1011 Pacific Avenue
Santa Cruz, CA, 95060
Doors 7:30 PM / Show 8:30 PM
This event is 16 and over
Watch & Listen
There is a sign pinned to the wall of Oh Wonder’s recording studio in south-east London, a pact of sorts, signed by the band’s two members, Josephine Vander Gucht and Anthony West, in the winter of 2012. It isn’t a checklist or a plan so much as a setting down of shared dreams for their musical careers. “We wrote it to say that we’re dependent on one another,” explains Josephine. “That there are things we want to achieve, and we can help each other get there.”
That Oh Wonder have achieved all of these dreams in the first year since starting the project is testament to their talent and their perseverance, but even they seem a little startled by how much more they have attained: the 100 million streams and now their debut album, a collection of 15 impeccably-crafted songs that explore London and loneliness, love and the need for human relationships.
Josephine was a classically-trained solo performer and Anthony a singer and producer whose lives and careers overlapped for several years — a run of near-encounters and half-conversations at gigs and venues, and vague introductions through musical acquaintances and mutual friends. It was only when they finally sat down in Anthony’s former studio in north London with a view to producing an EP of Josephine‘s solo material that they realised their great musical bond. “We found all our favourite bands were the same bands, all our favourite songs were the same songs,” says Anthony. “It was a day of saying ‘Oh you should listen to this’. And then the other one saying ‘I know that song. That’s one of my favourite songs.’” “It was,” adds Josephine “really, really odd. I’ve never had that. I’ve never felt that closely aligned with someone, musically speaking, and more widely in terms of how we view the world.”
It was Anthony’s suggestion that they begin writing together — purely for fun at first, as an exercise in songwriting and collaboration while they pursued their other musical projects. The first song they wrote was called Body Gold and was, Josephine says, “the marker for what the sound of Oh Wonder was: electronic and somewhat R’n’B, which was totally surprising, and totally different to our solo work, but we were really proud of it.”
Still, for 18 months they did nothing with it. Anthony moved to London and released an EP as part of a duo, Josephine was busy writing and recording as Layla. “But we thought it was a waste to leave Body Gold unheard,” says Anthony. And so they decided to post it on the internet, anonymously.
That day they went to a café in east London, posted the song on SoundCloud and emailed a few of their favourite music blogs about it. “We were in this café,” Josephine remembers, “and we were looking at the play-count, and I think it said six plays, and then all of a sudden these blogs started posting the song — really lovely write-ups saying ‘Who the hell are these people? They’re about to blow up the internet.’” They sat in the café and watched the play count climb to 100. A few weeks later it had reached 100,000 plays. Just over a year later and they have tens of millions of plays and a string of sold out headline shows across the UK, Europe, Australia and the USA. “It was just really, really bizarre. And odd. And completely accidental,” she says. “We didn’t tell anyone it was us, we didn’t ask people to listen, we didn’t tell our friends, it was so far removed from us. But I genuinely think that the reason so many people connected with it was because it was really sincere.”
The plan from the start was to release a song a month, for the course of a year. “We approached it as a songwriting project rather than an artist project,” continues Anthony. “And so the most important thing of all is the song and we would never release what we consider to be a bad song.”
They had already written two other tracks: Shark and All We Do — a track Josephine finds most affecting. “It’s about the human propensity to play it safe and not push yourself beyond the parameters of normal life,” she says. “It’s about just existing and not wondering or being inquisitive. It’s about how a lot of people sink into the monotony of everyday life. And how it’s a shame, because the world’s there for the taking, and you’ve got to go grab it and have an adventure.”
Their own adventure soon gathered pace. They found they could write quickly, finishing the body of a song in 20 minutes or so and spending more time, they say, on the production. “Writing together is a weird magical thing,” says Josephine. “More than anybody else in the world I trust Ant. Which makes the writing process totally open, totally vulnerable and non-judgmental, and means you can say all of these things openly in a song.”
