It’s 2 .p.m, inside the Danforth Music Hall the giant letters “O” and “W” are being hauled on to stage. Soundcheck is still an hour away and the final preparations for Oh Wonder ‘s show are being sorted. Outside, fans are already lining up in the cold for the sold-out concert. They wait bundled from head to toe with smiles unbroken by the below zero weather.
In a tour bus a few feet away, Josephine Vander Gucht and Anthony West, aka, Oh Wonder, wait patiently to introduce themselves to Toronto for the first time. Saturday, before their show, I got to chat with the two and find out a few things you may not have known about them, like how Oh Wonder almost never happened and what all this success means.
Your music is very emotion driven, how do you capture that with stories about characters?
Anthony: It’s weird. We never write about our own scenarios. We always kind of write about people we make up, like a dream world that we write within. The songs are actually really detached from us. So, I guess people kind of draw things from them. What would you say?
Josephine: *chuckles* What he said.
Tell me what it felt like to record your first single:
Josephine: It was very inadvertent. We had just written a song and we had just wanted to make a writing demo of it. We just did it on a laptop in our living room. Didn’t we? It was really uninspired.
Anthony: Oh yeah, the next step was just getting some pizza, really.
Josephine: And then in the end we just had a song called Body Gold which was the first song we ever wrote. We actually recorded that about two years before we released it. We were just living with it quietly wondering what to do with it.
Why didn’t you know what to do with the song?
Josephine: Well, we were jus t in our own projects. Anthony was in a band and I was just a solo artist and it just wasn’t fitting for either of our musical projects. The idea of just joining up as a duo never occurred to us. For two years, it was just a self-imposed thing, no, it was an outside-imposed thing, wasn’t it? We never wanted to be in a band together, it was never the intention.
Anthony: Yeah, we just wanted to be songwriters together. We just enjoy writing songs and producing music together. So, that was the main thing…and then all the touring comes.
What was the force that made you join together?
Josephine: The song really. Body Gold, it was the only song we had. We sent it to our managers and they were like ‘oh guys. This is a really good song, your voices sound really good together. We love the production, you should do something with it.’ They weren’t pushing us or anything. But then I kept pestering you (Anthony) for like two years saying please let’s release it. Because I was really proud of it and it was unlike anything either of us did individually.
Anthony: I think at that point, the people listening to it every month, that’s what really spurred us on to do more and take it more seriously. We were like wow, there are actually people out there listening to us in every country. So for us that was the real inspiration.
What did you both anticipate during the year of monthly song releases?
Josephine: We felt a lot but we didn’t anticipate anything. We had no expectations. It was just a really personal challenge, we just wanted to release music. Releasing music is literally the best thing you can do. It’s like when you release an article, you’re like Yay, I’ve contributed to the world and even if no one reads it and even if no one listens to the song, you still feel fulfilled. So it’s a really self fulfilling thing.
Anthony: Yeah, it’s just so energizing. It was so energizing to start the month with the best feeling you could have as a musician. It felt so good.
Josephine: But we weren’t anticipating anything. We didn’t even really want to play live and now we’re in Toronto performing. The world works in mysterious ways for sure.
Why didn’t you two want to play live?
Josephine: We were just both doing our own thing.
Anthony: We were going to write songs and produce them and put them out, but we weren’t going to tour. It never crossed our minds.
Tell me about the first successful moment for Oh Wonder.
Anthony: A big moment for me was when we first played in L.A. We had our first American show and we could really see the affect of our music across the pond. It was nuts. To be that far away from home, it was like whoa. To actually see tons of people, it was like whoa.
Josephine: Well, it depends how you define success. The success was the fact that we’ve been able to release a song that we were both really into and both really proud of. We designed artwork for it and we were really proud of ourselves. I think the first week, when it unmasked the first 100,000 plays we were anonymous and no one knew us and none of our friends knew us. We were like, hang on. It was a success in itself in the fact that people were listening.
Anthony: So, we see little bits of success everyday. Like today, we’ll see Canadian success and it’s awesome.
What have been some great moments on the tour?
Anthony: We had a really great show in Seattle. I really enjoyed that. It’s a very musical town, you can really feel it there.
Josephine: Yeah, there’s been so many good ones. Just every show just continually surprise us. I’m sure if you asked us tomorrow we’d say Toronto. It’s like the biggest venue we’ve ever played. We had no idea people knew who we were in Canada. We’ve just been told that our album did quite well out here, and we are like how do you know who we are? So I feel like tonight will be really special.
Explain what it feels like when you run into fans who love you guys?
Josephine: Oh, it means a lot.
Anthony: Yeah, it’s when they have a really cool story about how the music’s effected them, or even a story about themselves. Josephine interviews fans after gigs to gain an insight to the people that listen to our music because they’re ultimately the most important people. We’re just the people who make it.
Josephine: It’s continuously humbling. It’s a reminder of why we’re here. This only occurred to me a year into the project which is that music or art or literature, theatre, dance, sport, any kind of art or creative outlet is a force for good and a force for positivity in changing the world for the better. When you meet people, even if it’s juts three people outside and one says Oh my god, I just wanted to tell you that this music helped me through a dark period in my life, you’re just like, we’re doing something positive. We’re not out here trying to change the world. We are here contributing in some small way to building a community in a sense of love and comfort more than anything. Music is comfort for people. We’re comforted by our favourite bands, so meeting fans it’s like okay, we’re doing something good here.
Beginning in London, Oh Wonder is formed of multi-instrumentalists Josephine Vander Gucht and Anthony West. A little over a year into the project, Oh Wonder is currently on a nearly sold out world tour. If you haven’t heard them, check out their latest video, Without You.