It’s a won­der­ful ul­tra­l­ife

OhWon­der cut their in­die-pop teeth ghost writ­ing hits for others. Now the Lon­don duo are whip­ping up their own­mu­si­cal storm­sand there is no go­ing back, they tel­lJim Carroll

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - MUSIC -

Josephine Van­der Gucht is re­call­ing Oh Won­der’s first live shows. These hap­pened in 2015, a year after she and An­thony West had re­leased a new track on­line ev­ery month and in­tro­duced Oh Won­der to the world.

“We didn’t know we had fans be­fore those shows. We played in Lon­don, New York, LA and Paris, and I re­mem­ber go­ing on­stage and hear­ing people sing back words that we’d writ­ten and put on the in­ter­net.

“Be­fore, you’d only see ‘You have 5,000 plays for this track’. It was just dig­i­tal data. But they were ac­tu­ally people. Tan­gi­ble, liv­ing, breath­ing hu­mans.”

It was a new ex­pe­ri­ence for the duo. While both had mu­si­cal form – Van­der Gucht as a solo per­former, West as a mem­ber of in­die band Fu­tures – Oh Won­der far ex­ceeded any pre­vi­ous projects.

The songs writ­ten in their gar­dens hit a chord, and the com­bi­na­tion of their voices, lush har­monies, ethe­real pop at­mo­spher­ics and great song­writ­ing brought in the crowds.

“I think what people are con­nect­ing with is this con­ver­sa­tion which we’re both hav­ing lyri­cally,” says West. “There aren’t any other duos who sing in uni­son, which is very ac­ci­den­tal. We write quite cel­e­bra­tory and up­lift­ing songs.”

“That wasn’t in­ten­tional,” adds Van­der Gucht, “but we’ve in­ad­ver­tently been guided by the mu­sic to write songs which are about find­ing the best in your­self and in each other and in life. That’s a nice mes­sage and it’s not one which is around a lot at the mo­ment. I’m as cu­ri­ous and in­trigued as any­one else to find out what people get from us.”

Burst­ing with brio

All of these people should be thrilled to bits with new al­bum

Ul­tra­l­ife. It’s a record with con­sid­er­able in­ten­sity, brio and en­ergy – “We knew from the live shows that you need more upbeat ma­te­rial,” says Van­der Gucht – but that also re­tains their fond­ness for smoul­der­ing at­mo­spher­ics and their chops as song­writ­ers.

“When we started writ­ing to­gether, it was easy be­cause there was no pres­sure,” says West. “When you’re a song­writer, you have one day, if you’re lucky, to work with some­one. But we’d all the time in the world and there was no com­pro­mise in­volved.”

Oh Won­der are still in de­mand as song­writ­ers. “We still write for other people – a lot of them are ghosted – and it’s weird to hear them,” says West. “Our way of deal­ing with it is to de­tach our­selves and work to the brief and fa­cil­i­tate their needs and their emo­tions. It’s a totally dif­fer­ent writ­ing process; it’s less cathar­tic.

“Song­writ­ers get briefs all the time which say ‘We want a song like Justin Bieber’, and you know that brief has been sent to thou­sands of song­writ­ers and that’s why so much mu­sic sounds the same to­day.”

“I was in the chang­ing rooms in Cos the other day try­ing on a top for a video shoot, and there was this song play­ing and I was go­ing ‘What is this song? I know this song’,” says Van­der Gucht. “Then I re­alised we’d writ­ten it, but I didn’t feel any con­nec­tion to it. If it was one of our songs, it would be dif­fer­ent. I get so ex­cit-

We’ve in­ad­ver­tently been guided by the mu­sic to write songs which are about find­ing the best in your­self and in each other and in life. That’s a nice mes­sage and it’s not one which is around a lot at the mo­ment

pro­mo­tion and all of that and go, ‘Let’s write a good song’.”

“Writ­ing ses­sions with other song­writ­ers are weird,” says West. “I re­mem­ber go­ing into the process be­fore Oh Won­der and the song­writer would be like, ‘I hope we write a good song be­cause it will mean it makes the cut.’

“You can’t think about the jour­ney the song will take, you can’t sit there like some song­writ­ers and say ‘We should write it like this be­cause that will ap­peal to this au­di­ence’ or ‘This song is very pop­u­lar at the mo­ment so let’s do that’. You can’t se­cond-guess what will hap­pen.”

When it came to Ul­tra­l­ife, writ­ing ses­sions in New York and Lon­don were hugely pro­duc- tive. Do they have a sys­tem in place at this stage?

“We al­ways go back to mo­ments we have ex­pe­ri­enced and cre­ate lit­tle worlds out of them,” says Van­der Gucht. “All the songs will have been in­spired and in­flu­enced by char­ac­ters, worlds, sce­nar­ios and en­vi­ron­ments we’d have come across. They al­ways stem from events.”

Tir­ing­busi­ness

From now un­til the end of the year, Ul­tra­l­ife will take the band around the world. It’s a far cry from spend­ing time in a room writ­ing songs.

“There are days when it’s a busi­ness,” says Van­der Gucht. “You’re so tired and you’re try­ing to find clothes for a video shoot and the stylist is on your case and you’ve got 180 un­read emails in your in­box and you’ve got people look­ing for you to write some­thing for a mail-out and you’ve to speak to the ac­coun­tant and you’re hir­ing and fir­ing people and it’s all non­mu­si­cal things. On those days you feel you’d be much more cre­ative if you sat at home and wrote songs for some­one else.

“But all of that whittles away when you walk on stage and you’ve 2,000 people look­ing back at you and you have the time of your life. It’s a high you can’t get with any­thing or any­one else.

“If we can both carry on play­ing mu­sic in this ca­pac­ity, whether that in­volves tour­ing Aus­tralia or writ­ing songs to­gether, that will do for me. As long as we can sing our own songs, that will do us. It’s a priv­i­lege.” Ul­tra­l­ife is re­leased on July 14th

I was in the chang­ing rooms in Cos try­ing on a top for a video shoot, and there was this song play­ing and I was go­ing ‘What is this song? I know this song’. Then I re­alised we’d writ­ten it, but I didn’t feel any con­nec­tion to it

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