Despite the rain and overcast for most of the weekend, Saturday at Boston Calling somehow ended up being perfect summer festival atmosphere: Sunny, blue skies, carefree, and wonderfully upbeat. So it seems nearly planned that Oh Wonder
played their set Saturday afternoon, being that their youthful indie-pop music is a perfect compliment to good times and good company. Josephine Vander Gucht and Anthony West have not only made waves for their instantly catchy songs and charming vocal chemistry, but also how they originally put those songs out: Their debut self-titled album consisted of singles they had released on a monthly basis for a year, a very different process than the usual single-album-single release standard. I caught up with Josephine before the duo's set to talk a little more about that process, as well as their upcoming album Ultralife
and the joy that comes with playing music for a living.
Robert Steiner: How's it feel to make your BC debut in just a couple hours from now?
Josephine Vander Gucht: Amazing! Boston Calling is one of those festivals that's like notoriously amazing, and the lineups are always wicked, so obviously this year is no exception. So yeah we're really excited, and we've got a wicked slot on a great stage, and then we're gonna hang out and watch some bands. And also had no idea it was at Harvard, like side-note. We were just driving around, and I think our tour manager was like, "This really looks like a university" and someone was like, "Dude, this is Harvard," and we were like gasp! We just showered in the baseball showers, it was so cool! They had like the little "H" in all the locker rooms, it was awesome.
RS: How does playing a festival compare to a normal gig?
JVG: They're both enjoyable in different ways, I guess. At a festival, you're obviously playing to a lot of people who might not have ever heard of you, 'cause you're getting stragglers at the back who aren't necessarily fans. So it's quite a challenge, to try and win people over. And obviously at festivals, most people are drunk in the sun, so you just wanna play the most energetic set you can, which is amazing. But then your own show is filled with people who've come and paid money to see you specifically, so they're both different. We love intimate, sweaty shows where you can see everybody's faces, but then equally, this is an amazing opportunity to play to lots of people at once. So yeah, they're both great.
RS: So would you say you approach festivals differently than normal shows?
JVG: Definitely. We played loads of festivals around last summer, in the US especially, and we found that we were picking our more upbeat songs to play at festivals, which meant that when we came to writing our second album, we then wanted to make an album that was more suited to the festival kind of market, in the since that the musics more upbeat, I guess. So yeah, festivals I think you can get away with being weirder as well, you can just go all out in terms of your performance, 'cause it's just the space to so it. I dunno, it's a different mindset.
RS: I know on your guys' first album, you released the music on a unique single-by-single basis. What are some of the personal and creative benefits to doing something like that?
JVG: There are both personal and creative benefits in the sense that, personal as an artist or creative or whatever you make, releasing your art is the best bit of everything. Releasing a song is better than playing the biggest festival in the world, because you've made something and you're sharing it with someone. It's like a conversation that you're sparking. So for us, being able to release effectively thirteen songs in a year is like the greatest pleasure and privilege I think we'll ever have as artists. And also it meant that creatively, we were constantly turning on that tap, constantly writing and making and releasing music. It's different; this time around [with Ultralife
] it's weird sitting on an album and being like, "Ugh, I want you to hear it!" Like I'm so tempted to leak it, it's so funny! I'm like, "Just have the album!" But it's nice then, 'cause we made it as a body of work, we conceived it as an album rather than 13 songs, or 15 songs it ended up being. It's been really nice conceiving an album, a record as a whole.
RS: As singles take greater precedent in music, do you see the typical album format disappearing in the near future?
JVG: I don't know, I think that the way people consume music now is so different to how it was even when we started like two, three years ago, in the sense that there is so much music going on now, and so it's very single-focused. People just want big singles; one song, one song, one song. And you saw it with a band like the Chainsmokers; it took them years to make an album but they just got massive off of two, three songs.
I don't wanna say that the album dying is a thing, because its so nostalgic. I guess for our age group, we grew up as teenagers who'd go and buy a record, and you would decide what your favorite song on the record was. It wasn't like, "Well on Spotify, it's got 86 million plays, so that's must be the best song." It was like, "I like track seven!" It was way more empowering for the listener. I think people will always make records, but even with our release, we're releasing five singles before the album to try and promote it, so it's amazing that there is the space to do that. I think you just have to build momentum as an artist and keep constantly being like, "Hey guys, we're here, we're releasing music!" which is why people are doing it like that.
RS: On a more current events-related note: With the recent attacks in Manchester, concerns arose regarding security leading up to this weekend. I wanted to ask, how did you guys react to the news, as both people from the UK and as working artists?
JVG: Obviously it was completely devastating, both as for us as humans and also for us as artists. We've played in Manchester a bunch of times, and it's been really weird because we've been hot on the tails of a lot of things. So in the incident in Paris at the Bataclan, we were in Paris the day before, and the event in Orlando we were due to play the day after. You realize that these things are so close to home and they can happen to anyone anywhere. But we are angry, I guess, because music is the one place in the world, the one thing in the world, especially live music, that brings together people of any background, any beliefs, religion, doesn't matter what you look like, who you choose to love. All of that stuff becomes irrelevant, and you're coming together for one evening in a room to share the same thing. Artist and fan, we're all doing the same thing, experiencing the same thing. For somebody to violate such a safe, empowering space for people is frankly like the highest form a tragedy I can think.
So yeah, we've been thinking constantly about the people in Manchester and fans, and what's even sadder is that a lot of people at that Ariana Grande concert, like 21,000 people, for a lot of them that would've been their first show. That's what makes it even sadder, because live music should be this amazing thing that you can experience at any age, but as a teenager, music defines who you are, you know? It's the soundtrack to your life, and to be able to go to a live show and just be liberated like that, it's the best feeling in the world, both as a concertgoer and an artist. The post that Ariana Grande put out says it all, like she's going to continue to tour and go back to Manchester. That's all you can do really; you just have to carry on with your head up and fight in the face of crap.
RS: So what's next for you guys? Where do you see yourselves going in the near-to-distant future?
JVG: We're going to be touring this new album for the next couple of years, which is a terrifying thing to say! And then hopefully, we can take some time off, but I think for Anthony and I, it's just about making music. We just love being creative, and everything else is just a bonus. We never expected anything from this project, so if five, ten, years from now we're still writing songs even if no one's listening, I think that would still be the greatest pleasure for us. We're happy to wind up as songwriters from our home studio; If I have an allotment and just sort of write pop hits on the side, I'll be chillin'!
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