Analogue Music | Oh Wonder

Oh Wonder

By Matt Conner

Josephine Vander Gucht is still getting used to the momentum.

Five years after the roller coaster ride took off for Oh Wonder, the London-based duo, comprised of Vander Gucht and Anthony West, has clocked five billion streams, sold out shows on multiple continents, a million record sales and a passionate fan base hungry for their brand new album, No One Else Can Wear Your Crown.

For two artists who took the scenic route to achieve such success, the idea of having a team of professionals surrounding them—responsible for album art and tour visuals and the like—is both thrilling and (still) surprising. As Vander Gucht details, a decade of driving cross-country to play to 10 people will suppress expectations for some time.

On the verge of a European run before hitting the States coast to coast in April, we sat down with Vander Gucht to hear more about the band's journey to date and the realities of being surrounded by a host of collaborators.

Analogue: I know I caught you right after rehearsals, so let's start there. How are things feeling on the verge of this tour and release?

Josephine Vander Gucht: I was just chatting with our bass player and we were just saying that this feels like what we should have done right at the beginning. When you're naive and innocent and excited, it's just 'let's book a time to tell the world.' You don't really mentally or even physically prep for it, I guess.

'No One Else Can Wear Your Crown'
'No One Else Can Wear Your Crown'

We've been quite fortunate with this album. We've had so much time to be creative, not only in the studio but in rehearsals, to learn the new songs and they feel so great in our fingers. I think it's just another level of excitement on the tour. We've been working for a long time on the visuals with a whole stage thing and these music videos for each song. It just feels like the album and the tour that we were born to do if that doesn't sound too cheesy.

Analogue: There's a whole machine around you now but I know when you first started, it was this slow drip approach, this intimate and organic build. I'm picturing myself in your shoes wondering how that would feel. It's gotta be great to reach so many people, but do you find you also have to protect the instincts a bit?

Josephine: I think we were resistant to it, at first, because Anthony and I both come from very DIY backgrounds. Ever since we were 16, we'd chuck a piano or guitar in the back of the car and drive ourselves to opposite ends of the country to play for 10 people. So you burn CDs and sell them for five bucks after the show or whatever. We did that for 10 years before Oh Wonder.

When we started putting songs on SoundCloud, it was still in that same lane. It was very spur-of-the-moment thinking and then it exploded into this beast of a thing, which became immediately international, which is something neither of us had ever experienced. These people were saying, 'You should come to Australia' or 'Come to Chicago!' It was very overwhelming and incredible. You can't dream that up, right?

I think we were super-resistant, maybe, for the first album and even the second. You called it a machine, but I guess collaborators is the right word there. Now with this album, we've even opened up on the songwriting. We asked some of our favorite songwriters and friends to write a couple of the tunes. We invited some help with additional production, and we've allowed our creative visual designers to completely take the reins.

Basically I've realized the value in empowering others to help buid your own art. That's why I guess all the biggest and best artists in the world have huge teams. You're working with unbelievable talent.

"We're part of a machine but in the most amazing, empowering way. It's really cool."

It's taken us a good few years to realize how insane and how enjoyable that process is to be working those teams, whether it's the guy doing your front of house sound at the gig or the guy plugging in your cables. Whoever it is, we're working with unbelievable people and we feel so privileged. Our label has been great coming up with the artwork and vinyl packages.

Just everything this time around feels super-collaborative. We're part of a machine but in the most amazing, empowering way. It's really cool.

Analogue: So there's no need to feel protective of anything?

Josephine: No, we're both still very much at the forefront of everything. We just feel privileged that we can bring something up and then execute it with great people around us. We're more in control than ever, really, even though we've relinquished control on some things.

Analogue: I read that you took these piano jazz lessons heading into this. I thought that was such an interesting anecdote.

Josephine: Yeah, we decided to take a year off during which we pursued loads of stuff, including taking those piano lessons. We just tried to do new things, and I started taking these piano lessons. I'd been playing classical piano since I was five but I'd never, ever entered the realm of jazz. I'm still really bad [Laughs] but I think it definitely informed a lot of these tunes.

Even in rehearsals now, I feel a lot more free on my instrument. That allowed the both of us, as we were writing, to feel a lot more ambitious and experimental than we did before. These aren't standard pop tunes, necessarily. They're a bit weirder and that's cool.

Credit: Olga De La Iglesia
Credit: Olga De La Iglesia

Analogue: When you decide to pursue something like that in the first place, was the goal for it to enhance your music or was it just to pursue something fun?

Josephine: Neither of us ever have conscious goals for our music, which is really weird. It always comes subconsciously, very naturally. So we had no vision for this album. We had no idea for the concept or what it would be sonically or lyrically. It's only when you sit at a piano and stuff pours out of you and you look back at it and say, 'Oh, that's how I'm feeling!' That's why I adore creation and music. You don't really know what you're going to say until you're saying it and then you look back and see something insightful and informative.

Analogue: When everything started to take off in such a surprising way, do you remember a specific point within that the realization that it was out of control?

Josephine: Every milestone that happens when you start a project was bigger than anything we'd done before, even down to the first tunes we uploaded to SoundCloud. A bunch of blogs wrote about us on the day we released the songs and suddenly the song itself had 100,000 plays in three days. It was like, 'What? That's all I've dreamed of for the last 10 years to have 100,000 plays over a whole year and we got it in a day or something.' Then you think it was an accident but it just kept happening.

For me, maybe the moment you mentioned came one year into the project when we put our first shows on sale in London, New York, L.A., Paris. We'd released the album and never played live and they sold out in a minute or something. Six hundred people in L.A. bought tickets in a minute and you wonder, 'What, how have they heard of us?' That was a shock and a surprise and has made everything after it feel like a bonus. Even this now feels like a bonus since our expectations were so low. [Laughs] It's great.

VISIT: Oh Wonder