Within a year, Oh Wonder has accomplished what many artists take years to do. The English piano driven pop duo, made up of Anthony West and Josephine Vander Gucht, have garnered over 40 million streams, reached number one on The Hype Machine a staggering 13 times, signed to a major label, and wrote & released their debut album – which recently reached Top 20 in the Canadian iTunes Store. Not to mention they’ve sold out shows in Europe and the U.S – without even playing their first show. Oh Wonder did not reveal their identities for several months while anonymously releasing music on the first of every month since September 2014. Their debut album contains all of the singles released over the past year with the addition of a few more surprise singles – making a total of 15 songs. I had the opportunity to chat with Anthony and Josephine of Oh Wonder about the anonymous song releases, what fans can expect from a live show, and of course their brand new, self-titled album, which is out now.
The full interview can be read below.
When did you realize that Oh Wonder was going to be more than a side project?
Even the first day we put out Body Gold, we still thought it was a side project. From the first day, it was pretty instant. The reaction from people [about the song] was different from anything else we’ve done. We had about 100,000 plays in the first three days. For somebody that’s anonymous and doesn’t have anybody – we were just on our own. We put up a song on SoundCloud. From the get-go, it’s been really amazing. Very organic growth. It still feels like a small side project but it feels like more people have caught onto it. It’s like our side-project baby – that’s why it’s working. It’s very relaxed. Now there’s lots going on and it feels very international which is nice [but] we’re still in control of it. It’s not a controlled teenager yet!
For the first few months, you didn’t reveal your identities. What was it like finally telling friends and family that Oh Wonder is you? Especially hearing your song at a friend’s party and them not knowing it was you.
That was so mad! No one knew it was us. We didn’t even tell our friends because it wasn’t important. We weren’t really taking it seriously. It was just a way for us to release music. Being in a band, it feels like you’re constantly selling to your friends that you’re trying to justify what you do. “Please come to our gigs! Please buy our CDs!” This is a way of putting out music and not caring who may have heard it or not. This is what we made. We’re not trying to hype it up to anyone. We didn’t have any expectations. It’s been silly to give any expectations or awareness to anyone else. It was weird!
I can imagine how difficult it was to write a new song within a month. Did you ever come close to not finishing a song before the 1st of the month?
Yeah, there were a few. There’s a couple that we were literally mixing the night before. “The Rain”, we hadn’t finished [it], and it was the morning of the first. We were supposed to release it and we still hadn’t got it back from our mastering engineer. Our manager was calling us asking, “Where’s the song?!” We were like, “Yeah, it’s not finished, it’s up in an hour. It will come!” But luckily, we always managed to stick to it. We couldn’t not. You set yourself a deadline, it’s important to stick to it. But we’re surprised we did because there were some times you hit the middle of the month and it’s like, “how are we going to make this song?” We’re super proud of our release. We only had a few weeks to write the chords. It wasn’t like we could just write a bunch of songs and pick the best ones and put them on an album like every other person gets the opportunity to do. We were literally making it publicly and there was no room for error. It’s really stupid to do what we did! (laughs) The pressure was evidently a good thing, because we feel good about what we wrote.
The songs you have released are quite intimate, can fans expect the same intimate feeling and setting during your shows?
There’s going to be moments of some closeness. Some of the songs we’ve arranged differently so it’s just us singing together. But it’s going to have the backbone of the groove to it which the those sessions [referring to the BBC performances] kind of hinted at so we’ve got the drummer and bassist. It’s always going to be intimate. We both love live music and what we love about live music is that intimacy. No matter how big the room is whether you’re playing to ten people or 10,000 people, you’re all sharing one moment for that hour. You’re all in the same boat. You’re all experiencing the same thing together. No one has experienced it before or after. It’s a one of a kind thing and it’s different every moment. The nature of a live show is that it’s always going to be intimate and really special and hopefully build a connection between us and the audience. Even though we’re playing massive pop songs, hopefully that will connect with people on a live basis. They mean something to us and we’ll totally be singing from the heart. Hopefully that is a shared experience.
What was your favourite part about making the album?
