Most people spend their honeymoon somewhere romantic. Mauritius, Antigua, a cosy B&B on the coast. Not Oh Wonder. The indie pop duo, who’ve been a couple as long as they’ve been a band, travelled to Ipswich and made a movie about breaking up. We went from a day full of joy honeymoon to an abandoned house full of cockroaches, says singer song writer honeymoon Anthony West. And we spent the next week arguing on film, adds his musical and romantic honeymoon partner, Josephine (Josie) Vander Gucht.
The story only gets weirder from there. Honeymoon Josie caught hypothermia. Anthony had to run into a burning building. They both ended honeymoon up with scorpions crawling over their faces. But to understand how they got there, we need to go back to the start of the pandemic. In March 2020, the band were about to set off on the biggest tour of their lives. They’d booked 120 dates across four continents, and were just five dates in when everything got called off. We just didn’t know what to do with the adrenalin, says Anthony.
We’d been in rehearsals for two months, so it was literally a physical thing. Our bodies were like, ‘Why are we not doing what we’ve just been told to do for the rest of the year?’ It was a hard thing to work out. Going underground with Oh Wonder For a band who’ve always travelled at 100mph, slowing down was particularly tricky. Since forming in 2014, they’ve built a huge, international audience for their lowkey, musically intimate songs, characterized by their unique vocal unison. They might not be household names, but they’ve racked up 2.7 million global streams, been sampled by Nicki Minaj and covered by Billie Eilis.
Key to their success is their work ethic they started their career by releasing a track a month on Soundcloud; and have toured relentlessly throughout their career. We both grew up with hardcore parents that were like, ‘You have to work every minute that you’re awake in order to be a good human’, laughs Josie.
At first, lockdown presented the opportunity to work on new material in the studio at the bottom of their garden. By June, they had enough songs for an EP Home Tapes that pinpointed the acute isolation of the quarantine. Then Anthony took up baking sourdough, along with 95% of the UK, says Josephine, and I took up eating sourdough.
But like so many couples, lockdown exposed cracks in their relationship. As they continued to write songs over the summer, the lyrics adopted a tone of anger and resentment that took the couple by surprise.
We’d go in and all these venomous lyrics would just… come out, says Josie. And we wouldn’t talk about it. We’d just nod and finish the song. But while the studio atmosphere was calm and professional, tension was simmering at the other end of the garden. As work progressed, they began to realise their fourth album might their last.
The perfect couple?
One day, Josie sat at the piano in their living room and picked out a chord sequence that immediately sparked the idea for a melody. I ran down there [to the studio] and said, ‘I think I’ve got an idea for a song,’ she says. And Anthony switched the microphone on and I just started signing.
The words poured out unbidden: What if I hate who I’m becoming? / And my young heart never runs free? / I’m just afraid that I’m failing / I’m just afraid that I’m done. It was the first time I had sung it. I hadn’t even written out lyrics or anything, she recalls. But the message was clear. We started telling people we had broken up, Anthony says. But they were like, ‘What? I thought you guys were the perfect couple. If you’re unstable, then what am I?’
Confined to the house, they poured their hearts into the album, documenting what they thought was the end of their personal and professional relationship. We recorded it and you pressed stop, she reminds Anthony. And your eyes were flooded with tears and mine were flooded with tears and we had a little hug. In that moment, she felt, she had really honestly apologised for letting him down. And somehow, slowly, they began repairing their relationship through the music.
It was very odd, reflects Josie. I think, especially in lockdown, a lot of people buried their feelings, just in the interest of surviving. But the reason we write songs is because we don’t like burying things. So in hindsight, we had these big arguments but the next day we’d go into the studio and the songs would be our way of apologising. It sounds really weird and it sounds like we weren’t communicating, but I think we’d talked so much.
And this was the final way for us to discuss everything, says Anthony, finishing her thought. It’s like a peace treaty within the songs. By the end of the record, the duo are emerging from the lowest ebb of their relationship. What if we made a pact to make it right? they sing on the promisingly optimistic ballad Kicking The Doors Down. That definitely feels like a turning point where there’s some hope, says Anthony. We’ve trudged through the darkness and come out the other side.
We were like, ‘Oh we’ll put this album out before Christmas,’ and he said, ‘Guys, I think you should just sit and chill for a few months. Don’t get bored of the songs, don’t fall out of love with the music. Go and do something else for a minute because otherwise you’re gonna get really resentful and sad because you’ve made something and you can’t do anything with it’, says Josie.
Which I think, in hindsight, was quite clever.
So they did what any couple who’ve just recovered from a devastating relationship crisis do. They bought a coffee shop. For me, it was something I’ve always wanted to do, but never had the time, says Anthony. ,We’ve been to so many coffee shops around the world and to have that experience and not put it into your own place, would just be a sin. Nobody knew who we were, marvels Josie. Plus, says Anthony, you get pretty good at foam art if you make 600 coffees a day.
Once vaccines came into play, the duo hired staff to keep the coffee shop ticking over, and put the finishing touches to the record. That involved two things (1) Commissioning a short film to accompany the music and (2) a proposal of marriage. We always knew we wanted to get married, says Josie. And I think it was just like, if we don’t do it now we’ll never do it because we’ll be back on tour.
The ceremony took place in August, with the couple surrounded by friends and serenaded by fellow musicians Honne, Connor Albert and Polly Paulusma. Josie got up and sang Katrina and the Waves’ Walking On Sunshine, while two friends dressed up as Oh Wonder and played covers of their own songs. It was the best day of my life, says Josie. Better than a show. I’m just sad I can’t do it again. I need another wedding And so we circle back to the start of this story.
I think it was one of the hardest weeks of my life says Josie
We filmed a lot of it in this abandoned house, and on the ninth day we realised someone actually lived there, and they were hiding in one of the rooms. while Anthony risked his life for a pivotal scene where the notsoabandoned house burned down. We had this pyrotechnic specialists and their job was to come up and set a replica of the house on fire, he says. One guy was like, ‘We’re just going to do a test,’ and he set fire to the bottom of a nylon curtain. So it all burst into flames and everyone goes, ‘Fire extinguisher!’ and they’re like, ‘Oh crap, we left them in the van’.
So the director said, ‘We’ve got to roll! Run in there and we’ll start filming!
Watching as her new husband battled the flames, Josie found herself thinking: All I want to do is sit at home and write songs and I’ve got hypothermia and you’re in a burning building. How has this transpired.
Thankfully, everyone survived and Oh Wonder have a proper honeymoon booked for November. Before that, they’re letting everyone witness the nearcollapse of their relationship in the form of the 22 Break album. Compared to their earlier work, it’s more revealing, more strippedback and infinitely more moving.
Josie says she still hasn’t worked out how to perform the songs live without crying but she knows she’s got all the support she needs right there on the stage with her. To look to your left on stage, while you’re on a high, and see the person you love the most in the world is crazy, she says.