Lyrics, Melody, and Meaning: A Conversation With Oh Wonder

Our Rating

It’s an intense, emotionally draining experience that is bound to leave you with a tear in your eye and a pounding in your chest.

Oh Wonder - Oh WonderHeartfelt lyrics, delicate instrumentation, and deep meaning have been the cornerstones of Oh Wonder’s music since they released their first single on September 1, 2014. One year and 40 million streams later, the writing duo of Josephine Vander Gucht and Anthony West have finally achieved their goal of releasing one song a month for a year. They have now compiled their singles (plus a few extra tracks) into a self-titled debut album, released September 4th via the illustrious Republic Records.

What began as an innocent, if not ambitious songwriting project has become one of the most blogged about artists of the year. Oh Wonder have achieved the unique and highly respectable feat of charting thirteen #1 songs on The Hype Machine, meaning that every song they released hit the aggregate site’s coveted #1 spot. Traditionally speaking, artists who have one or two songs hit #1 are likely to be swooped up by labels, but to have one’s entire catalog treated this way is unheard of; Oh Wonder are an anomaly – a good one, at that.

Oh WonderOh Wonder stand apart from the pack of blog-candy artists for many reasons, but perhaps the clearest one is their accessibility. Josephine and Anthony kept their identities hidden behind a black-and-white logo through the end of 2014, forcing listeners to concentrate solely on the music. To lack a backstory meant the artist Oh Wonder lacked non-musical context; they were defined by the music alone. In a year defined by social media pop stars, Oh Wonder forced us to step back and listen, quite literally, to the music and lyrics. Any and all attention had to funnel directly from that source of information.

Oh Wonder’s music is a multi-dimensional mix of R&B, minimalist indie, singer/songwriter and electronic influences. Both Josephine and Anthony assume co-lead singing roles on every track, giving each song a chilling dual focus from both the female and male perspectives. Their songs, most of which focus on relationships in one way or another, are delicate; while some songs are dark and others are light, the lyrics maintain the utmost level of sincerity and the duo never overextend themselves or bite off more than they can chew. This is first and foremost a songwriting project, after all, yet Oh Wonder are so much more than that: In addition to doing all the songwriting, Josephine and Anthony fully-produced each tune, adding that much more credibility to an already sky-high resume.

Whether it was the entrancing “Technicolour Beat,” the haunting “All We Do,” the heart-wrenching “Livewire” or any of Oh Wonder’s ten other songs that won over audiences during the past twelve months, one thing is certain: It’s been a rollercoaster ride for everyone involved.

And to think it all started with an upload to SoundCloud.

With the first of September marking the last of Oh Wonder’s singles releases, the anticipation for new music is slowing down and the excitement for the world tour is ramping up: The duo will be following their album’s September release with two sold-out shows in London, a sold-out show in Paris, four sold-out shows in the U.S., a sold-out show in Brussels, a sold-out show in Amsterdam, and more… You get the gist; Oh Wonder are in high demand.

Atwood Magazine sat down with Josephine and Anthony in advance of the madness to dig a little deeper into the Oh Wonder story. It’s clear that the pair were destined for one another: They bicker like schoolchildren and finish each other’s sentences, all while wearing magnificent, youthful smiles and speaking with care, tact, and honesty. If there were ever an artist who deserved every bit of their hype and acclaim, it’s Oh Wonder.

Oh Wonder © Josh Shinner

Oh Wonder

A Conversation With Oh Wonder

Atwood Magazine: Pleasure to meet you both! I’ve been following Oh Wonder's trajectory for a while. It’s been really exciting, huh?

Josephine: Yeah, it has. It’s been incredible.

Anthony: A very cool experience.

No one knew who Oh Wonder was for the longest time. Are you happy to be finally showing your faces?

Josephine: Yeah…

Anthony: Yeah, although without playing a show yet.

This is true.

Anthony: Yeah, so… It’s going to be weird seeing, like, five hundred faces in a crowd. It’s a lot to take in, but it’s really cool.

Josephine: No, it’s really nice. Well, being anonymous – in the first five months were we anonymous? – was actually kind of lovely, because we’re all about focusing on the art, not the artist; focusing on the music, not what kind of cheese we like and what movies we watch – which I find very irrelevant. I find celebrity culture just a bit odd, and it’s really… I’m still getting into grips with the idea that people, like – 

Anthony: – know what cheese you eat? –

Josephine: – want to know what cheese I eat! I don’t – no one’s asked me that yet, but yeah.