We wrote one song a month from September to March and then we were told that we needed to hurry up the writing process and basically finish the album, so that we could have a pre-order by May. To make a vinyl, takes three months – which we didn’t realize. In our naivety, we were like, “Yeah, we’ll just put an album out in September”, not really realizing the practicalities of what that means. So, we had to finish the album by the beginning of May. There was this week in March where we had seven songs written and we needed to write another eight in a week. No one knows this because we kind of made it out like we were still writing a song a month. But, we had a week where we wrote eight of the final songs. It was a really weird week because looking back now, we just wrote all of those songs that mean so much to us in a week. There were times where we were like, “Oh! Just another song”. We had Post-it Notes on the back of the door, “There’s another one!”. We hit 15 and we were like, “Well that’s an album!” Looking back, that was a really sweet, naive point. Hit the sweet spot. Writing comes in waves and that was just such a good time for us.
What is the craziest thing that has happened in the past year?
There’s been some ‘pinch yourself’ moments. Getting our vinyl and holding that this week was pretty mad. It all became very tangible and very real. We were in LA and New York, two-three weeks ago, and that was really cool because that was the first time being like, “This is weird, people out here care about us or know about us”. We have a record label out there who said, “You got fans, we should go speak to Spotify or Vevo”. People knew who we were. We were like, “This is nuts!” We’ve never met a fan which is a really backwards way of doing things. Normally, you create a relationship with your fans and that’s how you kind of build momentum and awareness about yourself. We’ve done it all online. It’s a weird concept. That’s going to be the highlight – is actually meeting people that have been listening. We really appreciate it. To have a two-way conversation with people. It’s not just us being like, “This is our music”. It’s so different with digital. It’s really cool seeing people coming back and me recognizing them. It’s really cool to be able to put a face to those people. That will be really special.
What’s your favourite story that a listener has shared with you? Or the biggest compliment?
We get so many emails on a daily basis to the point now that we struggle to read them all. We love responding to people’s messages. So many people have experienced loss in some way. A lot of break ups, people whose friends have died or family members who have died [say] our music has comforted them and helped them. There are amazing stories. There was a girl [recently] from Austria. She said, “My dad is in a coma in the hospital and I have been listening to your album with him.” There was this really weird moment where she was listening to Midnight Moon when it came out. She was sitting in her back garden at midnight. She had just got back from the hospital visiting her dad. A fox appeared in the garden and stared at her for the whole duration of the song. They don’t get foxes in that part of Austria that she’s from. The fox stared at her and as soon as the song finished, the fox ran away. She said it was just one of those weird moments. You could feel it when she was writing that she actually felt something. That’s the reason we write music. That’s what art is about, what life is about. Creating art that comforts people, inspires people, prompts questions or makes people feel better. You never make music for yourself. There’s so many. We literally receive them on a daily basis and that’s totally kept us going and keep momentum. We realize that even if it was just that one person, it was worth it.
Which artist(s) would you like to tour with?
So many people. James Blake, Bombay Bicycle Club. We met Jack Steadman from Bombay [Bicycle Club] the other day. He’s on the same label as us over here. They had a little label Summer party. We literally spent 10 hours trying to pluck up the courage to go over to him. (laughs)
You two have played shows with your respective solo projects/bands. What do you think it will be like touring together?
It’s going to be really cool. We get to travel the world and hang out every day – and eat!. We’re going to eat our way around the world. If we Skype in a year’s time, we won’t even fit on the screen! (referencing our Skype Video Call) That’s the dream. (laughs)
Finally, is there anything you would like Oh Wonder fans to know about your debut album or the upcoming year?
We’re very grateful for everyone that listens to us. We want to advocate love, support, communities, and being there for each other. Promoting life, faith, perseverance, believing in yourself and to foster an outlook of positivity. It’s easier to slip under than to climb back up. We’re there for you. It’s important for us all to be there for each other. All we have is each other. All the planet has is 7 billion humans. We can’t substitute for anything else. We’ve tried to substitute it with money and possessions. Happiness is about looking after each other and ourselves.
Keep a close eye on Oh Wonder as I predict that they will see a great amount of success very, very soon. Look at what they’ve produced within just a year.