By Alex Siber
It’s rare that a band’s name accurately describes their sound. Oh Wonder live up to their name, pulling you into a world of wonderment with hushed tones and mesmerizing melodies. To listen is to tap into something otherwise hidden. The blend of gentle vocals and firm instrumentation has brought founding members Josephine and Anthony to the attention of a staggering number of listeners.
Less than one year ago they were recording under a different title, without any expectation of catching on. The rapidly building fandom has continued to accumulate since we last spoke with them in October. Each month, a new song arrives, entirely written, sung, and produced in-house. Each month, hundreds of thousands of streams (if not millions) register on SoundCloud and Spotify. A fervent audience showers well-deserved love upon the creative tandem, students of the best songwriters of the James Taylor era.
Naked and bare solemnity, piano-laden contemplation, and hushed vocals lace much of the 12 records released over the past 12 months. With one flip of the calendar left to go until Oh Wonder releases their self-titled debut album, we reconnected to discuss visiting The Beatles’ Abbey Road Studios, the upbringings that shaped their artistry, and their growth as a team in 2015.
Read our interview below, and check out their brand new video for “Drive,” too. Oh Wonder’s self-titled debut album drops September 4.
When we last spoke, you had a fraction of the plays and followers you now have. Has the magnified success placed more pressure on you both? Were you expecting this reaction?
Firstly, we were definitely not anticipating any kind of reaction—let alone the overwhelmingly positive response we have received. This project was intended as a side-project to showcase our songwriting. The fact that it has developed into a full-blown artist project where we are touring and thinking about future albums is nothing short of magnificent for us. We don’t feel any pressure because we never had any expectation. There still isn’t any expectation, it’s just us doing our thing, and we are grateful if people are into it.
When you first came out you hadn’t revealed any personal info or photos. Now you’ve put yourself out there more. Does it feel good to share more of yourselves with your audience?
Yeah, it feels really good actually! It’s nice to be more open with our listeners, and in return we think people are being really honest with us. It’s a lovely exchange of personalities. We receive a lot of emails from fans who have been really supported by our music, whether our songs have comforted them throughout dark times or soundtracked a blossoming romance. It’s extraordinary, and certainly sharing a little more of ourselves might have opened up those conversations.
What brought you to the historic Abbey Road studios?
We wanted to record strings for “Livewire” and our latest single, “Drive,” and we are fortunate to have a friend who works at Abbey Road. We sneaked in one evening and recorded our friends performing the string parts we had written, and it was such an amazing feeling to have our music playing out in such an iconic setting. It was definitely a “pinch yourself” moment.
How do your upbringings influence the music we’re hearing today?
Josephine: I was encouraged to have classical piano and violin lessons from an early age, as my family adores music but don’t really play an instruments themselves. That support has been a fundamental part of my songwriting. Writing chord progressions, scoring strings and layering up melodies comes more easily to me, having played the piano for 20 years.
Anthony: We both grew up listening to the songwriting heavyweights of our parents’ generation: Joni Mitchell, Elton John, Carole King, James Taylor. Consequently we both respect the classic art of songwriting and the importance of meaningful lyrics and clever pop melodies. We didn’t want this project to be a bunch of average songs shrouded in clever production; it was important that they stood alone as songs in their own right—with or without production.
As songwriters, do the two of you naturally possess different perspectives that need to be reconciled? What would you say Anthony specializes in, and Josephine?
We actually have a very similar perspective on songwriting, and there are few occasions when we disagree on a lyric or a melody. Generally if one of us doesn’t like it, we don’t use it. That happens infrequently though. Anthony specializes in production and is killer on the beats, sounds and melodic riffs. Josephine specializes in chords, melodies, harmonies and voicings of instruments. We both contribute to the lyrics and melodies and both love a catchy hook.
What have you learned about each other over the past year?
We are very much living in each other’s pockets at the moment, and perhaps we now know each other more than we know ourselves. We’ve pinpointed each other’s strengths and understood where we each need support, and outlined our respective duties. Josephine loves writing the copy for lots of social stuff, and Anthony is really great at design and designs all the logos and posters and pictures. We’ve happily settled into our individual roles outside of the music, within what is otherwise a highly collaborative project.
Are there themes and topics that attract you more than others, whether narratively or sonically?
Writing this album has been a bizarre process in that it’s been totally disconnected from our consciousness. It’s only when we sit back and look at the 15 songs collectively that we see the overarching themes and narratives. All these songs explore human relationships. They look at London, the sweeping gentrification and the rapidly expanding skyline, coupled with the propensity to become increasingly isolated and lonely in the heat of it all. What’s more important than ever is for us all to be there for each other. We wanted to make an album that celebrated the importance of human connection.
On “Dazzle,” you both sing you’re not in it for the money. Have you experienced conflicts between creation and commerce yet? Passing on synch deals or partnerships that didn’t align with your views?
[Laughs] We actually wrote that song about a documentary we watched on gambling and tried to inhabit the perspective of someone who is addicted to gambling. Like any addiction, it seems mindless, irrational but uncontrollable, and gets to the point where people don’t actually care about the money they are betting, it’s just an addiction. That said, we also aren’t in it for the money… and fortunately haven’t had any conflicts yet.
How would you describe your experience working with Red Bull?
It was great! We curated a mix for them which we really enjoyed. It’s lovely to be able to share what we are listening to with our own listeners.
Can you speak on your label situation? When did that come about? Was it something you aimed for from the start?
We are very fortunate to be working with Caroline International on this first album. We started talking to them a few months ago and they really aligned with our goals and hopes for this record, so it felt like a natural relationship to start. We never aimed to be signed artists—or rather, it wasn’t our main intention, but we jumped at the opportunity to have input from a talented team to help us share our record as widely as possible.
“All We Do,” your most-played song to date, deals with life’s ability to disorient us and our instinct to hide away. Where did the inspiration for that song come? As you’re about to release your album and hit the road for your first shows does this message seem kind of ironic?
We wrote “All We Do” the night before New Year’s Eve. The beginning of another year is always a weird time of reflection; people look at themselves and evaluate their progress and outline goals for the next 12 months. It’s an odd concept, but one that we wanted to explore.
It’s actually really important to take time out and reflect on your life. In life you have to take risks, be bold, put yourself out there. Sitting and waiting for something to happen generally won’t get you to where you want to be. The chorus to “All We Do” is often misinterpreted by our listeners. When we sing “I’ve been upside down, I don’t wanna be the right way round, can’t find paradise on the ground,” we are asserting the importance of having your head in the clouds and aspiring to something greater than a mundane reality. It’s good to dream big.
As we embark on a worldwide tour, the message of “All We Do” therefore seems more important to us than ever, not ironic at all. We put ourselves the wrong way round, did something a little different and didn’t wait for life to come to us. We actively sought it.
What else do you want people to know about Oh Wonder?
That we are endlessly grateful for this opportunity to make our art and share it with the world. That we are huge advocates of compassion, friendship, building a community of support and being there for people. And that we’re currently obsessed with summer rolls. They’re cheap to make, they’re healthy, and they taste freakin’ insane with peanut butter and hoisin sauce.