The things they chose to say all possess a striking tenderness and a tangible passion for life, ranging from exquisite break-up songs Drive, Landslide and The Rain to quiet rallies against materialism, gambling, gentrification and globalization, and, in Lose It, a song that serves as a tribute to a night out they once had in Melbourne, where as the sun came up, Josephine found herself at a party dancing in her underwear to Destiny’s Child. “I’ve never before felt what I felt that night,” she says. “I didn’t take any drugs, and I wasn’t even drunk, there was just something heady in the air. It was the first time I’d ever felt untethered from myself.”
Though they vary from piano-led ballads to whip-sharp electronica, what unites all of Oh Wonder’s songs is their extraordinary sense of humanity. “We didn’t realise it at first, but a lot of our songs are about relationships and support,” says Josephine. Anthony points to album opener Livewire, “which is about needing someone to lift you up, someone who can bring you up from your lowest point, bring you back to life, be the heartbeat you need…” and to White Blood, about times in life, in illness or difficulty, when you “really need someone with you”, and to Heart Hope, inspired by watching the area around their home in east London rapidly gentrify, and feeling that for all the shiny new buildings, what people really need is other people, “it’s saying actually all you need is a heart and a soul and to be connected to yourself and to each other.”
“They’re songs about humans, and about people being there in your life,” says Josephine. “People need people. And that’s what this album looks at, from all the different angles: it’s about being grateful for the people in your life, for relationships of all sorts.”
Perhaps most of all, this album is Anthony and Josephine’s tribute to each other, to the partnership they have formed, the places it has taken them and the confidence they have given one another.
Josephine tells a story that perhaps best sums up the depth of the belief they have in one another — the bond, the trust, and the faith they have in their own music: “I used to have lots of jobs,” she says. “I worked in Waterstones, and waiting tables, and Ant was the person who told me to give them up. He told me to call up my boss and say “Sorry I can’t work at Waterstones anymore, I’m being a musician.” He said “we’re going to do this. And that was the same day we wrote that sign.”
本音 : one's true feelings and desires
In little under two years, blue-eyed soul duo HONNE have become the band to fall in love with, and to. "There's a lot of women at our shows," says co-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist James Hatcher, "and a lot of couples." Unsuspecting frontman Andy Clutterbuck – often witness to more than he bargained for as the band's sensual grooves ripple through certain pockets of the crowd – senses it, too. "We get a lot of people coming up to us afterwards telling us that a track has soundtracked their relationship, from meeting online to their first date, and from break-ups to having babies." In their very British, buttoned-up appearance, HONNE don't strike you as the type to open up about anything this intimate, which is precisely the point – 'Warm On A Cold Night' is an album where expressing feelings may not come naturally, but one which nonetheless strives for real love in the digital age.
A term with no Western equivalent, the origins of HONNE lie in the Japanese word meaning 'True Feelings' (it's often twinned with 'tatemae', roughly translated as the contrasting behaviour or opinions you display in public). It was this fascination with Japan that offered the pair an early porthole into how to transmit their most personal moments into music. Their own backgrounds, of course, were far less culturally exotic: having met on the first day of University, the pair had unknowingly grown up around 45 minutes from another in the South West. Andy's childhood was farm-life, his youth spent introspectively in a spare room filled with his dad's clutter (a drum kit, old record players, and musical ephemera that looks like junk but feels like magic to the right imaginative eye). "On your first day at college," says James "you arrive nerve-wracked about what's going to happen. Am I going to make any friends? Will they be alright? I instantly knew Andy was sound. He played me a whole album he'd written and put up on online. It was more developed than anything I'd heard from anyone my age."
Matched at first-sight, HONNE began making music that same night. "It was 2 in the morning," says Andy, "it was completely pitch black and we just had a microphone set up. We felt immediately relaxed around each other, there was no-one laughing and no-one was being judged." The perfect environment, it turned out, for the emotional honesty which followed. And as these dusky songs kept coming, their after-hours conversations turned towards the future, to travel, and in particular to Andy's time in Japan (where he was in a long-distance relationship). During a midnight re-watching of 'Lost in Translation', it became apparent that this sense of a partner at a loose end - of wandering through a strange environment, and struggling to convey what you mean - was just as relevant to their lives off-screen. When James found the word 'Honne' later on, he knew it was theirs. "I came across it, saw the meaning and was like 'I can't believe no-one is called this.'"