What kind of cheese do you eat?

Anthony: Well, that’s an exciting question!

Josephine: ALL of the cheese! I LOVE cheese!

Anthony: [to Josephine] Wait, what’s that one I got the other day?

Josephine: My favorite cheese is a French cheese called Comté, and it’s like a hard cheese – it’s really smoky. [to herself] How do you describe Comté cheese?

One day, you’re going to get a package from some secret admirer, and it’s -

Josephine: – going to be full of cheese?! Oh my god, that’ll be the day – yeah, actually maybe that should be our plan! Just to drop cheese in every city.

Anthony: I’m lactose intolerant, which doesn’t work in my favor at all.

Josephine: [laughs] Okay, fine fine fine. But no, it’s lovely to meet people and stuff – yeah, it’s great.

We’re all about focusing on the art, not the artist

Listen: “Shark” – Oh Wonder

You both had former artistries before teaming up. How did Oh Wonder start?

Anthony: Yeah, we’ve always had separate projects. About five years ago, I saw Jo’s gig, and then we didn’t really talk, didn’t really say hello, and then she came to one of my gigs – and she did say hello!

Josephine: Yeah, you rudely ignored me.

Anthony: I did not ignore you.

Josephine: You did.

Anthony: I was packing up onstage, trying to rush out of the venue because it was a club night, so I was like, “Hey!” And then, basically Josephine was making a record – like a split EP – with someone else. They needed someone to produce it, so this guy called me in, and that’s how Josephine and I met… In my old studio, wasn’t it?

Josephine: Mmm… And the writing just came about because we found that we had really, really similar interests, and the same bands in common, and the same outlook and aspirations and dreams… We both wanted to be songwriters more than anything. We’re really aligned in our views and our creativity, so that was great – it just came out really naturally.

Anthony: We kind of knew, as soon as we started writing together, that it could be a cool thing to pursue.

Josephine: Yeah, it’s just so fun writing with you, and very easy.

Listen: “Technicolour Beat” – Oh Wonder

Everyone else has assigned titles to you - this and that. What is Oh Wonder, to you?

Josephine: Hmm, that is a good question… Oh Wonder… Oh Wonder, to us – well, Oh Wonder, to me, is about respecting the craft of songwriting and trying our best to… I don’t want to saying anything that’s like, really derogatory to other people. It’s about respecting the art – the craft of songwriting, and focusing on the importance of great lyrics, great melodies and meaning, and spreading a message of ‘the good stuff’.

Anthony: Yeah, the important stuff.

Josephine: We’re really into aspiring to things greater than just yourself, and being there for people, and supporting people, and human connection, and love, and all that kind of stuff. So to me, it’s a collection of songs that explore that, I think – that’s bigger than us. It’s a vehicle to comfort people.

Anthony: Yeah, big time. I find it’s also a good thing – so we’ve been doing this for years; we’ve been trying to be musicians since we left school. And it feels like this is the only project I’ve done in all those years where this is actually an outlet for everything that I’ve learned over the past ten to twelve years. I can do everything I’ve learned. Everything I want to do, I can do within this outfit of Oh Wonder.

Josephine: Yeah, we’re really self-sufficient, so we get the opportunity… We’re so privileged that we get the opportunity to write songs together, to write all of the aspects of the songs: the melodies, the lyrics, the chords. Then we get the privilege to be able to produce them, and add in beats and string arrangements and keys… Then we get the privilege to be able to mix it, and craft a record that we want to make, and then we get the privilege of being able to sit down every month, with ourselves, and not have labels and A&Rs going, “Here, this is a great single. You should be doing this.” No disrespect to Republic – we love Republic and they’re not doing that, so it’s fine. We’ve just been really privileged, and [to Anthony] you’re right, it’s the perfect outlet to be able to – to…

Anthony: Just put everything we’ve been working towards, all the skills that we’ve learned…

Josephine: Yeah, it’s all culminated in this, I think.

Everything I want to do, I can do within this outfit of Oh Wonder

Listen: “The Rain” – Oh Wonder

What, musically speaking, gives you the biggest thrill?

Josephine: Probably releasing music

Anthony: Releasing music for now, and I’d say live music is probably going to be a big one when we start playing live.

