For a brand new band to have a finished album and 13.5m plays on Soundcloud, yet to have never set foot on stage together is practically unheard of. How do you build up such fandom when no one's seen you? East London duo Oh Wonder have the answer. From their apartment in the Cockney neighborhood Bow, Josephine Vander Gucht and Anthony West have been writing, recording, and uploading one song every month to the music streaming platform since the first of September, 2014.
After a few chance meetings four years ago through gigging—Josephine with her solo project and Anthony with former alt-rockers Futures—the two twenty-somethings began writing together, but it wasn't until last year that they decided to start sharing. And thankfully they did because their sound is delectable: luscious guy-gal harmonies wash over classic piano and cinematic samples in a minimal way that makes a big impact. If you imagine The xx's ethereal qualities mashed together with the pep of Summer Camp you'd have something akin to Oh Wonder. Take "Drive"—the video for which is premiering below—was popped online barely two weeks ago, a plush pop tune replete with pitch-perfect violins and their voices expertly layered, Vander Gucht's pulled ever so slightly more to the fore. They're melancholy R&B-tinged tunes with a subtle upswing.
With only two months to go until the fresh-face troubadours' self-titled debut drops and they set out on a UK-wide tour, we sat down with Anthony and Josephine in a café to discuss the important things in life: dreams, Microsoft Word, and sharing pens.
Noisey: It's been almost a year since you started Oh Wonder, what has been your best memory of the time so far?
Anthony West: We got an email from a fan in the States three months ago and this lady Wendi—with an "i"—said "Me and my boyfriend Stephen are coming to England and he can only make one trip a year because he's got cancer and we'd really love to meet you." We said yes, they came to Greenwich near our studio, and we went for coffee. Turns out they were the loveliest people and he was the most incredible dude ever.
Josephine Vander Gucht: It was a super humbling moment because he said that our music helped him through his chemo and that we were his favorite band. He ended up coming to our studio and we played table tennis. We get lots of people telling us our music is helping them through a tough time, but to actually meet somebody was a really grounding moment because we realised we're not just making songs in our bedroom; there are real people out there listening.
AW: We've never played a gig, so we've never met a fan.
I don't believe that you've never played live together before.
JVG: Bizarre, isn't it? We've been sitting on these songs for months, so actually being able to play them live will be so weird. Normally people build up with touring and then record, but by then you're not as excited about the songs as you've been playing them for ages. It's a really backwards way of doing it for us, but this way the live shows are really fresh, if scary.
For those who haven't heard you, how would you describe Oh Wonder? Imagine you're talking to David Bowie's character in The Man Who Fell to Earth.
JVG: Two songwriters who write about love, loneliness, London, community, gentrification, and gambling.
AW: Essentially summing up what it's like to be a human, which is ironic because he's an alien.
JVG: We're two songwriters who've written a handbook about how to be a human. We're going to come across so fucking weird in this interview.
What's weird is that supposedly Louis Theroux inspired your song "Dazzle." Can you elaborate on that?
JVG: Louis goes to Las Vegas and it's one of the most depressing things ever.
AW: There's this old lady at the same slot machine every day and she's lost millions.
JVG: All the staff are like, "We love Dorris" and they give her free drinks and she's like, "They look after me so well here." Yeah, because you've given them millions of dollars! Idiot. Well, she's got an addiction, so I can't call her an idiot, but it's depressing. So "Dazzle" was written about that.
What other back stories are there to tracks on the album?
JVG: "All We Do" was a big thing for us. We wrote it on the eve of New Year's Eve and it just poured out of us. It was 1 AM and we'd been working all evening, then I sat down at the piano, played, and Ant started singing "All we do" and we wrote it in four minutes. It just popped out. It was really important to us to write a song about ignoring the monotony of life and challenging yourself as a human. It's so hard to do because humans are lazy, they like comfort and excuses and procrastinating, but the sentiment behind "All We Do" is the point when we started following our dreams and embarking on a new thing.
Speaking of dreams, what did your subconscious conjure up last night?
AW: I spent all of yesterday programming our live set and then I couldn't sleep because I'd been listening to this music all day and had this one song in my head. So I was sleeping, but I was awake, except I knew I was dreaming about the song and I wasn't seeing anything, I was just hearing. So I was lying there in a mental prison of the song.
JVG: I actually had an amazing dream the other day that all my family were trying to kill me. It was really weird and I sound like such a creep, but I was trying to run out of my family home, except all the doors were locked.
AW: We're both being imprisoned in dreams!
Why are you releasing your album as a song a month on Soundcloud?
JVG: The whole project started as a song writing exercise because we'd been writing together for a while and had never done anything with our songs. We wrote "Body Gold" and thought, "Hey, let's put it out ourselves," keep it as a side project and set our selves a deadline every month to release another song. That way we had to write 13 songs. It wasn't a marketing plan.
AW: Like the name, it was literally an on-the-spot decision.
AW: We originally started out as Wonder Wonder.
JVG: But a band had a similar name, so asked us to change it and we had a day to come up with a new one.
AW: We love the word wonder, so we were trying to come up with something with that in.
JVG: And what's really surreal is that this was Halloween, so Anthony was dressed as John Lennon and I was Yoko Ono. We were two months into the project and a day away from releasing the next track, just sitting in the car going, "Wonder Wonder Wonder, Wonder UK, Wonder Oh Wonder, Wonder We Wonder, Wonder Why…" It was a really odd moment.
AW: We finally stopped the car, thought of Oh Wonder and were like, "Quick, send it off!"
In the band you both sing, but do you both write the lyrics too?
JVG: We do everything together. We're really in tune with each other because we've been working together for so long.
AW: It's very easy to know what the other one's thinking, so we can write a line together. It sounds cheesy as hell.
JVG: So cheesy!
AW: We hold the same pen.
JVG: We hold the same pen!? [Laughs.]
AW: Like that film Ghost with the pot—it's like that. But honestly, we finish each other's sentences.
JVG: I'm vomming over here. No, it's true, it's a very odd process.
Was it a conscious decision to keep things minimal? Seeing as there are only two of you, your sound is stripped back and your artwork is stark.
JVG: Yes! Definitely. We were very aware from the start that musicians nowadays are often judged on everything but the music.
AW: You can't make your mind up about our vibe just by looking at our artwork, but with a lot of bands you can.
JVG: It's black and white because we didn't want to give anything away. We wanted people to listen to the music first and foremost. And the single artwork on Soundcloud is made from photographs we've found, which adds another dimension to the story of each song for anyone that's interested.
Do you make all the artwork yourselves?
JVG: We make it all on Microsoft Word so when people ask for a high-res copy of the artwork we have to say no because I've screenshot it from Word and cut it out so it's like 400kb. That's why they all look so shit. Genuinely.
Danielle Goldstein is a London-based human who has perfected the art of comfortably procrastinating. Follow her on Twitter.
Oh Wonder Tour Dates
16th ICA, London SOLD OUT
17th ICA, London SOLD OUT
23rd Pop Up Du Label, Paris SOLD OUT
5th Troubadour, LA SOLD OUT
6th The Echo, LA SOLD OUT
8th Rough Trade, NYC (2 Shows) SOLD OUT
17th The Haunt, Brighton
18th Thekla, Bristol
19th Bodega, Nottingham
21st King Tuts, Glasgow
22nd Deaf Institute, Manchester
23rd Village Underground, London **NEW DATE ADDED**
24th Village Underground, London SOLD OUT
Oh Wonder's debut LP is out on 9.4.
"Drive" is out on 9.18 via Caroline International.