All this is wrapped up in HONNE's mission-statement of a debut track, 'Warm On A Cold Night', a widescreen take on late-night lust far removed from the South West student-life the band emerged from. The transatlantic tone first rooted in Japan extends to the song's West-Coast, US-inspired groove: musically, HONNE take heavy influence from the late 70s/early 80s soul and funk of Quincy Jones, together with crooning, contemporary electro-R&B like James Blake or Frank Ocean. 'Warm On A Cold Night' introduced a sound which has become instantly-identifiable as HONNE's. In Andy, too, the band have a singer of remarkable depth, whose emotional restraint and veneer of self-control would mirror the keep-calm-and-carry-on attitude underlining their snapshots of modern romance.
Over 20 million Spotify streams, several Hype Machine number 1s and sell-out worldwide tours later, HONNE are writing songs which feel both quintessentially of the moment yet charmingly gentleman-like in their worldview. Their debut album captures, they say, "the good days and bad of relationships in 2016" - a time where we're told to settle for nothing less than a soulmate and yet risk treating dating like any other online experience, browsing endlessly, swiping left or right, and weighing up any of the overwhelming number of choices all around us. "We were terrible at being single," the band say now. "It's always been about the search for something more meaningful."
There are songs, then, about trying to make that connection - the silky, sepulchral 'All in The Value' ("I never thought that I'd have the nerve to / tell you my world is crushed now without you") - and others about the difficulty nowadays of doing that (see recent single 'Gone Are The Days', which suggests you go and find someone who'll appreciate you instead). The gospel-tinged uplift of 'Good Together' celebrates that honeymoon-period - however long it lasts –on an album whose sleepy sexuality often lies just beneath the surface, comfortable in its own skin: 'The Night' is the sort of attitude-heavy, simmering slow-jam few would dare put into a text, let alone song. And it's this tension between your public self and what you might privately want to tell someone which is threaded into this debut album, blurring that line where "Honne" meets "tatemae".
A record so positive in its view of point-of-view on relationships lends itself naturally to a female voice: first with JONES, a fellow online-favourite who the band teamed up with on beautiful EP track 'No Place Like Home'. Then came a collaboration with Izzy Bizu, with whom HONNE released breakout collaborative single 'Someone Who Loves You' this summer: they met over Twitter (where else?) and soon produced a track fundamentally about forbidden love, "but from both sides of the story." And it's this empathetic quality, neither Alpha nor Beta, which led to tracks like 'Woman', which describes this sense of "knowing you are cared for and care for the ones around you, whether that's a girlfriend, a mother, or a best friend."
Here are sincere but never-saccharine songs written for the right reasons, and in the shape of Andy, HONNE have the sort of figurehead that you would almost dub an anti-frontman (a theme which is picked up on in 'One At a Time Please', based on their smalltown upbringing). "I feel like there's a lot of pressure in what people think a frontman should be," he notes, "and that they should perhaps have an arrogance about them." James thinks about this. "I don't think it would be right for someone with arrogance to sing our songs. Andy's the kind of person who'll do anything for you, but his parents will ask me privately what's going on in his life because he wouldn't tell them. This is about us – and people like us – getting better at expressing themselves."
And if such openness – inspired by everything from Japanese culture to US hip-hop, all in the sometimes-brutal dating climate – feels unnatural to guys like HONNE, it's not entirely out of character. "My mum told me only the other day," says Andy, "that when I was a child I always used to say to my friends 'I'll end up in your record collections one day.'" Turning that rare moment of immodesty into a reality has resulted in an album which "isn't about one ex, cataloguing where things went wrong, or writing something completely devotional either. But when these songs are about relationships, they're hopefully about the good aspects – trying harder or doing more for the other person, so as to ultimately find something rewarding." For all its forward-thinking electronics and online noise, then, 'Warm On a Cold Night' is ultimately a back-to-basics album - of old-school romance, timeless songwriting, and two very modern souls.
$20 in advance / $25 at the door
Tue, December 12
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