Meet the accidental stars

Antwerp alt-pop group Oh Wonder go from songwriters to international sensations on the way to Tel Aviv.

December 12, 2017 21:07
Meet the accidental stars

OH WONDER’S Josephine Vander Gucht and Anthony West.. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Antwerp-based indie pop duo Oh Wonder are living in ultra-amazement, and you can hear it in their music. Josephine Vander Gucht and Anthony West recorded and released one song a month for a year, starting in September 2014, following the surprise success of their first single. That collection of songs was then released as their debut, self-titled album in September 2015.

This summer, Oh Wonder released their second album, Ultralife, and have since embarked on a whirlwind tour, stopping at the Barby in Tel Aviv on December 16. Gucht and West paused to talk about their wondrous ultralife with The Jerusalem Post.

How did you guys first connect and form the group?

Gucht: We met a number of years ago, been friends for about seven years. We’d been casually writing and making music as friends during that time. In December of 2014, we decided to release one of the songs that we’d written together so that we could pitch it to other artists as songwriters. We never wanted to be a band. We uploaded that first song to Soundcloud and all of a sudden, it kind of took off. We were anonymous at the time. Fast-forward three years later, and we’ve been on tour non-stop all around the world. We’ve just released our second album and we’ll be starting work on the third soon. We’re somehow a band and it’s amazing. We feel very lucky.

So the success of the debut album was accidental?

West: Yeah, the whole band was accidental.

I read that you guys did everything yourselves on the debut. Is that true?

W: That’s right with both our records – it was engineered, mixed, and produced by us. The difference was with the second album we used a live bass player and drummer to give it more musicianship and live energy. All the music comes from us. It’s very DIY and very fun.

After listening to both albums, I think you guys have an uncanny ability to maintain a consistent sound while still surprising the listener. The new album definitely has a more full sound.

W: I think that’s because of the live musicians.

With the first album, budget-wise, we had to stick to a laptop and a small room so naturally it was going to feel more intimate and stripped-back. With the third album, we’re thinking about going back down that route because we kind of miss that feel.

Since you guys didn’t intend on becoming a band, has touring and performing been an adjustment?

G: Yeah, it’s a completely different lifestyle.

You’re traveling, away from home, in a new city every day. It’s completely weird.

It’s the most unstructured lifestyle, but you know what you’re doing every night for an hour and a half, and it’s the same thing every night. It’s a life of extremes. But it is insane. Sometimes we go out for lunch, and talk about where we’ll be next week. Maybe it’s in Santiago, Chile. We wonder, how this is our life. We are some of the very few people who get to see the world on such a vast scale. But it does take getting used to for sure. It’s a very odd lifestyle.

Do you feel like you actually get to see the cities while touring?

W: You have to make an enormous effort to do that. It’s very easy to just go venue to venue. Sometimes you have to pinch yourself and say, “Don’t be stupid, go walk around the streets, get some food somewhere, see the city.” We try to do that.

We’ve been walking around Copenhagen for two days and it’s a beautiful place. It’s really important, otherwise we’ll get home in five years’ time after this mad journey and wonder what we even saw.

Will you have a little time to spend in Israel when you come?

W: Yeah, we’ll have a day off before the show. We are so excited to visit Tel Aviv, and hopefully Jerusalem as well.

What’s the meaning behind the name, Oh Wonder?

G: We love the word “wonder.” It has the dual meaning of a thing of beauty and the wonders of the world, and equally, the verb to wonder is to be curious, ask questions, and be inquisitive. Both of those things are really important to us; the admiration of the things in the environment around you, and equally, the importance of never being complacent or comfortable with what is and asking yourself why, when and how.

Are you able to translate both of those meanings into your music?

W: I think so. People listen to our music and I think it can solve certain questions they have, or they come out after listening with their own questions. Hopefully we’re testing people.

What’s the meaning behind ‘ultralife’?

G: We wrote a song called “Heavy,” and we had this lyric, “Ultralife, just you and me.” So we kind of invented this word. We sat thinking about it and thought it was a great word. It’s your life, but ultra. For us, ultralife is about finding someone or something that makes you feel that kind of ultra-ness, that invincibility; inescapably happy. Humans are notoriously emotional creatures. We have ups and downs all the time. It’s really important that you find something or someone who can pull you out of those bleaker moments. Some days, ultralife could be the ability to wake up and make my own breakfast. I’ll be zinging around the kitchen, like, this is amazing.

Finding comfort in the tiny things, or the most enormous things like playing to x amount of people in a city that you’ve never been to before. It represents what we’ve been living for the past year, this insane life that neither of us ever dreamed possible.

It sounds like ultralife is also a connection to something larger than yourself.

G: Yeah definitely, and embracing the infinity and that unknown. This experience has taught us that anything can happen.

You can’t see the finish line. No one can. I think it’s dangerous to ever try and draw a finish line for yourself because life can be unpredictable in the most amazing way.

What’s next for you guys musically?

W: We’re going to spend January in LA, which is something we’ve always wanted to do; head over there and write with a bunch of people. We’ll be writing with different artists for their records, which is something we haven’t done in a long time.

What is your dream collaboration with anyone living or deceased?

G: Even if nothing ever got released, I’d love to be locked in a room with Joni Mitchell. I’d just ask for a private concert.

I’d love to see how her brain works.

W: Death Cab for Cutie is one of my all time favorite bands. I’d love to be in a room with Ben Gibbish.

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