How the Internet vaulted Oh Wonder to worldwide stardom without a single concert

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Sarah Midkiff/Digital Trends

The Internet has forever changed how the music business works.

Time was, a band’s first tour consisted mostly of gigs in dive bars and niche venues in small-time cities. You had to pay your dues if you wanted to go big-time, building up a fan base and a mailing list along the way.

But today, the Internet can make a band a global sensation from the comfort of their garage, and in a mere matter of days. Just ask London-based electro-pop outfit, Oh Wonder, who had never played a single live show in its history when they sold out venues in London, Paris, Amsterdam, Los Angeles, and New York.

Co-fronted by lifelong musicians and newly viral sensations, Anthony West and Josephine Vander Gucht, Oh Wonder started out as a fun side project. The goal? To record and self-produce one song each month and share it via SoundCloud. That side project quickly transformed into a rocket-powered ride fueled by the combustibility of the Internet. The duo began booking tour dates just one year after their first single, Body Gold, was released online, and then, one single after another, an album was born.

Vander Gucht explained how the process of recording a debut album was unlike any of their previous pursuits, “It’s so different. Our album is effectively 15 singles because each was written and recorded independent of the others. Which is great because you get to focus on each individual song, you form a connection with it. Same with our audience, they have such close connections to a song because it reminds them of that month or they were waiting for 11 months to hear that song in particular.”

With an ever-growing fanbase hanging on every new song, Oh Wonder discovered their slow-grooving, R&B-influenced sound with each subsequent single. “That was the part that definitely changed. The production side of it,” West observes. “We started the project with no sound and thought, ‘OK, let’s see what comes out of the first song.’ Then every month we honed the sound and we figured out what it was. So that was the most experimental part for me. The writing part has always been the same for us.”

Digital Trends: How has technology guided your development as musicians?

Anthony West: It’s amazing because you can basically find everything now in one place. You have all these analog, synth, and drum sounds on your computer. I can pull up a folder of kick drum sounds I have, and we can just listen to 80 kick drum sounds instead of going to 50 machines. They’re all there. It’s easy, and it’s all in front of you, and it’s amazing.

I still say that analog instruments that their place. We bought this keyboard this Teenage Engineering OP-1, we used it on every track in the album. It’s beautiful. It’s a really powerful little machine. It made us think about using more analog sounds on the album.

What are your thoughts on how social media and being able to self-publish music online?

Josephine Vander Gucht: It’s wonderful. It gives the power to the musicians. We did our album without the backing of a record label, a team, or anybody. We started just the two of us. Without platforms like SoundCloud, which is what we started putting our music on, or Spotify which we use a lot, Apple Music obviously, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, we would not have reached nearly as many people as we have. We certainly wouldn’t be playing here in Portland to 1,000 or so people, because they would never have heard of us without the Internet.

AW: We would have never been here. Normally, we would have had to have played here five or more times before we would have played for this many people. It’s the power of the Internet.

JVG: So we are huge supporters of the Internet. We think it’s important to put the power into the musicians hands. If you’re building a universe that is about your art, you want to be in charge of that. You want to represent your art correctly. I think if you can do that well online, you are sorted really.

“If it’s good, people will find it and listen to it. It costs next to nothing to make music nowadays.”

AW: The main thing, is people who might have been too scared to share their music before. They have a platform to do it. There will be people who really love what you’re doing. Record it in your bedroom, put it up, and if it’s good, people will find it and listen to it. It costs next to nothing to make music nowadays.

JVG: Yeah, our album probably cost about 100 pounds to make. You don’t need a lot of money.

Do you agree with the statement that “less is more” with the electro-pop genre? Why or why not?

JVG: Yeah, we do. Just the nature of how we record is a testament to that. We will write a song on the piano, take it into the studio, and then layer it up with as many as 200 sounds, strip it back to maybe 10 and that’s the finished album. I think it’s very easy nowadays, because it is so easy produce a song very quickly and build up loads of layers, to shroud a song and to disguise it and not to let it sing out in it’s pure form.

AW: It’s almost more important to know what not to put into a track. Anyone can put anything in a song, the real art is knowing what bits should go where and whether it even should be there. So I think you can make the best art with a tiny amount of tools.

What do your thoughts on technology allowing musicians to do more with less?

AW: You do have to have some things to start, but you can now record from home and it can sound like it was made in a studio. The amount of records that are now just made at home, massive pop records …

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Sarah Midkiff/Digital Trends
Sarah Midkiff/Digital Trends

JVG: Lily Allen’s album, The Feel, I remember being fascinated by it. She recorded it solely with a microphone on a laptop. There were no compressors or anything, it was just that laptop. I find that amazing that technology is such that you can create a number one record on a laptop. It’s pretty phenomenal.

AW: Anyone can do it at home. You find your limits. You find what works for you. It can help develop your sound. It’s hard to hone in on a sound when you have all the options of a recording studio. A good example of that is Bon Iver’s first album. He recorded it in the woods on his own, or so the legend goes.

What’s on the horizon for Oh Wonder? According to the electro-pop pair, they will be hitting the road. West elaborates on their 2016 plans saying, “We have lots of touring to do. From now until December of this year. A whole year of touring. We are coming back to the States five or six times. We are really excited to play a lot more shows and festivals. Amidst that, hopefully think about writing the next record.”

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