So that’s all fan-based - all that has to do with other people.

Anthony: Yeah, I guess it’s the interaction between. I do love the writing process; it’s really cool, because it’s one of those things that actually just comes from… 

Josephine: Nowhere; it’s magic!

Anthony: Literally. Yeah, it’s really odd. You leave the room like, “Okay… Where did that come from?”

Josephine: Yeah, you went into a room with absolutely nothing, and you leave with a song that’s a tangible thing, and that’s beautiful. That process is insane.

Anthony: Yeah. It’s also a bit like making a record: When you produce a song, by the end of like, three days, you’v got something that didn’t exist – which is something actually physical.

Josephine: That’s really amazing, actually; probably the best bit. 

Anthony: So yeah, we’ve enjoyed all those processes so far, I guess, but now we’re going to start touring. It’s going to be a whole new sensation. Very excited for that.

Listen: “Body Gold” – Oh Wonder

Describe your musical growth from 'Body Gold' to 'Drive.'

Josephine: So we had written “Body Gold,” and had no idea about electronic production – like, absolutely no clue. We both come from – [to Anthony] you come from a rock background, and I come from an acoustic and folk background – neither of us knew anything! I remember when we wrote it, Anthony was like, “Oh, let’s just try and put a snare on it, or something,” We were trying to like, sample beats and stuff, and we had no idea what we were doing.

Anthony: I had this 808s sample pack that i had been given, and I was just –

Josephine: – you were like, cutting up drums and trying to like, copy and paste them to make some kind of beat.

Anthony: Yeah, it’s like a kindergarten project.

Josephine: Really like painting by numbers, trying to make a track. And that innocence and naivety is brilliant, because I think that’s why that song feels really fresh and a bit rough around the edges, whereas “Drive” is a total polar opposite. It’s a really meticulously crafted pop song. We wanted to write a big pop song; we love pop music. 

Anthony: And we would never be able to do that without having done those eleven songs in between.

Josephine: You know, it’s got big, thick string arrangements, and proper cheesy “pop” lyrics. So it’s been a real pleasure to be able to have the opportunity to write such a variety of different music, from our end, that look at different things.

Watch: “Drive” – Oh Wonder

Go back a year ago to August 2014 - where were you in the process?

Anthony: [to Josephine] So you would have been bugging me, saying, “Let’s release this song!”

Josephine: Really, I was actually in America on holiday.

Anthony: You were, and I was… making a record somewhere in England.

Josephine: My parents were renewing their vows in Vegas, which was just hilarious. I’m kind of awful, but it was good.

Anthony: And I was staying at your parents house –

Josephine: Yeah you were, just making music. 

Anthony: – housesitting and watching the garden, and making a record at the end of the garden.

How long did 'Body Gold' take to make?

Anthony: To make? A day I guess. We don’t spend more than half an hour on writing songs, so we wrote it quickly. The production is really simple.

Josephine: [to Anthony] Do you know where “Body Gold” came from? I was staying at your house for some reason. You were at the airport, and I was like, “Oh, I’m just going to write some songs, kill some time,” and so I was on my own and playing these chords. I remember going, [sings] “Before you came round, da da da…” the beginning line. Then I got stuck, and went into this weird chorus, and I remember you came home and said, “That chorus is weird. Snap that off and put something else on it,” and that was how we started writing, really.

Anthony: Yeah and we just finished it there. We wrote “All We Do” in that same room.

Josephine: Yeah…

Anthony: “All We Do” was probably the fifth track we put out, or something? Honestly, we wrote that in four minutes. It was just so odd.

Josephine: Oh, it was so weird! We were like, singing it, and then we finished singing, and we were like, “Well, that’s the song!” It was really creepy!

Anthony: Yeah, it was one of those odd moments – it was like, New Years Day?

Josephine: No, New Years Eve Eve in December.

Anthony: “Eve Eve.” Yeah, it was one in the morning, and Josephine just came up with that melody, and we started singing – singing the same lyrics. It sounds like a Disney film.

Josephine: It just sounds so weird! Yeah it does, right?

Anthony: But yeah, we had our phone, thank god, on record. Played it back, we’re like, “Oh, it’s finished.” Yeah, it’s quite a simple one.

Listen: “All We Do” – Oh Wonder

How many songs did you have in your arsenal, really, on September first?

Josephine: We had three. We had “Body Gold,” “Shark,” and “All We Do.”

