When I sat down with London duo Oh Wonder at The Great Escape, we were a world away from the last time we met, just prior to New Year’s Eve at the Falls Festival in Victoria. For one thing, it wasn’t 40-something degrees. For another, we’d swapped the makeshift backstage set up at Mt. Duneed for the All Saints Church in Hove, Brighton.
Josephine Vander Gucht and Anthony West had only just arrived in Brighton an hour or less before our meeting and as their stage was set up outside the green room for a sold out ticketed show alongside Shura and Mura Masa, the twosome take up a seat on a plush lounge for a chat about how their recent sojourn to New York had treated them.
“There was no pressure, really.” Josephine says of their trip. “We just went over to eat ramen and hang out in New York! We wrote a lot of songs, we were just really creative and we were listening to it and we were like, ‘Ooh, that could be an album’. It didn’t feel like we worked very hard!”
“We’d been over there for a whole month.” Anthony adds. “We went for a little break and to potentially write some songs and somehow, we came back with an album. It’s just like being on tour, you don’t realise what you’re doing until you get off tour and you’re like, ‘That was amazing’. We got back and we were like, ‘We’ve got new songs – that’s weird.’ They just popped out and we didn’t even notice!”
With a touring schedule that has taken Oh Wonder literally all around the world since their debut Australian shows, New York has stood out as having a special place in both Josephine and Anthony’s hearts.
“It’s the best city.” Josephine enthuses. “What I took from it the most was the sense that everybody there – I don’t think it’s an American thing, I think it’s a New York thing – is just being themselves. I don’t know if it’s my wide-eyed, romantic view but even like, the park on our street – because space is quite limited there – was where you had to go work out, people don’t have enough room in their apartments. So this park is full of everybody; there’s old guys doing pilates, there’s people walking about, there’s tiny people sprinting everywhere. Everybody from each gender, race, class and background, just being themselves, working out. You wouldn’t get that here; I don’t know about Australia, but you definitely wouldn’t get that here.”
“I feel like it’s one of those places where, it’s a bit like LA as well, people go there to invent themselves.” Anthony says. “I felt, for me, I could be someone else during that month we were there. I felt myself progressing in those ways for our writing and I felt that we could do something different.”
Returning to England with a new album’s worth of material, not to mention a wealth of experience as live performers, Oh Wonder have grown considerably as a musical act. They both remain incredibly grounded though, when talking me through some huge tours they’ve got locked down in coming months. They’re set to return to America at least three more times for some impressive support slots, notably a tour alongside fellow Falls Festival-debutante, Halsey.
“We’re playing Madison Square Garden in New York, which is absolutely hilarious.” Josephine laughs. “It’s so embarrassing, we’d be at a café and just chatting to locals and they’d go, ‘How come you’re out here, are you out for a holiday?’ and we’re like, ‘Kinda, we’re in a band and we’re writing…’ They’d go, ‘Oh sweet! Do you have any shows coming up?’ We’d have to be like, ‘Next time we’re playing Madison Square Garden!’ and their reactions are so funny, but it’s not our show!”
“I think from outside our little bubble we’re in, it looks like we’ve been going quite quickly,” Anthony says of the band’s recent successes. “When we’re in it, it’s been years. It’s so weird.”
Comprehending how far your music has reached has been an element of the success of their debut album both Josephine and Anthony admit to have found challenging in the past, but in touring throughout territories including South America and Southeast Asia recently has given them more of an idea as to just how well received their music has been.
“We’ve done like, 50 or 60 shows since we last saw you,” Anthony estimates. “You forget that a lot of people now have access to the internet so for bands like us, whose main platform is the internet for sharing music, it’s cool.”
“We went on from Australia out to the States for a month,” Josephine remembers. “We’ve since been to the Phillippines and Brazil and out to Canada. We played in a football stadium and we’ve done European tours. We’ve gotten to go to like, five continents, which is nuts.”
“I’ve noticed that South America though, is a massive market for a lot of people.” she adds. “I’m really interested in looking at territories where people have been and for big pop stars over here in the UK, their second or third biggest territory will be South America. There are so many people in Brazil, so it’s a bit different, but they clearly are so invested in new music. Amazing crowds.”
As for how they’ve felt their profile to have grown within their own scene in London, both Josephine and Anthony admit that even though the numbers at their gigs have risen exponentially since their debut show last year, their schedule and general approach to touring has kept them from becoming completely overwhelmed by it all.
“We played our first ever gig in London last September to 350 people for two nights.” Josephine says. “Then we played the Village Underground, then we played The Forum a couple of weeks back and then we’ve just announced a show at The Roundhouse, which is for 3,500 people. In one year, it’s gone from 300 to 3,500 people. It’s nuts! You can see the growth but for us, it’s still a show.”
“After we came off from the London show, my Grandma reminded me of it. I saw my Grandma as we came off [stage] and I remember saying to her, ‘Ma, if that was the last show I play, if that’s the last thing I do, that’s enough for me. I’m happy to stop and quit music here’. It was just so fulfilling.”