Oh Wonder, a London, England-based songwriting duo made up of Anthony West and Josephine Vander Gucht performed in front of a sold out crowd at Union Transfer Jan. 26. Before their sold-out show, the Triangle’s Ryan Quint had an interview with the group to discuss their current tour, surprising their parents with matching tattoos, the importance of Soundcloud and much more!
The Triangle: I want to start off by asking how you guys met as well as what your musical backgrounds are and when you started making music together. I know Anthony is more of the producer, while Josephine is classically trained in singing, but whose idea was it to start collaborating and making music?
Josephine Vander Gucht: I was a solo artist and Anthony was in a band. We attended each other’s gigs and inadvertently met that way.
Anthony West: And then a couple years later, I ended up producing one of Josephine’s first records. And then from that point on, we realized that we worked really well together from that role, so we decided to write together and it clicked really well.
TT: I recently heard an interview with you when you said that you started this as a side project and you didn’t even tell your friends. If you had one, what was the turning point for your career and when did you decide telling people who you were?
AW: There were a couple of house party incidents when we came on the speakers and we just sat there awkwardly.
JVG: There wasn’t really one but the moment that we realized Oh Wonder couldn’t be a side project anymore was when we had to make the album. It sounds silly but putting a new song up every month is going to turn into an album and we were never really aware of that.
AW: It was great because the idea of “making an album” is such a scary thought. For us now, the thought of making our second album is scary. We need to take some time off and get some head space for it.
TT: Was there a certain month that hit and you realized that now you had to finish what you started?
JVG: About March, but we had to finish everything in May. We figured we could finish August 31 and release the album in September but (the label) told us you have to write nine more songs by May so we can pre-order the album and go through the whole process.
TT: Moving on, you had a note on your wall when you were starting out with four goals: (1) we have a publishing deal off the back of writing incredible songs, (2) we are in-demand songwriters, respected for our art, (3) we feel that anything is possible and live the yes life, (4) music earns us an amazing living and we travel the world thanks to it.
TT: You’ve accomplished all of these goals very quickly. If you have any, what are your new goals?
AW: We have a lot of Post-it notes on our refrigerator and they’re slowly being pulled off. There’s certain people we’d love to write and work with.
JVG: I don’t really have any specifics but I think now that we have an actual platform of people listening to our music, I want to utilize that opportunity as much as I can to make good music and share it. So my goal right now is to just write a sick second album.
AW: Yeah, I think that’s a great goal.
TT: You guys are on your first full headlining tour in America and you just started performing a few months ago. How have you found touring so far?
JVG: It’s so good. It’s so different to the studio vibes too.
AW: It’s amazing how different it’s become as well. Our energy onstage is even different from our first show as we’ve shaken off all of those nerves now. We can really enjoy each crowd every night.
JVG: The performance bit for me is just what this is all about. You write music to share it and being able to perform that music in front of thousands of people in a room at once all singing back your songs to you is an unreal feeling.
TT: So your Washington D.C. show was cancelled due to snow but you managed to see the White House. What other sightseeing have you done in the U.S.?
JVG: We missed the Golden Gate Bridge but we did go to the Google headquarters in San Francisco. We had a really quick tour of that. We went in the ball pit and on the Google bikes. It was awesome.
AW: Oh, there was an amazing viewpoint in Seattle.
TT: Well, I have a feeling you’ll be back to San Francisco very soon as your new U.S. tour has just been announced. Hopefully you’ll be able to see the Golden Gate Bridge next time around. Continuing with touring, you’ve done a few festivals in Australia and you’re also scheduled to perform at Sasquatch, Firefly and Bonnaroo this summer. Do you have a preference between festivals and headlining shows?
JVG: There’s something so special about your own headlining shows.
AW: But there’s also something cool about festivals. You get to go watch other bands.
JVG: You also have no idea if anyone is going to come and see you. It’s scary as hell but more exciting. We’ve been performing as solo artists for awhile now and we used to peek out behind the curtain and have like four people in the crowd but with festivals there’s just a sea of people.
TT: Bonnaroo is one of the biggest festivals in America so hopefully it will make your experience in Australia look like Philadelphia. Speaking of Australia, Troye Sivan gave you guys a shout out on “Suburbia” off his new album “Blue Neighborhood” saying: “There’s so much history in these streets and mama’s good eats, Oh Wonder on repeat.” You unveiled one of the squares during his album cover art reveal. You also shared the same release day with his “WILD” EP. How did this relationship come about and are there any plans in the works for a collaboration?
JVG: He was just a fan of us. And he tweeted us once and all of a sudden our phones just blew up with notifications. We didn’t know who he was so we started listening to his music and he sent us a couple of his songs and we loved it. His music is sick. He writes some really good pop tunes. And then we just met up with him in Los Angeles last time we were there and we just hung out and ate pizza and he’s really sweet. We’d love to write with him but he’s obviously super busy.