Anthony: That was it.

Josephine: And with “All We Do,” we were advised by loads of people – my dad, especially – to not ever use it. They were like, “Oh, it’s so different! You’ve released this R&B, kind of like, electronic tune with ‘Body Gold’” – I don’t know what it’s about, but you know, not like “All We Do.” My dad was like, “You cannot release that! That’s so different, it’s just you two and a piano; it’s so weird!” And we thought, “Maybe that’s cool…”

Anthony: We tried a lot of different production on it to bring it into the sort of “Body Gold” and “Shark,” and then realized, actually, maybe it is better just to stand alone. It kind of widens, not the demographic we can play it to, but we’re not just a band who has beats and a Rhodes piano – we can actually do a lot of different stuff. I think that created a wider spectrum for the album, for us to not be pigeon-holed to do one thing; we can actually do all of this stuff. “All We Do” really opened that up, I think.

It’s an artistry based on artistry, and not the individual artists.

Josephine: Definitely – that’s really important to us.

Did you ever feel pressure, once the clock started ticking, to continuously be crafting and refining your music?

Anthony: Yeah… It was a really fun pressure. It was more like a… We never felt the pressure of like, if we don’t do it, we’ve screwed up, or that kind of thing; it was always like, “We’re going to do it and it’s going to be fun.” We’ve reached the end of the month sometimes and been like, “Shit, it’s coming out tomorrow!” And we haven’t, like, finished mixing it, or got it mastered… But that’s all just part of the fun of it.

Listen: “Landslide” – Oh Wonder

Were there many sleepless nights?

Anthony: Yeah, we work really late on a lot of it. We tend to work from like, ten ’til two, three in the morning.

Josephine: Anthony doesn’t sleep. He’s like a vamp – do vampires sleep? Is that a thing?

Anthony: They kill people.

Josephine: [laughs]

Anthony: I haven’t killed anyone that I know of…

Josephine: [to Anthony] You don’t sleep. There were just so many sessions wound up with me snoozing on the sofa, and Anthony just losing his mind!

Anthony: You’d wake up and I would just be like, “We should go home now. It’s time.” Yeah, we work pretty late, but I always find all the best finishing touches are best done at night.

Listen: “Dazzle” – Oh Wonder

So much has happened in the past year - how did you spend your time outside the recording process?

Josephine: What have we been doing?

Anthony: This.

Josephine: This, on loop. We love, umm… Having big, overarching goals – that’s how we work really well – so Anthony ran a marathon a few months back in Stockholm.

Anthony: Yeah, it feels like we need things to work towards, which is what this project is perfect for. If you set something in the future, you’ve got to stick to it because you’ve promised yourself these things.

Josephine: Yeah, so you’ve been running marathons; I’ve been eating, umm… [laughs]

Cheese, right?

Josephine: So much cheese.

Anthony: I’ve been providing the cheese. I think we’ve realized, now that we’re getting a lot busier with this, the importance of having friends at home, as well – like, keeping stable friendships with people, because we’ve realized that we’re actually away for eleven months this year, basically… So we’ve got to make sure we’ve got friends around us who we can always come back to. We’ve been putting a lot of energy into our friends.

Josephine: The tiniest moments, like hanging out, making dinner, and just chilling out in the flat. Stuff like that is so rare and precious, and you don’t realize when you get it. When you’re in it, you’re just like, oh you’ve been doing nothing. And actually like, they’re the best points when you can just be at home, making dinner, listening to your favorite album and watching a documentary on… 

Anthony: – cheese.

Josephine: On what?

Anthony: Cheese.

Josephine: [laughs] So yeah, we’ve been really appreciating those moments this year.

Anthony: The small things. You dream of the big things, and then the big things come, and you want the small things.

Josephine: The grass is always greener

Did you ever have a euphoric moment during the project where you stepped back and said, ‘Wow'?

Josephine: Do you know what, I think that was yesterday for me. It was yesterday – we had the most glorious day, and it was a pinch yourself moment when you’re like, “How the hell are we in New York, talking about our music?” And it’s insane – it’s such a privilege and it’s really humbling.

Anthony: And people knowing your work.

Josephine: And people knowing who we are on a different continent.

Anthony: “Oh, I like that song, ‘Dazzle,’” you’re like, “What?! You’ve heard that?”

