It’s a project that has been over a year in the making and has challenged the way artists release music to the masses. A band hasn’t made a statement like this for a long time, but for British pop duo Oh Wonder, comprising writers Anthony West and Josephine Vander Gucht, it felt like a perfect fit. Since September 2014, the pair has released one single each month in an extended creative project that has culminated in their first album and catapulted them to a high level of fame among the indie pop scene.
Coming from vastly different backgrounds and musical styles, West and Vander Gucht have taken what they call “a happy accident and writing project” to the next level. Combining their expertise and styles to challenge themselves as artists (imposing deadlines on their process that few other artists ever face), they produce music that is not only delicate and beautiful, but that also speaks to the core of what it means to be human in the digital age and the good that lies within us all.
“There’s a subtle narrative throughout the album [that focuses on] the forces of human relationships, the importance of fostering a community and a sense of love and support and being there for the people around you, whether they’re your closest friends or total strangers,” says Vander Gucht. “Basically we just want to celebrate the importance of being human and all the emotions that come with that. That’s what we want to spread: love.”
The two also say that their unique process has influenced the music they make in more ways than one, and placed pressure on them to create songs that “stand alone and don’t fit into the context of an album”. “The process was definitely rough,” admits West, “because you have to produce fifteen singles instead of one album.” Vander Gucht adds that they were only ever “in the headspace of one song each month. So it’s weird how you have an album at the end of it all. It’s amazing.”
“We just want to celebrate the importance of being human and all the emotions that come with that.”
Inspired by artists and songwriters like Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Cat Stevens and Elton John, the pair says that they have gained a level of respect for what they call “the artistry of writing songs” and the “potential for a song to translate and connect with people.”
Their signature simplistic sound, ripe with soft piano tones and fluid vocals from both West and Vander Gucht has been a conscious decision for them both. “We wanted it that way,” says West. “We wanted everything outside the music to be really simple, right down to the font we used for our logo. We wanted everything to be refined, simple, and easy to take in so there was enough space around the music for it to breathe and connect with people.”
In spreading this message of connectivity, they have also connected with one another and have grown together as artists. West is primarily a guitarist and has been the lead guitarist and vocalist for a number of bands as well as a producer for some others. Vander Gucht was trained to approach music from a more classical standpoint and has played piano since the age of five. Individually, the two write in drastically different styles and forms, but together, Oh Wonder’s signature sound shines through. Both feel like they’ve learned more about the function and practice of songwriting from one another and that they’ve come to appreciate their creative outlet in an entirely new way.
Because of their musical backgrounds, particularly Vander Gucht’s, neither of them had experience of incorporating digital beats into their tracks. A core component of the modern pop era, these digital beats presented a challenge to the duo that they quickly overcame.
“If it’s a good song, you can put any production on it… That’s when real songs come to the forefront.”
“We always write the piano sounds for the background first…and it’s easy for us to write the base of the song. At the core they’re all just simple songs. We always write them like that,” explains West. “But if it’s a good song,” says Vander Gucht, “you can put any production on it: as a metal song, an electronic song even. That’s when real songs come to the forefront, so that’s what we were aiming for.”
If their music and message sound oddly philosophical, that’s no act. They’re both remarkably passionate about what they do and about what music can do, always drawing inspiration from and aspiring to be what West describes as “artists who say more than just the music they’re writing.”
Even with an accidental narrative woven throughout their album, both maintain that their music is open to interpretation. “The beauty and power of music is that you can, as a listener, interpret your own meaning from a song and let that [be the] soundtrack [to] a part of your life, or comfort you or heighten your highs or whatever that music needs to do to serve its purpose,” says Vander Gucht. “We want to give the music space for people to internalise it as they wish.”
The duo have begun touring in the past month, selling out venues before Oh Wonder ever stepped onstage in front of a live audience and constantly adding to their schedule to satisfy fans’ demands. Touring has been something they never foresaw and has been a very moving experience for them. “You never really expect someone to listen to your music, never mind having hundreds of people in front of you singing the words right back at you. The tour has been absolutely amazing,” says West.
What does the future hold for Oh Wonder? “Who knows? We never expected we’d be here!” Vander Gucht exclaims. “If we do more live shows and a second album, that’ll be more than we ever dreamed. So hopefully more of the same. We’re still going to continue to write songs anyway and just travel the world and meet people and spread good vibes.”
Oh Wonder’s self-titled debut album is available on iTunes.