AW: We’d love to make that happen.
TT: I saw Instagram that you two have matching “Heart Hope” tattoos. What is the story behind this?
JVG: There’s a funny story behind it.
AW: We got them to mark our first American show. We got them just before our first Troubadour show in Los Angeles. That song for us just sums up the record.
JVG: But the funny story is that my parents would absolutely kill me if they knew that I got a tattoo. So I’ve had this tattoo for about a week and we’re in New York City and my parents flew in from London to see the show. We’re all in the dressing room just talking about tattoos and my mom said “Josephine if you ever get a tattoo, we will go nuts!” Out of nowhere my dad says “If you get one, I’ll get a matching one.” And I started laughing because I secretly already had this one. So during the New York show, I introduced the song “Heart Hope” and I looked up in the crowd to see my parents and I revealed the tattoo on my leg and my mom’s face just sunk in her hands. And a few days later, my dad was in Boston and got his Heart Hope tattoo and also got an “OW” one as well. So my dad has a matching tattoo with us as well!
TT: That’s a great story though! Moving forward, Radio X included you on their list of Top 30 albums and Top 50 songs of 2015. You were the second most blogged artist on HypeMachine. Buzzfeed named “Without You” as one of the Songs You Need in November, the list goes on. What do accolades like this mean to you?
JVG: It’s really nice to be respected within the industry and we’re so grateful for those nods but in all honesty what means the most to us is our fans. We make music, for ourselves, but also for people to enjoy and it’s awesome that someone in an office loves our music but it means so much more when you receive an email from a fan saying how our record has really helped him or her with depression. That’s why we make music. The accolades are great but that’s not why we make music.
TT: Speaking of fan stories, your song “White Blood” is an absolutely incredible story all the way down to the artwork, can you please explain the story about how this song came about for people unfamiliar with it.
AW: So there is a guy named Steven who lives in San Francisco and his girlfriend emailed us saying how they’d love to fly to London to meet us. And this is ages ago.
JVG: And we had never met any fans so we were really down for it.
AW: And he was a big fan. He came and met us and told us how he self-diagnosed himself with a brain tumor the size of my fist.
JVG: He’s so cool too. He studies 3-D printing and he’s 3-D printed his brain tumor for us so we have a bunch of brains hanging out in our studio.
AW: He’s our friend who took us around the Google headquarter.
JVG: I think they’re some of the nicest people we’ve ever met. They’re so generous. They’re all about living in the moment and enjoying everything while you have it.
AW: And we had this song “White Blood,” which symbolizes what people go through and how people live through cancer and tough times. So for the artwork, we asked Steven to give us a clip of a brain scan.
JVG: We had just asked him a random clip of a brain and he said “I can do one better.” And he sent us a scan of his actual brain.
TT: It really is an incredible story and I wanted to make sure to include that bit in this piece. Continuing with songs off of the album; on “Drive” you sing: “Sat back with the window down, eighty an hour and the radio loud, the same songs with the same old rhymes, tell me to shake it off and swing from the lights” as well as “I could stay, but there’s a place I’d rather be.” I assume there is no shade being thrown at Taylor Swift, Sia, Sam Smith or Clean Bandit but you reference those songs specifically. Could you explain the message you were trying to portray with these lyrics?
JVG: So many people have said that we are hating but those are actually our four favorite pop songs.
AW: For us, “Drive” is our most poppy tune and when we were writing it we thought what better way for us to write this than with our four favorite pop tunes.
JVG: We love pop writing and those four were just soooo good. They defined pop music last year. And “the same songs with the same old rhymes” is not a shot by any means, we really do love those songs.
TT: You guys also just performed “Lose It” on Conan. How was that experience?
JVG: It was so cool. We didn’t actually meet him but the whole experience was incredible. Last year, I was on a tour of the Warner Bros. Studio driving around on the trucks and the tour guide said “And that’s where Conan is filmed,” and when I walked out of the studio I thought back like, “I was on the truck last year and now I’m on the show!”
TT: Lastly, can you talk about the importance of technology and the role Soundcloud has played on your career? Also, where would you be without it?
AW: Not here.
TT: There’s so many artists that are really popular now who began their careers on YouTube. Look at Shawn Mendes or Alessia Cara who both gained popularity from posting covers to Vine and YouTube.
JVG: We love Alessia. Our tour routing is very similar and we keep missing her, unfortunately.
AW: A lot of people think you shouldn’t be listening to music on Spotify or Soundcloud because the artist doesn’t get paid as much but we have to get with the times. People don’t buy CDs or records. People consume music in a different way. I think we’re a good example of being able to embrace the new way music is consumed. We’re profiting in different ways in the sense that we can come out to America and play to sold out shows here. So if you embrace it and realize what it can do for you, I think it’s amazing.
You can check out more from Oh Wonder on their website ohwondermusic.com and on Twitter (@OhWonderMusic).