Josephine: “How have you heard that? We’ve made that in our house, and now you’re listening to it.” It’s just a really amazing, alien concept for us, so I think, yeah – every day is like the pinch me, euphoric moment because every day is markedly different from the last, and there are so many opportunities to do amazing things.

Anthony: Yeah, we’ve basically been cooped up for a year, not actually meeting anyone who’s heard our music. We’ve seen a lot online, and the stats and all that, but that means nothing until you meet someone who says something about your song, and what it means to them.

Watch: “Livewire” – Oh Wonder

There’s so much emotion built into your music. Do you feel like that it’s those emotions that have really been driving your music?

Anthony: I think that’s why people listen to it. I think when they listen to it, they hear almost our relationship in it – because there is a boy and a girl singing it – and we’re, a lot of the time, singing about relationships and stuff. I think people can really relate to it, draw a lot of what we’re saying, and put it into their own context.

Josephine: Emotions are the one really important thing.

So are you satisfied?

Josephine: Are we satisfied? Beyond satisfied – I am so full. Not of cheese, but of life!

Anthony: Everything is a bonus right now.

Josephine: Genuinely, this whole project is accidental and inadvertent. It was never intended to be an artist project; it was a songwriting project from the word “go,” and yeah – we are brimming with good fortune and gratitude. This is insane.

Anthony: We would have been happy with a thousand plays on all our songs, so everything else is just like –

Josephine: – an absolute bonus; it’s insane!

The future holds four sold-out shows in the biggest cities - London, New York, Los Angeles, Paris - and you haven’t played a single show yet!

Josephine: [laughing] I know! And how have we sold out, like, two shows in New York?! It’s not even one – it’s two!

That’s crazy.

Josephine: Yeah, it’s weird, right?

Anthony: It’s very strange.

Josephine: Who knows…

Is that the new focus now, until such time - the live project?

Anthony: Definitely. Just rehearsing for a month when we get back, and then we’re playing our first shows in London. Yeah it’s going to be a totally, totally different lifestyle to what we’re in now, which is cool, and really exciting.

What’s the future for Oh Wonder?

Josephine: We didn’t realize we’d be here, so I can’t really think about the future. The future will hold, hopefully… Continuing to write music that means something to us and other people, I think, is the main goal. And to continue building a connection between people through our music is amazing – if we can do that, then we’re more than happy; that’s all we want.

Anthony: That’s it; that’s the goal.

Josephine: And to win a Grammy, but, you know… [laughs] Yeah, that’s what we’d like.

Atwood Magazine wishes Oh Wonder the best of luck on their debut release and tour.

Oh Wonder: A Timeline

:: In order of release ::

   

01.
“Body Gold”

01. Body Gold - Oh Wonder

02.
“Shark”

02. Shark - Oh Wonder

03.
“Dazzle”

03. Dazzle - Oh Wonder

04.
“All We Do”

04. All We Do - Oh Wonder

05.
“The Rain”

05. The Rain - Oh Wonder

06.
“Lose It”

06. Lose It - Oh Wonder

07.
“Technicolour Beat”

07. Technicolour Beat - Oh Wonder

08.
“Midnight Moon”

08. Midnight Moon - Oh Wonder

09.
“Livewire”

09. Livewire - Oh Wonder

10.
“White Blood”

10. White Blood - Oh Wonder

11.
“Landslide”

11. Landslide - Oh Wonder

12.
“Drive”

12. Drive - Oh Wonder

13.
“Heart Hope”

13. Heart Hope - Oh Wonder

Oh Wonder out September 4!

Learn more about Oh Wonder at ohwondermusic.com

Oh Wonder’s First Selfies (with Mitch)

Oh Wonder's first selfies

Oh Wonder's first selfies
Oh Wonder's first selfies

Needless to say, it was a very exciting interview.

The Breakdown

Mitch is the Editor-in-Chief of Atwood Magazine and a 2014 graduate from Tufts University, where he pursued his passions of music and psychology. He currently works at Universal Music Group in New York City. In his off hours, Mitch may be found songwriting, wandering about one of New York's many neighborhoods, or writing an article on your next favorite artist for Atwood. Mitch's words of wisdom to fellow musicians and music lovers are thus: Keep your eyes open and never stop exploring. No matter where you go, what you do or who you are with, you can always learn something new and inspire something amazing. Say hi here: mitch[at]atwoodmagazine[dot]com